Corn syrup is quite frequently used in snacks like chocolate bars, cookies, ice cream, nutritional bars, candy, cakes, and a whole lot more. It’s present in most processed sweet foods, so it’s only natural for people to wonder whether it’s actually vegan-friendly, despite the name.
Corn syrup is vegan but allow me to mention that most corn is genetically modified, which means they’re designed to kill certain insects or pests. Additionally, animal genes are often used to genetically modify corn, which would make GMO corn not vegan.
What Is Corn Syrup?
Corn syrup is a sweet, edible syrup made from the naturally occurring sugars present in corn.
It is generally used as a sweetener and can be purchased in a bottle to use in cooking, but it’s mostly added to processed foods on an industrial scale.
In shops, you’ll generally find two types of corn syrup — light corn syrup and dark corn syrup.
Light corn syrup is a clear syrup, usually flavored with vanilla. Dark corn syrup is a dark-brown syrup but it’s usually flavored with molasses, so it has a much stronger flavor.
There are different corn syrups that go into processed foods. One of the most popular ones is high-fructose corn syrup, which is much sweeter than regular corn syrup.
It’s quite common for people to use corn syrup and glucose syrup interchangeably, especially in the United States, as most glucose syrup is produced from corn.
How Is Corn Syrup Made?
Corn syrup is made by breaking down the starches in corn into glucose. Starch is a more complex carbohydrate, consisting of long chains of molecules as opposed to shorter chains in sugars. Breaking the bonds that keep the starches together will transform them into shorter sugar chains, and one way to achieve this is to use enzymes.
First, the starchiest component of the maize kernel, known as the endosperm, is removed and combined with water. After that, two types of enzymes are introduced. The first breaks starch down into shorter chains of glucose molecules, whereas the second breaks down glucose chains into individual glucose molecules.
These glucose molecules combine to generate a sweet syrup that is essentially corn syrup. Flavorings like vanilla and salt, for light corn syrup, or molasses, for dark corn syrup, can be added at this point.
To manufacture high fructose corn syrup, an additional enzyme is added, which transforms some of the glucose molecules into fructose, a sweeter type of sugar.
Is Corn Syrup Vegan?
Every ingredient in corn syrup is plant-based, which means you can consume it guilt-free.
But some vegans are more strict than others, and the manufacturing process of corn syrup may prevent them from buying and consuming it.
Converting starch into glucose and fructose needs to be done via enzymes. And enzymatic processes are not popular in the cruelty-free, vegan world, as some of them derive from animals. Not all of them, but some do.
Other vegans worry about the natural state of the corn. Did you know that over 90% of corn in the USA is modified? Humans genetically modify food for different reasons:
- To make food more resilient to pests and diseases
- To produce larger amounts of food (up to 10% more)
- To boost efficiency and nurture more people around the globe
By genetically modifying crops, you’re essentially making them resistant to certain pests/insects, so in some cases, when these pests/insects eat these crops, they die. In rarer cases, insects may develop a resistance against the protein that kills them, but that isn’t the majority of the cases.
However, these matters are more personal and depend on each individual. Some people don’t worry about it, while others will consider it before purchasing a product or not.
Healthier Vegan Alternatives
If you’re someone that buys bottled corn syrup, then you might want to consider other options that might be made with non-genetically modified corn.
The options I’ll be mentioning below are natural alternatives that should be much healthier.
Stevia is a plant-based sweetener that gained popularity over the past years. It’s popular for weight loss purposes, as you consume fewer calories if you switch the sugar to stevia.
It also became widespread among health advocates since it may help reduce sugar levels, contains antioxidants, and increases sodium excretion.
Stevia is a good pick for diabetic people and those who take care of their body health.
2) Brown Rice Syrup
Brown rice syrup consists of fermented brown rice heated until it thickens. As a result, it’s a healthy sugar substitute filled with sodium and fiber.
It tastes similar to nuts, and you can consume it daily without feeling guilty. Besides being vegan, it tastes terrific in certain baked foods.
3) Cane Syrup
Cane syrup is made from simmering sugar cane juice in kettles until they thicken. It tastes similar to molasses, but it undergoes fewer processes and doesn’t have additives.
It comes from sugar cane grown organically, meaning that no chemical fertilizers are added. It’s safe for you and the environment and it tastes good!
4) Maple Syrup
Besides being delicious, maple syrup is rich in antioxidants and an alternative to sugar for improved digestion. It helps fight inflammatory conditions.
If you are a strict vegan that doesn’t include honey in your diet or you don’t like honey’s taste, you may want to opt for maple syrup instead. Its glycemic index is lower, and it’s also richer in vitamin B1 and B2, calcium, and magnesium.
5) Golden Syrup
The golden syrup is a caramel-like substitute for sugar. But it contains a higher percentage of glucose than maple syrup, so you should avoid it if you’re on a weight loss diet.
6) Go Unsweetened
Last but not least, if you can take the bitterness of unsweetened products, this is your go-to option. Of course, it’s the most challenging decision, but some people take the challenge.
It may not be easy to find unsweetened snacks and products, but you can cook and bake your own meals without including any sugary additives.
You can use natural ingredients instead, such as unsweetened dark chocolate, bananas, whole wheat flour, coconut flour, nuts, and nut flour, chia seeds, and many more.
The Bottom Line
Corn syrup is technically vegan, but some vegans might be against genetically modified crops (for their impact on the insect population) and because they might be modified with animal genes.
Corn is literally of the most highly genetically modified products and may also cause harm to your health, which is why it might be better to rely on better, healthier alternatives such as:
- Maple syrup
- Golden syrup
- Brown rice syrup
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