In the United States, most non-diet soft drinks are sweetened with either sucrose (table sugar), high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or a mixture of the two. Sucrose is made from sugar cane or sugar beets. HFCS is a liquid sweetener which is similar to sucrose in chemical composition, calories and sweetness, but is made from corn. HFCS is used in products ranging from cereals and beverages to meat products and condiments. While sucrose is the most common sweetener used in foods and beverages in the United States, HFCS is a popular nutritive sweetener as well.
Developed in the 1950s, HFCS became commercially available as a liquid replacement for sucrose beginning in the 1970s. The transition from using sucrose as a sweetener to using HFCS continued to take place through the 1980s.
The name is really a misnomer. HFCS is not fructose nor is it high in fructose. HFCS is simply a liquid sweetener made from corn with a similar composition to sucrose (table sugar). In fact, sucrose is made up of the two simple sugars, glucose and fructose, in equal amounts. Like sucrose, HFCS also is composed primarily of glucose and fructose, with trace amounts of some other simple sugars. Further, absorption and metabolism of HFCS are also similar to that of sucrose.
The type of HFCS most frequently used in beverages, HFCS-55, has been formulated to have a similar sweetness to table sugar and has a ratio of 55 percent fructose to 45 percent glucose. Some beverages may contain HFCS-42, which is composed of 42 percent fructose to 58 percent glucose. Neither type used in beverages, however, is actually high in fructose.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) listed HFCS as a safe ingredient for use in food in 1983 and reconfirmed its position in 1996. Found in most non-diet soft drinks, ready-to-drink teas, juice drinks, sports drinks and other non-diet sweetened beverages, it is also a key sweetening ingredient in many food products. HFCS is used in the manufacturing process because of its ability to easily mix together with other food and beverage ingredients. In addition to providing sweetness, HFCS is attractive to food and beverage products because it provides texture and acts as a preservative.
The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is to consume a variety of foods and beverages in moderation and get regular exercise or physical activity. All beverages, including refreshment beverages, can fit in a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
HFCS has the same calories as sucrose (table sugar)—approximately 4 kilocalories per gram.
SweetnessHigh fructose corn syrup provides sweetness intensity equivalent to sugar. High fructose corn syrup can replace sugar in one-for-one proportions.
The sweetness profile of high fructose corn syrup enhances many fruit, citrus and spice flavors in beverages, bakery fillings and dairy products.
High fructose corn syrup promotes freshness in several ways. High fructose corn syrup actually inhibits microbial spoilage by reducing water activity and extends shelf life through superior moisture control. Foods also taste fresher because HFCS protects the firm texture of canned fruits and reduces freezer burn in frozen fruits.
Chewy cookies, snack bars and other baked goods derive their soft and moist texture from high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup retains moisture and resists crystallization after baking.
High fructose corn syrup is a “reducing sugar” that gives superior browning and flavor to baked goods such as breads, dinner rolls, cakes, cookies and breakfast cereals.
Over time, high fructose corn syrup-sweetened products maintain sweetness and flavor with no change in sweetness or flavor quality due to storage temperature fluctuations or low product acidity. With high fructose corn syrup, this product stability maintains the quality of carbonated and still beverages, as well as condiments such as ketchup and fruit preserves.
High fructose corn syrup has a lower freezing point, so “frozen” beverage concentrates have the added convenience of being pourable straight from the freezer and easier for consumers to thaw and mix with water.
About 96 percent of the sugars in high fructose corn syrup are fermentable. This is important in bread-baking because high fructose corn syrup is thus more economical to use than sucrose. An often overlooked benefit of high fructose corn syrup is that yeast “prefers” glucose and ferments it first, and as a result, the slight sweetness that consumers prize is accentuated.
Credit: American Beverage Association