How much corn is in high fructose corn syrup?
October 12, 2009 12:17 PM   Subscribe

How much corn is in high fructose corn syrup?

Corn is one of the things that causes my migraines, so I try to avoid it. I get excrutiating headaches after eating foods such as corn chowder soup or corn muffins.

I have also noticed that I get milder headaches (which can sometimes become horrible headaches) after drinking soda. I think this is because of the high fructose corn syrup. When I drink soda that doesn't contain high fructose corn syrup, I do not have this reaction. My SO thinks there isn't much corn in high fructose corn syrup and that something else might be causing my headaches.

My question is - How much corn is in high fructose syrup? Have all the corn elements been refined out of high fructose corn syrup? I'm not sure what molecule in the corn gives me migraines.
posted by parakeetdog to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Really, I too thought this question was a bit naive, until I went to Wikipedia and read that a bunch of enzymes are added to the corn syrup in order to change the sugars. Three different enzymes, in fact. Now, how does that translate into amount of corn per ounce of HFCS? I have no idea, and that is what the OP is asking.

So, I think the implication that you should just read Wikipedia is a bit rude.
posted by soelo at 12:46 PM on October 12, 2009

It's something in corn that's triggering your migraines, so the question is how much of that is present in HFCS.

HFCS is 55% fructose, 45% glucose. That's it. Table sugar is 50% fructose, 50% glucose. So if it doesn't trigger a migraine, I doubt HFCS is either.
posted by sbutler at 12:47 PM on October 12, 2009

The way you phrased your question is like asking how much pizza is in a pepperoni.

Corn is made from many compounds, including fructose, glucose, and water, which are the primary ingredients in HFCS. What I think you mean to ask is what fraction of HFCS is from compounds other than fructose, glucose, and water (which are probably unlikely to be causing your migraines, as they're in all kinds of other foods too, and ordinary table sugar gets broken down into glucose and fructose in the intestine).

This reference says that "42% HFCS" comprises not less than 97% total saccharides, expressed as a percent of total solids. I.e., after you remove the water, at least 97% has to be glucose or fructose--which means up to 3% could be something else (other compounds in the corn, the enzyme itself, byproducts of enzyme production, etc.) Likewise "55% HFCS," after removing the water, may contain up to 5% compounds other than fructose or glucose.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:52 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

But table sugar is not made from corn, so the comparison isn't a good one. I have a corn allergy and I do react (to a lesser extent, but still) to HFCS. It's the devil's poison, seriously.

Part of the problem too is its ubiquity. The corn lobby has all of these ads about how it's fine 'in moderation' but unless you are a label-reading fiend, you are not getting it 'in moderation.' I mean, they've added it to baby carrots! You wouldn't think of *those* as a corn product!

So, if the answer is (hypothetically) that one 'serving' of HFCS has one 'part' corn, and you are getting 10 servings a day, it might not be much from one item, but the cumulative affect could put you over your limit. The best policy is to just avoid it.
posted by JoannaC at 12:56 PM on October 12, 2009

This reference says that "42% HFCS" comprises not less than 97% total saccharides, expressed as a percent of total solids. I.e., after you remove the water, at least 97% has to be glucose or fructose--which means up to 3% could be something else (other compounds in the corn, the enzyme itself, byproducts of enzyme production, etc.) Likewise "55% HFCS," after removing the water, may contain up to 5% compounds other than fructose or glucose.

After reading more carefully, I have to revise my answer—it's even worse than I made it out to be before. The solids in 55% HFCS (which I believe is what's widely used as a sweetener) must be at least 95% saccharides, but of those saccharides, only 95% of that must be monosaccharides (the class to which fructose and glucose belong); the other 5% of saccharides may be things that are more identifiably "corn" (in the sense of being fairly unique to corn, such as corn starch, rather than compounds occuring widely in many different foods). So over 9% of the total solids (i.e., non-water) in HFCS may be compounds other than glucose and fructose.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:06 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mod note: few comments removed - if the question annoys you, you don't have to answer it. thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:13 PM on October 12, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks DevilsAdvocate. That makes a lot of sense to me since in my mind glucose and fructose are the same no matter what their source is. I'm guessing there must be some "essence o' corn" in the extra 9% that are causing my headaches.

I'm not a chemist, so I wasn't really sure how to phrase the question. I guess the best way to phrase it would have been to ask whether high fructose corn syrup can cause allergic reactions in people allergic to corn. The answer, I image, is yes because of the extra 9% that you mentioned.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:21 PM on October 12, 2009

my mother is allergic to corn. she reacts to things with HFCS in it, including soda, ketchup, and most candy bars. other things that you might not have considered having corn - MSG, the bottoms of a lot of breads/pizzas, the inside of cardboard boxes that have food that's likely to stick. food starch is often corn starch.

here's a write up that covers some of it
posted by nadawi at 1:33 PM on October 12, 2009

here is a better list
posted by nadawi at 1:34 PM on October 12, 2009

DevilsAdvocate - I think a lot of the non-monosaccharide saccharides ("the other 5% of saccharides ") are likely to be disaccharides and larger oligomers of glucose (e.g., maltose and its larger cousins). All of these ingredients are made by taking starch (poly-glucose) and chopping them up with enzymes to make mainly glucose and a few larger glucose polymers. The glucose to fructose isomerization is done because glucose is less sweet than sucrose (per gram) and fructose is more sweet than sucrose. Turning some of the glucose to fructose makes the product sweeter; approximately as sweet as sucrose on a per mass basis. There may be traces of traces of other stuff there (<<1%) but that does not rule them out as a problem.

parakeetdog: I think the key point is that the non-carbohydrate ingredients are vanishingly low but some individuals are astonishingly sensitive and appear to get a reaction. Perhaps that group includes you.
posted by Fiery Jack at 2:27 PM on October 12, 2009

The proper way to phrase the question would be "How much corn protein allergen is present in high fructose corn syrup?" Proteins comprise most allergens.

Here's an abstract where the authors tried to figure out exactly which corn proteins were corn allergens by immunoblotting.

The process by which HFCS is made does not guarantee that all protein is removed - just most of it. If even 0.01% of HFCS is contaminating corn protein, that could be enough to cause allergic flare-ups in a sensitive person.

(or on preview, what Fiery Jack said.)
posted by benzenedream at 2:30 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Staley grinds up a mind-boggling 500,000 bushels of corn a day and turns them into more than 3 billion pounds of HFCS annually. Amazingly, that's only 20 percent of the 16 billion pounds of HFCS consumed each year in the United States."

OK, assuming those numbers are within an order of magnitude of being correct (and I vouch not for them) and there are no other variables (which of course there are), the following math works out:

1 bushel of corn = approximately 56 pounds
500,000 bushels x 56 lbs = approx. 28 million pounds corn/day; or,
28 million x 365 days/year (assuming plant doesn't shut down) = 10,220,000,000 pounds corn/year by Staley Processing, which we are assuming has 20% of the HFCS market.

20% of 16 billion pounds/year of HFCVS = 3.20 billion pounds HFCS.

Thus, 3.20 billion pounds of HFCS requires 10.220 billion pounds of corn.

So, it takes roughly 3.2 pounds of corn to make 1 pound of HFCS (+ all kinds of various other chemicals, potions, and spells).

Hey, that's a good ACT/SAT question!
posted by webhund at 3:12 PM on October 12, 2009

Right, it's a difficult question. HFCS is made from corn, the same way table sugar is made from sugar cane or that peanut oil is made from peanuts. It doesn't contain corn (or cane or peanuts). But by virtue of being made from those substances, does contain chemical/protein bits and pieces of those substances.
posted by gjc at 7:26 AM on October 13, 2009

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