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corn syrup how to make
Posted by: Ayla Marika Category: Sweeteners, Sweets and Confectionery

Corn Syrup how to make: Discover how Corn Syrup & High Fructose Corn Syrup are created

While not something that we would normally add to foods ourselves, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup in particular, is added to a huge number of processed foods in the United States and Europe. Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup is frequently demonised as an evil of modern food production, said to be the root cause of ailments such as obesity, and there is intense debate about sugar vs high fructose corn syrup. Yet, most of us know very little about corn syrup, including how to make corn syrup, what it contains and how exactly it compares to sugar.

Corn syrup is in a huge number of processed foods, but how much do you know about corn syrup?

In this article I’ll share with you:

  • What is Corn Syrup?
  • Corn Syrup How to Make – Ingredients & Processing Aids
  • Corn Syrup How to Make – Processing Method (infographic)
  • History of Corn Syrup

While writing my non-fiction food comic book How Food is Made: An illustrated guide to how everyday food is produced (more about the book here) I researched a ton of food science and food industry books, magazines and journals to get the real answer to the query ‘Corn Syrup How to Make’, which I give to you now.

The following text and infographic are an extract from my book How Food is Made


What is Corn Syrup?

Alternative names: glucose syrup; glucose fructose syrup (HFCS); isoglucose (HFCS).

Corn syrup is a sweetener made from corn, which is widely used in processed food. It comes in two main varieties, corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A lesser known variety is high-maltose corn syrup, which is mostly used to make hard candies.

Regular corn syrup consists almost only of glucose and is available in some countries for home use, in light and dark varieties. As well as glucose, regular corn syrup may contain salt, vanilla, molasses, caramel, and preservatives such as sodium benzoate.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is not available for domestic use but is used in many processed foods in the United States and Europe including sauces, soups, confectionery, soft drinks, canned goods, and more. High fructose corn syrup is a more refined and sweeter form of corn syrup, made by converting a portion of the glucose in corn syrup into fructose (the sweetest natural sugar).

Sugar vs high fructose corn syrup

There are three main types of corn syrup:

  • Corn Syrup
  • 42% High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS-42)
  • 55% High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS-55).

Sugar vs high fructose corn syrup: which is sweeter?

55% High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS-55) and sugar are equivalent in sweetness. 42% High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS-42) is slightly less sweet than sugar.

Corn syrup is available for home use, while both 42% High Fructose Corn Syrup and 55% High Fructose Corn Syrup are used for manufacturing processed food only. The difference between regular corn syrup and high fructose corn syrups is that in high fructose corn syrup a portion of the glucose has been converted to fructose. 42% and 55% indicate the amount of fructose in the syrup, with 55% being sweeter than 42%.

Regular corn syrup is around three-quarters the sweetness of table sugar (sucrose). HFCS-55 has been specifically designed to have an equivalent level of sweetness to table sugar, while HFCS-42 is only slightly less sweet than sugar. Therefore, high fructose corn syrup is not actually sweeter than sugar as commonly believed, rather, it is equivalent to sugar (HFCS-55) or less sweet than sugar (in the case of regular corn syrup and HFCS-42).

There is also 90% High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS-90) which is sweeter than sugar, however HFCS-90 is not usually used in this concentrated form as it is normally diluted to make HFCS-55 instead. Having said that, there are small number of processed foods that do use 90% High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS-90) such as gum and soft drink.

Is corn syrup bad for you?

There is no consensus on how unhealthy or harmful corn syrup may be, especially in the context of sugar vs high fructose corn syrup. Some experts claim that high fructose corn syrup consumption may be linked to obesity, including a study by Princeton University showing that rats fed high fructose corn syrup became fatter than rats fed table sugar. On the other hand, health authorities and scientists argue that consumption of high fructose corn syrup has been declining while obesity rates continue to increase, indicating that HFCS may not be the sole cause of obesity as it has often been made out to be.


Corn Syrup How to Make – Ingredients & Processing Aids

Listed here are the common ingredients found in regular corn syrup, that is, the type you can purchase from the supermarket. High fructose corn syrup is mostly the same (except for the additional flavourings), the difference being that it undergoes additional processing as shown in the next section. Processing aids are additives that are used in the processing of a food, but are not present in the final food product in significant quantities (they may be present in trace amounts).

Corn Syrup – Ingredients

  • Corn                                                  
  • Salt                                                   
  • Molasses
  • Flavour (vanilla)     
  • Colour (caramel)   
  • Preservative (eg sodium benzoate)

Corn Syrup – Processing Aids

  • Enzyme (alpha-amylase)*     
  • Enzyme (glucoamylase)*      
  • Enzyme (glucose isomerase)*
  • Sulfur Dioxide                                   
  • Caustic Soda                                     
  • Hydrochloric Acid

*Alpha-amylase is derived from bacteria, glucoamylase from fungi, and glucose isomerase from various sources including bacteria.


Corn Syrup How to Make – Processing Method

The below infographic outlines how corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup are made, from start to end. The production of corn syrup is a highly industrial process, and one that cannot be replicated at home. If you are trying to find out how to make corn syrup yourself at home, sorry to break it to you, but it is not possible. That is, unless you are planning to get yourself a lab and a food science degree!

Infographic: Corn Syrup How to Make (by Ayla Marika)

Alternative for corn syrup

If you can’t get your hands on corn syrup or don’t want to buy the factory-made stuff, you might be better off looking for an alternative to corn syrup, rather than trying to make it at home! As you can see from the infographic above, making your own corn syrup is not exactly realistic. Sucrose (table sugar) will work in some cases but not others, depending on the recipe you might need a liquid sugar specifically (eg when making candy). In this case, consider using other liquid sugars such as liquid glucose, honey or golden syrup as an alternative to corn syrup.

Note: In some countries like here in Australia we don’t have corn syrup, but we do have glucose syrup. Glucose syrup and corn syrup are the same thing, and you can use them interchangeably.


History of Corn Syrup and High Fructose Corn Syrup

Although corn has been grown and consumed since 4,000 BCE in the Americas, it was not until the 1800s that it was refined into corn starch and corn syrup.

Sugar vs high fructose corn syrup: which is worse for you?

There is no agreement among experts over which is more or less healthy, including whether one is more likely to cause obesity than the other.

In 1811, chemist Gottlieb Kirchhoff discovered the acid-conversion process for converting starch into sugar (glucose). This involved heating a mixture of starch and acid to form a sugar syrup. Although it was first used on potato, buckwheat and wheat, this method was applied to corn in the mid-1800s. By the 1860s, corn syrup was being produced commercially.

Acid conversion remained the method for making corn syrup until enzyme conversion started to be used in the 1960s. The discovery of the enzyme ‘xylose isomerase’ by the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology led to the invention of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in the late 1960s. Xylose isomerase (glucose isomerase) converts glucose to fructose, and is used to turn corn syrup into high fructose corn syrup.

From the 1970s to 1990s, high fructose corn syrup surged in popularity as a cheaper substitute for sugar in processed foods. During the 2000s, health concerns surrounding HFCS grew, with many individuals and media blaming HFCS for causing obesity.

In 2009, researchers found traces of mercury in HFCS, due to the use of caustic soda that had been manufactured using mercury. Caustic soda is often used in the production of high-fructose corn syrup to regulate pH levels. According to the Corn Refiners Association, current methods for producing caustic soda for use in high-fructose corn syrup do not involve mercury.


Did you enjoy this article ‘Corn Syrup How to Make: How Corn Syrup and High Fructose Corn Syrup are Processed’?

If you’d like to learn more about the processed foods we eat everyday, please check out my non-fiction food comic book How Food is Made: An illustrated guide to how everyday food is produced. The book features 60 common foods, detailing their history and manufacturing process using illustrations and food infographics.

If you have ever wondered where factory food really comes from and how it is made, this book is for you. Don’t just take my word for it. The press and readers love the book too – check out media and reviews here. Find out more about the book here and view a free sample from the book here.

Thanks for reading!

-Ayla Marika

Credits for article ‘Corn Syrup How to Make: How Corn Syrup and High Fructose Corn Syrup are Produced’: Featured Image Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

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