Posts tagged ‘corn syrup’

“Corn Sugar” and High Fructose Corn Syrup

On September 14, the Corn Refiners Association petitioned the F.D.A. to allow high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to be sold as “corn sugar.” Since HFCS has the same amount of fructose as table sugar, the CRA argues that “corn sugar” is a less confusing name. And it probably also hopes that “corn syrup” will avoid some of the bad press that HFCS has been getting. For a cut-to-the-chase analysis of what’s really going on, Marion Nestle at FoodPolitics.com is of course indispensable. Tara Parker-Pope at The New York Times also has written a useful article on the topic.

The emergence of corn syrup as an alternative to sugar, and its uses in the candy industry, provide a quite interesting context for this latest attempt to blur the lines between corn products and more traditional sugar (although scientists and nutritionists insist that the glucose and fructose are exactly the same, and the source really doesn’t matter). But corn is a powerful symbol in American history, and sugar is too. Here’s a round up of relevant previous posts, a little of the larger story that I have uncovered in my Candy Professor research:

September 15, 2010 at 3:49 pm Leave a comment

Corn Into Candy: 1918

Today corn syrup is everywhere, especially that bugaboo, high fructose corn syrup. HFCS has the same balance of fructose and glucose as table sugar, but is immensely cheaper and so immensely more attractive to profit-seeking food processors.

Back in the early 1900s, HFCS was unknown, but corn was a huge product. Most corn went to animal feed. But war related food shortages suddenly brought corn to center stage.

Sugar shortages were impacting households as well as food makers by the end of 1917. In January 1918, industry watchers predicted that sugar use would be restricted to something like 90 percent of what was available the previous year. But candy was ready.

Walter Hughes, the secretary of the National Confectioners Association, got himself appointed to the Sugar  Division of the U.S. Food Administration. When sugar conservation began to appear necessary, the candy industry had a seat at the table and made sure that candy was recognized as having food value and as being important to public morale.

And it was a good move. Candy, and other “non-essential” foods like ice cream and soda, were allotted 80 percent of their previous usages when the Food Administration began strict rationing in May 1918.

It was a serious reduction, to be sure. But candy makers had already begun working around the shortages with new formulas and new concoctions that would minimize the need for sugar. The obvious work-around was another ingredient that was sweet and tasteless: corn syrup.

‘War candies,’ containing less sugar and more corn syrup can be made widely popular. If you are going to turn out ‘war candies’ give them snappy war names and watch the result. You are going to save sugar for other purposes and in doing so disarm the current assertion that ‘candy is a luxury.’

Candy makers wanted to be seen doing their part for the war effort. Candy using less sugar meant more sugar for the war. Americans could enjoy their candy, and support their troops as well.

The war was good news for corn syrup. In the early 1900s, corn syrup had been called “glucose,” and was frequently vilified as an “adulterant,” some bad stuff contaminating the candy. Sometimes this was because the accuser didn’t know what glucose actually was. But often enough, criticisms about glucose in candy were directed at new-fangled ingredients and techniques that made people suspicious. (See my post Glue-Cose for more)

The war changed all that. Now corn syrup was patriotic. Candy makers could boast that their confections were sweetened without taking from the sugar stores.

This ad for “War Special” Candies from George Close ran in Confectioners Journal in January 1918, when sugar is become tight but not yet officially rationed. Close promotes the candies as both patriotic and good business:

“By pushing these specialties you are not only performing a patriotic duty in conserving sugar, but at the same time are helping yourself and your customers to maintain a normal volume of business.”

Maltose, molasses and honey could also be used as alternative sweeteners, but corn syrup as a sugar substitute was the easiest, the most abundant, and had no taste. New formulas for things like gum drops and suckers made use of higher portions of corn syrup.  And new kinds of candy ingredients using no sugar at all came on the scene: “creme” fillings and caramel bases made of corn syrup and milk products were increasingly used, as well as corn-syrup based candy coatings.

Corn syrup today is seen as cheap and inferior. But candy makers using corn syrup in 1918 were innovators responding to war-time shortages. Some Americans looked at their empty sugar bowls and pointed the finger at candy. Shut down the candy factories, they shouted, and give us back our sugar! Candy fought back to show that candy could be good and sweet, and still not use more than four percent of the total sugar output. Corn syrup kept candy in business during the shortage years, and corn syrup kept Americans eating candy.

April 16, 2010 at 8:41 am 3 comments

Beer and Candy III

annheuser-busch 1952

You don’t think about Budweiser crossing paths with the Lollypop Tree, but once again, it turns out candy and liquor have a tangled past.

It all goes back to Prohibition, of course.

Anheuser-Busch started out as the Bavarian Brewery in St. Louis, Missouri in 1852. After a number of changes in owners and names, Anheuser-Busch began producing Budweiser in 1876. Michelob followed in 1896. By 1900, Anheuser-Busch was selling one million barrels of beer a year.

And then, the catastrophe known in the American brewery and distillery business as “Prohibition.” In 1920, it became illegal to manufacture and sell alcohol. What is a thiving manufacturer to do? In a word, diversify.

To keep afloat, Anheuser-Busch branched out. They started selling ice cream, barley malt syrup, ginger ale, root beer, chocolate- and grape-flavored beverages, truck and bus bodies, refrigerated cabinets, baker’s yeast and dealcoholized Budweiser.

And they started selling corn syrup, a key ingredient for the growing candy industry.

This advertisement is from the June 17, 1952 issue of Candy Industry. The ad shows that in the 1950s, long past the days of Prohibition, Anheuser-Busch was actively seeking customers for their corn products in the candy business. I’d love to be at one of those meetings, imagine the snack table laden with foamy mugs and candy canes…

An update on Anheuser-Busch: today the company’s principle concerns are beer, packaging, and theme park entertainment. They also have interests in malt production, rice milling, real estate development, turf farming, metalized and paper label printing, bottle production and transportation services. I’ll bet they miss the candy.

Sources: Candy Industry, June 17, 1952; http://www.anheuser-busch.com

Related Posts:

  • Beer and Candy I
  • Beer and Candy II
  • October 19, 2009 at 6:21 am 6 comments

    Sweetose: Better Candy from the Chemistry Lab

    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.

    Related Posts:

  • Glue-cose
  • Beer and Candy III
  • October 5, 2009 at 7:49 am 6 comments

    Glue-cose

    If you hope to create a smooth, creamy, or chewy candy, there is a particular kind of sugar you must add to your mix: glucose. In candy making, glucose creates long carbohydrate molecules that get all tangled up and prevents the other sugars from crystallizing. This is the molecular action that makes hard candies glassy rather than crystalline, and keeps grittiness out of butterscotch, caramels, and taffies.

    In the early 1900s Americans were becoming more aware of the techniques of food manufacture in the new food industries. One worry was “adulteration”: were the factories adding cheap or harmful substances to the food they sold?

    Commercial candy makers were under special scrutiny. They made chemically complicated concoctions, with strange and unfamiliar colors and flavors and qualities, and they sold them to children. Were the dyes and flavorings and ingredients really safe?

    Some weren’t, to be sure. But one that got everybody riled up was “glue.” Glue obviously didn’t belong in candy; yet there it was, right on the list of ingredients: “gluecose.”

    Dr. Cutler, a representative of the American Manufacturing Association of Products from Corn, explained the problem in a 1914 address to the National Confectioners Association:

    The word ’Glucose’ is derived from that of ’Glukos, ’which was the name given to starch which had been converted into syrup, for the reason that it was sweet. The English spelling of the word was ’Glucose,’ which very easily became misspelled ’Gluecose,’ hence the conclusion by uninformed people that it was a product of ’glue,’ and as glue is made from a variety of objects such as animal hoofs, old bones, fish, etc., ’Glucose’ naturally enough became blacklisted by many. … It was found that even physicians and school teachers were actually teaching and preaching about the dangers and impurities of ’Glucose’.

    Confusion about the relation between “glue” and “glucose” became so acute that the corn industry, the primary supplier of glucose, had to act. They went to congress to pass a law allowing glucose to be known henceforth by a name that would forever clear up the “glue” confusion, and would instead imply all that was wholesome and pure. So you won’t find glucose on the list of ingredients any longer. Look for this water-binding simple sugar under its common name: “corn syrup.”

    For the story of corn syrup’s rise as a sugar substitute, see my post Corn Into Candy: 1918

    Source: “Corn Syrup Education,” International Confectioner June 1914; Harold McGee, On Food and  Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (1984).

    More on the science of Corn Syrup in candy making at Laura’s Candy Science Tuesday on Candy Dish Blog

    September 28, 2009 at 6:42 am 8 comments


    Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

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