Sunday, December 14, 2008

Corn Syrup

One problem I have is too much free time, or more correctly, too much free mental time. Gets me in trouble a lot. I can think myself into a depressive funk. I also spend a lot of time thinking about arcane stuff. For example, corn syrup.

I'm talking about regular corn syrup, not HFCS. More on that later. My fascination comes from its historic use in sweets and candies, neither of which I cook much of. But I have this love of history. And food. And science. So I am fascinated about how and why an ingredient is used and what it does.

So I started doing some searching because I know it is more than just a sugar substitute. I needed to kill some time in hotel rooms this week anyway.

But the Internet is a really dangerous place to learn stuff. I still remember my first engineering class how we were instructed to vet our sources and how to be able to determine whether a source we referenced was a credible "good" source or not. I've been taught how to do this and it has been drummed into my head. On the great WWW though, 99.9% of people have not been taught this and it shows. Here for example is a forum post I found.

Most of the comments here a junk. For example the back and forth blending of "corn syrup" and "high fructose corn syrup" being the same. They're not. Even more egregious is this statement: "Candy did not traditionally contain corn syrup in the past, as this is a relatively new ingredient." And look how many concur. No, NO, NO, NO!

Let's define relatively new. High Fructose Corn syrup was developed in the 1950s. That's relatively new. Of yeah, I should site a reference. Wikipedia is good for general knowledge but it is by no means a credible source (in this case note the wiki-author has the date wrong). A university is usually a credible source; here's a report from Rose Hulman University, page 3. Also note that major industrial use did not occur until after the 1980s after more efficient production methods were developed (same source). I'll save my conspiracy theory on New Coke for a late time.

So this means that the above statement is patently false. To further back up that claim, I know taffy existed prior to 1950 and I know that one of taffy's ingredients is corn syrup. So that corn syrup prior to 1950 wasn't HFCS. I could find sources to back that up too, but it is rather basic intuition so we'll let that slide for now.

When I got home I decided just to cut to the chase and open up my copy of On Food and Cookingby Harold McGee. If you are a food geek enough that you need to know the science behind food, this book is a must have. This is another legit source. According to McGee, corn syrup was developed in the early 1800s and prior to that simple sugar syrup, malt extract or honey was used in candy production, with an unpredictable acid modification. So from 1850 to 1950, a period of 100 years, corn syrup was used in candy production and that is not relatively new.

And I finally learned that corn syrup is used in candy production to prevent sugar crystallization. I should have just started with McGee and not bothered surfing the Internet. I would have saved a lot of time.

But I did learn the Karo brand syrup, the number one brand sold in the world, is now a blend of regular corn syrup and HFCS. My wife said she could have told me that, "it tastes different now." I think the only way to get real corn syrup is to buy organic corn syrup.

Interesting side note. When we moved to Hell, the next town over was Cairo pronounced Karo and it was Home of the Fighting Syrupmakers so naturally we confused it with Karo but the syrup they are referring to is cane syrup not corn syrup.


Personally, I avoid HFCS if at all possible. I don't think it is as evil as some claim it to be, but I still think it is evil. You know, kind of like I thought we should invade Afghanistan not Iraq because there was more evil there than in Iraq and that Vladmir Putin really was nothing more than a punk dictator not a "man of character" because he was more evil than anyone from France. But I digress. And this ad campaign by the manufacturers REALLY infuriates me. Why? Because it is NOT safe in moderation because you almost cannot moderate the stuff. HFCS is EVERYWHERE. Just read labels. It's even in bread! Look, it's one thing if you don't think red meat is healthy (I do btw) but it is relatively easy to avoid red meat. But they put HFCS in everything to the point that sometimes there is no alternative. THAT I do have issue with. So I avoid it at all cost.

HFCS is actually one of the reasons I started cooking more, a lot more.

And don't get me started on the "same calories" claim.

Wow. This turned into more of a rant than I had expected. I don't even remember what the point was I was trying to make. Whoops. Oh well. Maybe I should make bread again.


Brook said...

OMG! To quote the teenyboppers or whatever they call themselves these days. I agree with you 100%! And the new as campaign makes me steam! HFCS is chemically modified, does not occur in nature and has no business being in everything we eat! I remember watching an interview with one of the developers of HFCS for commercial use and he APOLOGIZED! He said that he and others thought they were combatting world hunger (there were also interviews with people in the chemical fertilizer/pesticide/herbicide industry)and he was incredibly disheartened to see how his work has become responsible for the replacement of real nutrition with empty calories that our bodies don't even know how to use. We are starving to death nutritionally as our bodies grow larger and larger. Ohhh, I get worked up incredibally when I think of how the poor suffer because of their lack of education and dependence on cheap processed foods. I was raised on a farm and though money was tight we always had good food. I haven't met any of my peers who really understand the connection between people and the land, or care for that matter. AAARGH! Well, let's not get me any more started. Please tell me you have read "Good Omens" and can share that wry chuckle with me in the midst of the current madness we find ourselves in!

Huff Daddy said...

I did read Good Omens! How did you know?

Well it's good to know I'm not alone out there on this.