I received an email yesterday from a reader wondering why, when molasses was such a widely available sweetner, did home cooks and commercial food makers switch over to corn syrup?
A big reason is cost. Sugar syrup derived from sugar cane invariably costs more than sugar syrup derived from corn (more labor goes into it, and it has to be shipped from places like Hawaii, Fiji, Jamaica and such). Which means that sugar cane refining by-products, of which molasses is the primary one, cost more. Table sugar can also be made from sugar beets, and in fact today most of it is. Sugar beets grow widely in the continental US, but the molasses that comes from them is truly disgusting. Corn is easy, cheap, and here.
Corn syrup is also much more flexible as an ingredient. It’s transparent, mild in flavor, and won’t crystallize (molasses won’t either, actually), which makes it a great ingredient for things like candies and icings. But unike almost any other sugar syrup, it is also very thick, and this is what makes it of such interest to food manufacturers, who put its texture-giving properties to use in innumerable ways.