What is HFCS?
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is derived from corn which is converted into a sweetener with a similar chemical makeup to sucrose (natural sugar). HFCS is a very popular sweetener in the USA due to government subsidies to the corn industry, the ability to mix well with all types of ingredients and retention of moisture in the final product.
In recent years manufacturers have started to look for alternative sweeteners due to the increasing price of HFCS and the debate about the potential health risks. Nevertheless, HFCS is still the most popular sweetener for manufacturing in the USA.
How is HFCS made?
First, corn kernels are soaked in hot water until they are softened. The corn is then broken and the germs (a part of the inner part of the kernel) are removed. The broken kernels are then sent through a centrifuge to separate the gluten from the starch.
The starch is treated with two enzymes. The first enzyme breaks down the long chains of starch into shorter chains. The second enzyme breaks down the shorter chains into glucose molecules and the starch becomes corn syrup.
The corn syrup is treated with another enzyme which converts glucose into fructose until 42% of the mixture becomes fructose (the remaining components of the syrup are glucose and other sugars). The finished product is HFCS 42 which is has the equivalent sweetening capabilities of sucrose. This is the most common form of HFCS and it is used in many types of food and beverages.
HFCS 42 can be further processed to separate the fructose into HFCS 90, which is blended with HFCS 42 to create HFCS 55 which is used to sweeten soft drinks.
Is HFCS kosher?
In order for HFCS to be kosher certified, all the enzymes and processing aids need to be kosher, as well as the equipment. One of the enzymes used in the process, alpha-amylase, is typically derived from barley which poses a Passover concern. Another Passover concern is the soaking water for the corn which can be shared with wheat starch production.
Sephardic consumers who consume kitniyos on Passover cannot assume that HFCS is chometz free without proper certification.