Small batch artisanal high-fructose corn syrup

Matt sez, "Maya Weinstein is an artist who just finished her MFA at Parsons, with the awesomest thesis ever: a DIY kit for making your own High-Fructose Corn Syrup, the industrial sweetener that is, well, let's say problematic these days.

"Amazingly, HFCS is not available for consumers to buy, and as Weinstein discovered, making it yourself requires some pretty unusual (and expensive) components, like Glucose Isomerase. But it's a totally fascinating process, and only the first in what Weinstein hopes will be a series of 'citizen food science' kits."

DIY High-Fructose Corn Syrup by Artist Maya Weinstein


  1. I stopped reading when I saw that the picture was labeled “salycic acid” then the description of the included ingredients said sulfuric acid, then later it said salicylic acid.  Given that the submission says this was for her MFA thesis, I would expect a bit more precision.

    1. Apparently HFCS is also found in “deserts.” 

      Spelling and chemistry deficiencies aside, it’s a pretty rad project.

    2. The project is more or less nonsense, but man, that basket looks fantastic.  And isn’t agave nectar about as high fructose as you can get (92% fructose, 8% glucose), minus the corn? And did she do any analyses to determine if what she made was actually high fructose?

    3. You are correct.  Weeks of no sleep leading up to my thesis show rendered my brain a bit wonky and I made some errors when putting together the website.  The correct ingredient is sulfuric acid.  Thank you for pointing that out, the appropriate changes have been made.

    4. I was thrown by misreading the title. I thought, “artisanal”? Is this suitable for work?

    1. no style guide, it was just meant as an emphasis on the ingredients that’s all :)

  2. I’m pretty sure she shouldn’t be boiling that glucose isomerase. It’s optimized for 60 ºC (140 ºF), so she should probably just be keeping the temperature constant. Boiling is just going to kill the enzyme.

    1. The glucose isomerase is added to the corn mixture while the corn mixture is at room temperature.  After the isomerization process is complete the liquid is boiled to form the syrup

    1. that’s what i thought too, and was going to post that.  i went to look at their website to confirm, and they say they’ve removed HFCS per customer request, and now it’s just regular old corn syrup.

      1.  But corn syrup is naturally high in fructose  whether or not it it has been meddled with. If fructose is a problem, it’s a problem whether it’s “natural” or not. Of course, actual fruits which are laden with fructose have a lower glycemic index because they are also high in fiber, which slows down uptake of the sugar.

        I remember back in the late 70’s and early 80’s when health food stores sold HFCS and high fructose crystals so you could get the same sweetness with fewer calories.

        HFCS and natural corn syrups are popular in the US because of the sugar tariff which prop up sugar farming in Louisiana and especially Florida. Texas has largely abandoned its sugar cane industry, there are just a few farms that produce novelty raw cane to sell to Central American and Caribbean immigrants for ceremonial purposes.

        1. Also, Archer Daniels Midland and their kind hire lobbyists and congressman to legislate on their behalf. 

          Doesn’t a lot of regular sugar come from beets grown in California?

        2. But corn syrup is naturally high in fructose  whether or not it it has been meddled with.

          Do you have a source for this? It was my understanding that corn syrup is nearly 100% glucose and must undergo further processing to convert glucose to fructose.

      2. Karo has always been regular old corn syrup — they didn’t need to remove HFCS because it’s never included it. From the FAQ on their website:

        Q. Do any of Karo’s Corn Syrup products used in baking that are sold in retail stores contain high fructose corn syrup?
        A. No. When Karo was first introduced in 1902, it contained 0 grams of high fructose corn syrup. Like the original, all Karo Corn Syrup products used in baking that you can purchase today contain 0 grams of high fructose corn syrup. Karo will never add high fructose corn syrup to current consumer products or introduce new corn syrup products containing high fructose corn syrup.

        1. also from the FAQ:
          Is high fructose corn syrup the same as corn syrup?No. high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup are distinctly different products. When Karo was introduced in 1902, it did not contain high fructose corn syrup. Sometime in the 1970’s, it was added to the Karo light and pancake syrups. As a result of consumer requests, the high fructose corn syrup has now been removed and all Karo products are high fructose corn syrup free.

  3. “Amazingly, HFCS is not available for consumers to buy”

    I find that hard to believe.  If you mean in a retail store in a reasonable quantity sure, but I’m sure somebody is willing to sell me a 5 gallon pail (or maybe a 55 gallon drum) of it.

    A quick google foo placed me here:
    No idea if they sell to individuals.  If it’s sealed I’d imagine HFCS would have a pretty long shelf life.

    As a side note I used to work at a place that received it in those stainless 275 gallon totes.  A little HFCS and some ammonium hydroxide, yummy.

    1. of course everything is available to buy somewhere somehow.  But HFCS is not available in any grocery store, bodega, walmart, amazon, etc etc, so it is really not readily available or visible to the majority of consumers

  4. this project is actually made from metaphors and not meant to be consumed orally, but through the eyes and mind.

  5. This reminds me of the “home synthing” story line in the Judge Dread comic. Megacity One citizens were concerned that their food was not 100% synthetic and were fearful that it was being adulterated with natural ingredients. This lead to the creation of a home food synthesizing movement using only 100% artificial ingredients. 

  6. You can buy HFCS at the market, I was just looking at some the other day. I believe what they had was “light” corn syrup, this is the non-HFCS, but then they just had regular old HFCS, I think it was just labeled corn syrup, but the ingredients revealed HFCS. I think it was $3 or $4 for a 32 fl oz.
    Then there is the soda aisle, just HFCS with a little water and color. Nice project, I don’t really want to make corn syrup myself, but I’d be more interested in the learning process, like the Toaster Project.

  7. I highly recommend the documentary film “King Corn” on this subject. As a part of their research, the filmmakers manufacture a small batch of HFCS in their kitchen. This only after having been refused when they tried to buy some of the stuff from the manufacturers, who also won’t give anyone a tour of any HFCS manufacturing facilities (shocker). Anyway, the look on their faces when they taste the result of their work is alone worth the price of admission.

  8.  Ordinary table sugar is a disaccharide made of up equal parts glucose and fructose.  The first action of digestion breaks it down into the two simple sugars.

    Fructose is a naturally occurring monosacharide (name means “fruit sugar” in fact) that occurs, oddly enough, in fruits, that most natural of foods.

    HFCS is a mixture of glucose and fructose, it is called a “glucose syrup” for historical reasons and not because it is purely glucose:

    HFCS consists of 24% water, and the rest sugars.
    The most widely used varieties of HFCS are: HFCS 55 (mostly used in
    soft drinks), approximately 55% fructose and 42% glucose; and HFCS 42
    (used in beverages, processed foods, cereals and baked goods),
    approximately 42% fructose and 53% glucose. (Wikipedia)

    I’ve never understood what all the fuss is about since these sugars (glucose and fructose and sucrose) are about as natural as you can get.

    1. I’ve never understood what all the fuss is about since these sugars (glucose and fructose and sucrose) are about as natural as you can get.

      Because it comes without the rest of the food, such as fiber. If you wouldn’t eat 24 oranges, you shouldn’t suck down the sugar content of 24 oranges.

  9. I suspect the unavailability of HFCS on the retail level is due more to lack of demand than some sinister conspiracy.  Lots of stuff used in commercial food manufacture tends to only be available in multi-ton lots as a rule.

    Just use regular corn syrup and add some fructose.  It’s not exactly a controlled substance.  Here’s a couple of links even:

    3 lb bag

    70 lb bag

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