Is corn syrup the same as corn sugar? Is it addictive? These questions and many more are answered on my podcast. I am excited to share this podcast, bloopers and all because I got over a fear! I have been redoing and rescheduling this interview because I wanted perfection. I have shied away from video/audio recordings because I hate the way my voice sounds and the way I look on camera, but I realized that I have to get past that. So, I jumped right in and did the recording and I had fun! I had so much fun, I want to do this again. If you are interested in being interviewed or you have a friend, let me know! I don’t bite and I am interested in many topics, just pitch your idea to me! Enjoy the interview!
Corn Syrup Basics
November 5, 2011
Guest: Petera Reine.
Lisa-Marie: Hello and good day. This is Lisa-Marie from closedlids.com and I would like to welcome you to my first ever podcast. I look forward to discussing various topics and interviewing many individuals.
The goal of Closed Lids is to guide individuals who are looking for spiritual understanding and assist those who already have an understanding move forward in their journey. Closing eyelids does not necessarily mean you are lacking knowledge, it can mean one is reflecting upon knowledge acquired. I am super excited to introduce the topic and interviewee for the day.
With Halloween just passing, I figured why not discuss corn syrup also known as corn sugar. My guest for today is Petera Reine, former chemist for a food manufacturing company and current master of public health candidate.
Welcome Petera and how are you this evening?
Petera: I am great, how are you? Thanks for having me.
Lisa-Marie: You’re welcome; I am really excited for this topic. Before we get started, tell me a little bit about yourself. Science is not a field many women enter, so what prompted you to enter this field and why corn syrup?
Petera: Thank you for asking me that question. I actually entered this field as an undergrad at Spelman College. I went into this field initially because I had aspirations of going into the medical field. Through my matriculation and attending various summer programs, I decided that research was more of an area that was interesting for me, which brought me into chemistry. Upon graduating, I was hired by a very big Fortune 500 company, who processed corn syrup and it was just a very good opportunity for me at that time.
Lisa-Marie: Okay that is a very interesting background. Let’s just cut to the chase. What is corn syrup and is it the same as corn sugar?
Petera: Well, let’s be clear here. Corn syrup, well corn sugar is a name that was derived by the Corn Refiner Association and other big whigs of these companies who produce corn syrup. It is a term to make the population more comfortable with the idea of consuming corn syrup. It is to make the consumers realize that because there is such a negative stigma placed on corn syrup, by saying corn sugar they are trying to take a way that stigma and just say hey, it’s natural, it’s sugar, let’s just stop trying to blacklist corn syrup , it’s just sugar from corn. To answer the question, is it the same thing, I would just say it is just a play on names, it is the same thing. Corn syrup and corn sugar is the exact same thing, it is just a marketing strategy. It’s better to say sugar instead of syrup.
Lisa-Marie: Is corn syrup naturally occurring in nature? How is it made?
Petera: Absolutely not! Ms. L.Marie, let me tell you. Corn syrup is not naturally occurring in nature. It takes a very long process to break down starch chains, to heat the product up to high temps, to add enzymes, to add other chemicals, to do all these things and to arrive at an end product, which is corn syrup.
Lisa-Marie: That basically sounds like sci-fi, like mixing and matching.
Petera: Right, it really is. It is a lot of breaking down and building back up. It is a very technical process of adjusting temperatures, of adjusting water, of evaporating is you add too much water, of adding Hydrochloric Acids, of adding SO2. It is a very technical and very chemical derived method of making corn syrup from corn.
Lisa-Marie: From hearing you use words like chemicals and hydro this and hydro that, are there any health benefits, if any to corn syrup? Are there negative effects?
Petera: Now, in my opinion, I would say there are absolutely no health benefits of consuming corn syrup. But, on the other side of things, I would not say that there are any negative effects either. I feel like consuming corn syrup, you have to be mindful of moderation because it does process in your body much like regular cane sugar; sugar from sugar canes. It does process the same because that is glucose. Corn syrup is made up of glucose maltose, polysaccharides, and trisaccharricdes. The body does recognize it and does breaks down the same exact way. As far as any immediate negative effects, I wouldn’t say there are any, but in the long term if you are consuming too much of it, I do feel obesity would be a byproduct of consuming too much corn syrup.
Lisa-Marie: Now be honest with me. Knowing what you know now, do you consume products with corn syrup?
Petera: Okay, as you mentioned in the beginning, I am currently a graduate student. I do live on a very tight budget, sponsored by the government with my school loans. So to get away from products that contain corn syrup is very difficult. I would challenge everyone to go into their local grocer and just grab random products and look on the back, look in the ingredient section and you most likely will find either corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup in the product. Very difficult to get away from. So knowing what I know, I do still consciously consume products with corn syrup, but that just because in order for me to get away from them, I would have to be a vegan or eat raw or just consume everything in its natural state and that is very difficult to do.
Lisa-Marie: Is it something that is addictive. Is corn syrup something that people can get hooked on?
Petera: I think this question will probably relate to food addictions, I think everyone has a food addiction. We all those items that we do crave, but to say that you crave corn syrup specifically, I don’t think I can confidently say that yes you do, but I do feel you may have a craving for chocolate cookies, or you may have craving for those products that contain corn syrup. That is definitely a possible thing and again that goes back to moderation.
Lisa-Marie: I hear you talking about going into the grocery store and grabbing products that contain corn syrup. What are some examples of products that contain corn syrup?
Petera: There is a wide variety of products that contain corn syrup, from your pharmaceutical products to juices your everyday foods, the mac and cheese, your breads, and surprisingly even pesticides contain corn syrup. You will find that corn syrup is in a large amount of products. There are scientists that are continuously doing research to find new uses for corn.
Lisa-Marie: Off our recording today, we were discussing corn syrup and you mentioned that there are different types of corn syrup; about 5-10. Can you go into more detail about that?
Petera: Absolutely. Corn syrup comes in different sweetness and different thickness. The sweetness is known as the dextrose equivalent percentage and thickness which we call the baume. Each corn syrup comes in two numbers. Ice cream companies want the corn syrup to be a little thicker. And by thicker we mean the starch chains are a little more intact, that they are pretty long starch chains. The ice cream companies use more a 36 number type corn syrup and by that we mean the dextrose equivalent is a little low; it is not very sweet. And you have these other corn syrups that are used by beer companies and these are high maltose corn syrup and all these products its takes different enzymes we use to create either a higher dextrose or a higher maltose of these products. A lot of bread companies will use what we call the middle range of corn syrup, which is between 40s and 43s and again those are dextrose equivalent numbers and then you have the very very sweet corn syrup which is also very thin like water, which is the 63s. That is saying that the starch chains are heavily broken up and broken up with acids and with enzymes to break those chains up to lose its structure. And that is used by bakers and pharmaceutical companies.
Lisa-Marie: Basically bakers and pharmaceutical companies are using this same product.
Petera: Oh yes, absolutely. Bakers, pharmaceutical companies, beer manufacturing companies, Coors Lite, Millers Lite, they all use corn syrup. Juices, juice companies, they all use corn syrup.
Lisa-Marie: So now what. You don’t work in a lab anymore, so what are your future goals and aspirations?
Petera: I am in public health. My passions are still with the people. I still want to do what I can to improve the masses of citizens here in the United States. I want to make sure that we all are living our best possible health. I still have an interest in nutrition; I’m not in the lab anymore. Right now, I’m working in infectious disease. I still have a strong interest in nutrition. I volunteer regularly with a program in my city called the Edible School Yard. Where we teach elementary school children about vegetables and fruit and how they can prepare them in a natural way and how to prepare snacks from them and how to eat more healthy, This what I’m involved with right now
Lisa-Marie: It seems like you have a nice mix of your interests and your career goals. That is very important. Impressive.
Petera: Absolutely, I agree.
Lisa-Marie: Listening to you speaking in all these technical terms, it must have taken a lot of studying. When you went into the company, did you have to study or was this something you already knew from your chemistry major in college?
Petera: Definitely a little bit of both. Initially going into the company you had to have a base knowledge of chemistry. You have to be able to make chemical solutions. These are things you are going to use to test certain aspects of corn syrup because we do run a battery of tests every time we make corn syrup to make sure the product is up to customer specifications. You do have to have a base knowledge of math skills and chemical knowledge of how to read chemical abbreviations and how to use periodic table and those things. When I arrived at the company I had to go through additional classes of food chemistry, of specifically knowing what happens to corn. We had these corn classes on what happens when you add acid to corn. What happens to the starch, how it breaks down. How do we hydrolyze the solution, how do we evaporate and take water out the solution. How do we clean it up, how do we clean up the corn syrup with activated carbon to purify the corn and to take out all the impurities. These are things you do learn once you start with the company I was with. It did take additional knowledge. I can honestly say in my time there, it was an ongoing learning process. It really was.
Lisa-Marie: Very nice. Do you have any closing thoughts on corn syrup?
Petera: Just for your listeners. I would like to tell them. I would say that corn syrup is not harmful and when I say that. I’m saying you have to consume it in moderation. Now I do understand it is difficult to get away corn syrup, considering a large majority of our products contain it. But, just like eating table sugar, you have to consume it in moderation and just be aware of the amount you are taking in. Honestly myself that is what I’m trying to do now. Be a little more conscious of what I am putting into my body. You only have one body; you have to take care of it. You have to make sure you are living the best you and doing what you can to take care of yourself and be happy. Live your life as healthy as possible.
Lisa-Marie: That is great advice and that is something I need to work on myself. You go into stores and you want to be healthy but these different products and ingredients are in everything. You just have to be mindful. If you have the knowledge I guess it helps you to be mindful.
If listeners wanted to get in touch with you, do you have any contract information?
Petera: Absolutely. If your listeners wanted to get in touch with me, I would be happy to provide my email address and answer any questions they have and direct them to some websites that are incredible that can answer their questions. Tera_michele [at] yahoo [dot] com.
Lisa-Marie: Thanks. Thank you Petera. You shared a wealth of knowledge I’m sure my listeners will take away with them. I thank you for joining me today and please don’t be a stranger.
Petera: Absolutely. Thank you. I adore your website; I’m always visiting and commenting. I think it’s great what you do for the people.
Lisa-Marie: Thank you! Great interview. I definitely need to pay attention to what I consume.
I thank you all for listening in please keep in touch with me on closedlids.com, facebook.com/ClosedLids, twitter.com/closedlids or shoot me an email at lmarie [at] closedlids [dot] com.
An urban planning PhD student finding peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.
Photo Credit: MSR