Corn refiners produce a variety of sweeteners. All the sweeteners share advantages--stability and crystallization control, for example--but each offers special qualities to food manufacturers and consumers.
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Corn syrups are often characterized by the sweetness and energy they offer, but their value as food ingredients also flows from their adaptability and their other, less-known, advantages. Corn syrups can depress freezing to prevent crystal formation in ice cream and other frozen desserts. Ingredients in salad dressings and condiments remain evenly dispersed and pour at manageable rates because of corn syrups’ effect on viscosity. In lunch meats and hot dogs, corn syrups provide the suspension to keep other ingredients evenly mixed. Corn syrups can also improve textures and enhance colors without masking natural flavors, as in canned fruits and vegetables.
Glucose (also called dextrose) is used for its mild sweetness, texture, bulking ability, and white color. It helps to sweeten products like chewing gum. In jams, jellies, preserves, and icing mixes it is used to temper the intense sweetness of sucrose, but offers another advantage; it maintains moisture so products don’t go stale. Glucose is used in brewing low calorie beers as a source of energy necessary for the fermentation process. In baking, glucose serves as a source of energy for yeast, but it also gives a mild sweetness and improves the color and texture of breads, buns, and rolls. Glucose is the starting point for producing vitamins C and E and is used in fermentation to produce penicillin and other antibiotics. It is also used as a feedstock for producing citric acid, lysine, and other organic and amino acids, as well as ethanol and other alternatives to petroleum-derived materials including plastics and polyester.
Polyols are a group of low-calorie sweeteners made from corn. Polyols produced by corn refiners include erythritol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. These sweeteners have fewer calories than sugar, do not promote tooth decay, and elicit a low glycemic response, which makes them important ingredients in foods and beverages formulated for diabetics. Polyols serve as useful alternatives to sugars in a wide range of products, including chewing gums, candies, ice cream, baked goods, and fruit spreads. In addition, they function well in fillings and frostings, canned fruits, beverages, yogurt, and tabletop sweeteners. They are also used in toothpastes, mouthwashes, and health care products such as cough syrups and throat lozenges.
Crystalline fructose is the sweetest of all the corn sweeteners and can be used in reduced-calorie foods and beverages, because less is required to produce the desired flavor. Crystalline fructose’s capacity to produce greater sweetness in combination with sugar makes it useful in presweetened cereals, instant beverages, and other dry mix products.
High Fructose Corn Syrups
High fructose corn syrups are natural, nutritive, versatile sweeteners offering many benefits. They are very similar to sucrose (table sugar) and honey in composition, sweetness, calories and metabolism. High fructose corn syrups are sold principally in two formulations-42 percent and 55 percent fructose-with the balance made up of primarily glucose and higher sugars. HFCS-55 has sweetness equivalent to sugar and is used in many carbonated soft drinks in the United States. HFCS-42 is somewhat less sweet and is used in many fruit-flavored noncarbonated beverages, baked goods and other products in which its special characteristics such as fermentability, lower freezing point, surface browning and flavor enhancement add value to the product. A third product, HFCS-90, is sometimes used in natural and “light” foods, where very little is needed to provide sweetness. Syrups with 90% fructose will not state high fructose corn syrup on the label, they will state “fructose” or “fructose syrup.” In salad dressings and spaghetti sauce, high fructose corn syrup improves flavor by reducing the harsh vinegar or acid bite while enhancing fruit and spice flavors. In canned fruits and applesauce, high fructose corn syrup serves as a preservative keeping color and texture intact and it enhances fruit flavors. Breads and baked goods require a fermentable sugar necessary for leavening. In addition to its excellent browning characteristics, high fructose corn syrup is a highly fermentable nutritive sweetener. Children’s cough and cold medicines are not effective if they are not taken. High fructose corn syrup makes them palatable and it helps disperse the active ingredients.