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Corn syrup facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Karo Dark Pint Label Revision Final
Dark corn syrup in commercial packaging

Corn syrup is a syrup made from maize, composed mainly of glucose. It is used to sweeten soft drinks, juices, ice cream, and many other mass-produced foods. Its liquid form keeps foods moist and prevents them from quickly spoiling. In many areas it is less expensive than table sugar due to agricultural policy, e.g. the United States subsidizes its production while taxing sugar imports.

The more general term glucose syrup is often used synonymously with corn syrup, since glucose syrup is in the United States most commonly made from corn starch. Technically, glucose syrup is any liquid starch hydrolysate and can be made from any source of starch; wheat, tapioca and potatoes are the most common other sources.

Corn syrup is used in foods to soften texture, add volume, prevent crystallization of sugar, and enhance flavor.

Commercial preparation

Historically, corn syrup was produced by combining corn starch with dilute hydrochloric acid, and then heating the mixture under pressure. The process was invented by Gottlieb Kirchhoff in 1812. Currently, corn syrup is obtained through a multi-step bioprocess.

Two common commercial corn syrup products are light and dark corn syrup.

  • Light corn syrup is corn syrup seasoned with vanilla flavor and salt.) Light corn syrup is clear and tastes moderately sweet.
  • Dark corn syrup is a combination of corn syrup and molasses (or Refiners' syrup), caramel color and flavor, salt, and the preservative sodium benzoate. Dark corn syrup is a warm brown color and tastes much stronger than light corn syrup. Molasses in dark corn syrup enhances its flavor and color. This product is very useful in science experiments like the Seven layers density column.


Karo advertisement, 1917

Corn syrup's major uses in commercially prepared foods are as a thickener, a sweetener and as a humectant; an ingredient that retains moisture and thus maintains a food's freshness.

In the United States, cane sugar quotas raise the price of sugar; hence, domestically produced corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup are less costly alternatives that are often used in American-made processed and mass-produced foods, candies, soft drinks and fruit drinks.

Glucose syrup was the primary corn sweetener in the United States prior to the expanded use of high fructose corn syrup production. HFCS is a variant in which other enzymes are used to convert some of the glucose into fructose. The resulting syrup is sweeter and more soluble. Corn syrup is also available as a retail product.

If mixed with sugar, water and cream of tartar corn syrup can be used to make sugar glass

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