What’s the Difference Between Corn Syrup and High-Fructose Corn Syrup?

updated Feb 24, 2022
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Diptych of corn syrup and soda
Credit: Photo (L): Shutterstock/urbanbuzz; (R) Getty Images/ Tetra Images
Credit: Photo: Shutterstock; Design: Kitchn

Chances are you’ve heard of corn syrup — an ingredient that figures into homemade desserts like traditional pecan pie — as well as high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener often used in packaged foods and drinks, including cookies, soda, bottled sauces, and much more. While both corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup are derived from corn, they are not the same thing.

You’ll most likely find corn syrup in the baking aisle of your grocery store alongside granulated sugar, molasses, and maple syrup. Karo, one widely available brand, comes in light and dark versions — their light corn syrup has vanilla extract added, while the dark corn syrup is enhanced with refiner’s syrup, which gives it more of a molasses-like flavor. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is something you might see on a label, but that you won’t find for home cooking and baking.

How Is Corn Syrup Different from High-Fructose Corn Syrup?

Both products are made from the starch in corn, but corn syrup is made up of 100 percent glucose, while some of the glucose in high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has been enzymatically converted to fructose. High-fructose corn syrup is used in a lot of commercially manufactured foods and soft drinks because it’s a more cost-effective ingredient to produce than sucrose aka traditional sugar.

Corn Syrup vs. Sugar — What’s the Difference?

Sugar, as in granulated sugar, comes from the sugar cane plant. The stalks of the sugar cane plant are shredded and juiced to create sugar cane syrup. This syrup is then boiled until it begins to crystallize; the crystals are extracted from the syrup to create raw sugar. At this point, the raw sugar goes through various kinds of refinement to create everyday products like white granulated sugar.