As the debate on the effects of High Fructose Corn Syrup (and “obesity”) continues to rage in certain circles, I find that I am woefully unprepared to take a stand–except on one point. HFC is not a natural product:
Michael F. Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group that often criticizes the food industry, says that unlike sugar molecules, which reside in the stalks of sugar cane or the beets that are used to make sugar, high-fructose corn syrup is artificial because it is not found anywhere in corn.
“You’re causing a change in the molecular structure, and that shouldn’t be considered natural,” he said, adding, however, that he never supported the notion that high-fructose corn syrup was a unique contributor to obesity.
The argument for HFC to be considered “natural” is because HFC is derived from corn. This is ludicrous. Wikipedia gave a brief overview of how HFC is made:
High-fructose corn syrup is produced by milling corn to produce corn starch, then processing that corn starch to yield corn syrup which is almost entirely glucose, and then adding enzymes which change the glucose into fructose. The resulting syrup (after enzyme conversion) contains approximately 90% fructose and is HFCS 90. To make the other common forms of HFCS (HFCS 55 and HFCS 42) the HFCS 90 is mixed with 100% glucose corn syrup in the appropriate ratios to form the desired HFCS. The enzyme process which changes the 100% glucose corn syrup into HFCS 90 is as follows:
- Cornstarch is treated with alpha-amylase to produce shorter chains of sugars called oligosaccharides.
- Glucoamylase breaks the sugar chains down even further to yield the simple sugar glucose.
- Xylose isomerase (aka glucose isomerase) converts glucose to a mixture of about 42% fructose and 50–52% glucose with some other sugars mixed in.
While inexpensive alpha-amylase and glucoamylase are added directly to the slurry and used only once, the more costly glucose-isomerase is packed into columns and the sugar mixture is then passed over it, allowing it to be used repeatedly until it loses its activity. This 42–43% fructose glucose mixture is then subjected to a liquid chromatography step where the fructose is enriched to approximately 90%. The 90% fructose is then back-blended with 42% fructose to achieve a 55% fructose final product. Most manufacturers use carbon absorption for impurity removal. Numerous filtration, ion-exchange and evaporation steps are also part of the overall process.
This does not sound like a natural process. It reads like a chemistry experiment.
There are a variety of complications: the use of Genetically Modified Corn, how corn is farmed in the US and the HFC producers lobbying power. However, the process of producing HFC itself is not, nor could it really ever be, a natural process.