Here’s my contribution to the massive blogospheric response to the “Sweet Surprise” pro-high fructose corn syrup ads. HFCS is not a food choice I would make. I think that “food” should be “something you can figure out how to make yourself, in a normal kitchen, starting from pieces of plants and/or animals.” (Admittedly, I don’t know how to make baking soda, but then, I use it mostly as a cleaning product.)
I also feel strongly that food should be artisanal, not industrial. I was waiting for a freight train to pass at the intersection of Seminary Road and Capital View, and I was watching the cars go by, and I got a bit alarmed at one point by the progression of petroleum product-petroleum product-some kinda sulfate-some kinda sulfate-petroleum product-corn syrup-corn syrup. Just kinda freaked me out.
This is a “best of all possible worlds” rant. I’m not naive. I know I’m privileged beyond the dreams of most humans ever in history in terms of the options available to me in choosing food. I don’t think everyone in the world (or even everyone in my neighborhood) has regular, affordable access to fresh fruit and vegetables and protein sources; I just think they should. I’d rather see social changes to encourage that than corporate profit-driven monoculture schemes to feed the burgeoning masses as cheaply as possible, and the stockholders as richly as possible. It’s a giant weird Malthusian/Hieronymus Bosch nightmare to me, the way economics and agriculture have twisted around each other.
The ads say it’s “made from corn”.
Well, yes, in a way.
But it’s not made from corn in the same way as, for example, maple syrup is made from maple trees.
Step 1- Tap tree.
Step 2- Boil sap.
Step 1- Mix dried corn kernels with water and sulfur dioxide for a day or two.
Step 2- Grind up the corn.
Step 3- Separate the germ (oily part) from the pulp (starchy/protein/fiber part) using a centrifuge.
Step 4- Filter off the fiber with some more milling and screening.
Step 5- Centrifuge the remainder, to separate the gluten from the starch.
Step 6- Keep diluting and centrifuging the starch mixture up to 14 times to make sure you’ve got just starch. (I’m pretty sure I could handle this recipe myself up to this point, but I don’t have the right screens and I don’t know where to get sulfur dioxide.)
Step 7- Get some bacteria (Bacillus sp., but I don’t know what the sp. stands for) to make some alpha amylase (that’s an enzyme that occurs naturally in saliva and pancreatic juices).
Step 8- Mix the alpha amylase with the starch. This breaks it down into polysaccharides. I guess if you were trying to do this at home, you could spit in it.
Step 9- Get some aspergillus fungi to make you someglucoamylase.
Step 10- Mix the glucoamylase with the polysaccharide solution. This gets you glucose.
Step 11- Get some D-xylose isomerase. (I don’t know where you get this, or how it’s made.)
Step 12- Mix the D-xylose isomerase with the glucose. This gets you a mixture of about 42 percent fructose and 50-52 percent glucose (and some other sugars).
Step 13- Using liquid chromatography, get your fructose level up to 90%. (I don’t think you can get a liquid chromatograph setup for the home kitchen. Not even at Sur La Table.)
Step 14- Blend some of your 90% fructose with the 42% fructose/52% glucose so you have a 55% fructose solution. (SAT mixture problems, anyone?)
So, corn syrup is sort of made from corn. But I’d argue that it’s made from corn even less than Velveeta is made from milk. (Acknowledged: Beer and cheese are produced in multi-stage processes involving bacteria and/or fungus, too. Also acknowledged: I don’t know what liquid chromatography is, and it probably isn’t scary.)
And it makes rats’ hearts get really big. (I couldn’t find a proper scientific study that actually says their hearts exploded, but this study says “fructose feeding induced significant increases in…left ventricular weight.”)