Friday, July 9, 2010

Sugar and HFCS: comparing the manufacturing processes

Tate & Lyle, a UK-based ingredient manufacturer, includes in its portfolio of manufactured goods a wide-range of sweeteners (apparently some of its sugar brands have recently been acquired by American Sugar Refining.)  On the Tate & Lyle website there's a wealth of information about its products, including High Fructose Corn Syrup, cane sugar, as well as what they term "high-intensity sweeteners," such as Splenda.  Tate & Lyle's informative descriptions and diagrams of the manufacturing process of their sweeteners are very useful for those of us trying to understand the fundamental differences between HFCS and sugar.

What does Tate & Lyle tell us about HFCS?

Well, first of all, HFCS and cane sugar, while comprised of the same basic compounds, differ fundamentally in how they are processed.  Tate & Lyle states:
Although High Fructose Corn Syrup is essentially comprised of the same compounds as sucrose, namely glucose and fructose, unlike sucrose, which is usually refined from sugar cane, the raw material of HFCS (corn), must undergo a great deal of processing to create HFCS.
So, although chemically speaking, the compounds are similar, the "great deal of processing" required to create HFCS differentiates HFCS from cane sugar.

Secondly, "Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Genetically Modified?"
Those concerned with the consumption of GM foods have expressed concern with regards to HFCS, as GM corn is often the source of this product. Whilst it is true that HFCS is produced from genetically modified corn, corn starch extracted from the corn undergoes so much processing, and the products of the processes are so removed from corn that there is no detectable corn DNA present in HFCS. This means that HFCS itself contains no genetically modified material.
So, that means, IF HFCS were not so extremely processed, it would contain Genically Modified material; because it undergoes such an extreme amount of processing that the very DNA of the genetically modified corn that goes into HFCS is no longer detectable.  That's supposed to make us feel good about HFCS?  It is so damned processed that the initial substance is processed right out of the ultimate product.

That scares me.

Ok, lastly, let's take the diagram of the process involved in cane sugar refining and compare it to the process for wet-milling corn

What does this comparison show?  Well, as complex as both sets of processes are, only the HFCS chart contains a node where "further processing" occurs.

While I have my own conclusions, I welcome insights about how refined cane sugar products differ from refined corn products.

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