Many non-GM alternatives to high fructose corn syrup are available

Food companies wanting to avoid the GMO concerns associated with corn syrup and the negative connotations of refined sugar can choose from a wide range of alternative sweeteners. These include organic sugar and evaporated cane juice, rice syrup, barley malt, tapioca syrup, wheat and oat syrup, honey, fruit juices, molasses, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, and agave.

Due to their low cost and availability, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup are the most widely used sweeteners in food products. Corn sweeteners, which costs less than sugar, account for more than 55 percent of the US sweetener market.

However, the majority of corn sweeteners are made from unsegregated corn that includes GM varieties.

Organic sugar and evaporated cane juice

Roland Hoch, vice president of Global Organics, Arlington, Massachusetts (1-781-648-8844), says natural and organic companies want alternatives to sugar. "They don't want to put sugar on the ingredient panel," he says, referring to the commonly used refined white sugar, which is heavily processed and considered to be less nutritious than whole unrefined sugar. In fact, the latter is the most commonly used sweetener after sugar and corn syrup, according to Hoch. "It's a versatile sweetener because of its ease of formulation and handling, and it's cheaper," he says. Minimally processed sugar also contains more nutrients and molasses because they are not removed during processing, says Mike Deluca, vice president of natural food group, Florida Crystals Corporation, West Palm Beach, Florida (1-561-366-5148), which is the only US domestic producer of organic cane sugar.

Wholesome Sweeteners, Inc., based in Sugar Land, Texas (1-281-490-9579), also manufactures a range of organic and natural organic sugar products, including evaporated cane juice, molasses, and Sucanat (Sugar Cane Natural). Evaporated cane juice is made by crushing the sugar cane, extracting the juice, washing out the molasses and evaporating until sugar crystals remain. Wholesome Sweeteners' organic sugar products are used in cereals, dairy products, baked goods, beverages, preserves and jellies, cookies, and baby foods.

Rice syrup

Several grain-based sweeteners are also available as alternatives to corn. Rice syrup is the most common. Joe Hall, technical sales manager at California Natural Products, Lathrop, California (1-209-858-2525), says rice syrup is used in many soy products, such as soymilk. "It offsets the beany flavor," he says. Rice syrups are also hypoallergenic and easily digested.

Deluca says rice syrup is often the first ingredient in energy bars. "It's a sweetener and acts to hold the bar together," he says.

However, rice syrup is more expensive than corn syrup. "There is nothing cheaper than corn," says Hall, whose company sells several rice syrup and syrup solid products, including organic and brown rice-based.

Other grain-based sweeteners

Other grain-based sweeteners include wheat and oat syrups and barley malt. Global Organics imports several organic grain-based sweeteners from Belgium-based Meurens Natural, which uses a unique production process called "Sipal." Syrups and powders are derived from the hydrolysis of the starch from grains such as wheat, rice, barley, spelt, and maize (corn). No chemical additives or resins are used in the certified organic process.

Hoch says there is controversy in the organic industry over the use of resins to produce corn syrup and white grape juice concentrate. Resins are used to trap impurities in the product stream. According to Hoch, the National Organic Program approved the use of resins. "There is debate in the industry about that because the resins are not organic," say Hoch. Several US companies also produce grain-based sweeteners. Sunrich, Inc., Hope, Minnesota (1-507-451-6030), produces powdered maltodextrins and sweeteners made from milled organic corn and organic oats. Grain Millers, Eugene, Oregon, produces organic rice and oat syrup solids and organic barley malt extract.

Briess Industries, Chilton, Wisconsin (1-920-849-7711), manufactures barley malt extracts. According to Bernadette Wasdovitch, marketing manager, the extracts carry a caramel type of sweetness and are used in a wide range of products, such as bagels, baked goods, and confections. "Companies using the extracts want to maintain wholesome goodness and are looking for a natural feel and added nutrition," says Wasdovitch.

Tapioca syrup

A relatively new and unique sweetener entering the market is syrup made from tapioca starch. Introduced last year by Ciranda, Hudson, Wisconsin (1-715-386-1737), tapioca syrup has a neutral taste that doesn't override a product's other flavors, according to Hans Friese, company president. "It's neutral in taste and color, which food manufacturers want," says Friese. In addition, it has a longer shelf life because, unlike grain-based sweeteners, tapioca syrup has no protein. Friese says tapioca syrup is also reasonably priced. Ciranda sells the product to ice cream and yogurt manufacturers and flavoring companies. Tapioca sweetener comes in three forms: syrup, maltodextrins, and syrup solids.

Unlike other grains, there won't be any GMO concerns with tapioca. "There is no interest in developing GM tapioca," says Friese.(May 2003)