A Few Thoughts on Fructose

So what is it about high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that causes people to become so unglued? Personally I think many of us just don’t like the idea that commercial food makers have mastered the science of sweetness. Knowing what a powerful attractor sweetness is to human beings (especially children) we worry what kind of confectionary hypno-crack Hostess might decide to serve up to us one day. As if one morning we’ll wake up to a super breed of Ho-Ho that’ll keep us all dashing back and forth to the Circle K like brain-wired lab mice frantically pushing the pleasure switch.

The important thing to remember here is that human beings aren’t simple stimulus-response mechanisms. Also, that we have a limited tolerance for the sensation of sweetness. When it’s delivered at intensities much greater than that of table sugar, it becomes at first cloying, then offensive, and finally unpalatable. Pure fructose is a mere 20% sweeter than standard table sugar, yet sweetness even at that level is more than even the most candy-committed preschooler can stand.

Today of course we have artificial compounds that are far more potent than fructose. Aspartame, for example, is 18,000% sweeter tasting than table sugar. Some modified versions of it are up to 1,300,000% as sweet, yet we don’t have hollow-eyed Neotame addicts wringing their hands on street corners begging for hits. The reason is that regardless of how terrifyingly sweet these substances are, they’re only useful to the extent that they can be diluted down to approximate the taste of standard table sugar.

Similarly, high-fructose corn syrup is most useful as a commercial ingredient when it matches — not exceeds — table sugar’s sweetness. When understood in that way, at least it seems to me, HFCS becomes far less threatening.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *