Sweetose: Better Candy from the Chemistry Lab

October 5, 2009 at 7:49 am 6 comments

sweetose corn syrup

The astro-turf group calling itself The Center for Consumer Freedom has once again taken up the high fructose corn syrup cause. New ads in national papers and TV stations are meant to mock those concerned with possible health effects of this corn syrup derivative, and to reassure the public that HFCS is just another sugar.

All the corn dust kicking around got me interested in the whole history of HFCS. While I learn about that, allow me to share a little something with you this HFCS precursor: Sweetose.

Sweetose was a “high-sugar-content” corn syrup manufactured by the A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company, of Decatur IL. In 1938, Staley patented an enzymatic conversion process that would transform regular corn syrup made up of the single sugar glucose into a sweeter syrup with different chemical properties, made up of glucose and maltose. In addition to industrial applications, Staley marketed Sweetose in consumer formulations as a pancake syrup and baking ingredient, similar to Caro syrup.

The ad above is from 1950, from a candy manufacturer’s trade journal. Sweetose promises to add quality and sales appeal:

Sample candy with and without Sweetose…discover immediately how this enzyme-converted corn syrup increases tenderness and intensifies flavors. And Sweetose prolongs freshness, too!

The Staley patent expired in 1955. This opened up the field for others to experiment with enzyme conversion processes, leading to the development of the process that would produce high fructose corn syrup in 1957. But it was not until 1970 that Japanese scientist Dr. Y. Takasaki perfected an industrial process for HFCS production. HFCS was quickly adopted by the food industry, and here we are today.

Sources: Staley advertisement, Confectioners Journal 1950; High-fructose corn syrup, Wikipedia; A History of Lactic Acid Making: A chapter in the history of biotechnology, By Harm Benninga (1990), p 414, Google Books.

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    6 Comments Add your own

    • 1. cybele  |  October 5, 2009 at 4:27 pm

      It’s funny, I’ve been enjoying browsing old editions of LIFE magazine via Google’s archive and have seen quite a few adverts for Dextrose.

      Dextrose ad in 1941 LIFE magazine.

      • 2. CandyProfessor  |  October 5, 2009 at 6:11 pm

        Thanks for the link, that ad is very intriguing. The whole “better living through chemistry” gets an amazing working though in candy. I’m looking at stuff from the 1950s, now, and “sugar”, the regular kind, ends up on the defensive against all these newcomers from the corn processors and the new artificial sweeteners. And now its HFCS on the defensive… history is a circle.

    • […] Sweetose: Better Candy from the Chemistry Lab Sweetose was modified corn syrup, made sweeter by combining maltose with glucose. A forerunner to high-fructose corn syrup. […]

    • 4. Candy and Corn: “Rich in Dextrose!” « Candy Professor  |  September 24, 2010 at 10:50 am

      […] Sweetose: Better Candy from the Chemistry Lab Sweetose was modified corn syrup, made sweeter by combining maltose with glucose. A forerunner to high-fructose corn syrup. […]

    • 5. davidroos7  |  January 30, 2011 at 12:08 am

      Staley’s also marketed pancake syrup under the name sweetose. It said it was extra rich in dextrose and maltose. Also “suitable as a carbohydrate suppliment to milk for infant feeding”. I have a can that was 5 lb. size that has been in the family for over 50 years.

      • 6. Candy Professor  |  January 31, 2011 at 10:50 am

        I wonder if the industrial and consumer versions were the same? I suspect they were. (This is the time-machine problem when it comes to food!) In the 1940s, the marketing of dextrose (in candy as well as other foods) played up this idea of “pure energy” and the use of dextrose in infant feeding (I have some posts on dextrose, more there).


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