By Scott Mechura EBS Columnist
For two months, my series “The fall of food” has explored when and how it became so difficult to eat in America. To continue this series, I’ll examine one of the turning-point ingredients I believe set in motion a direction in how we eat that may be irreversible: High fructose corn syrup.
As America was coming into its own post World War II, our appetite for better and more interesting foods was growing each year. Television sets were making their way into more and more homes, and we began to create foods that more accurately reflected our lifestyle.
Sucrose, or common granulated sugar, was the standard. However, it was only in granular form, not grown or produced in the United States and saw wild price fluctuations due to a number of geographical and political factors.
Then in 1957, Richard O. Marshall and Earl R. Kooi, two scientists in Peoria, Illinois, created a clear liquid sugar called high fructose corn syrup.
Initially deemed a failure due to an inability to mass produce it, it would be less than 10 years later when this process would be refined (pun intended), to be easily mass produced from what was becoming an abundance of corn and corn byproduct.
Fast forward to today, and HFCS is in virtually every processed food we eat. But we’re talking about fat versus more fat. Shouldn’t it all come out in the wash? Fat is fat … right?
It turns out that not all fat is created equal.
Proponents of HFCS, such as the Corn Refiners Group, who are lobbyists for the corn industry, tell us that studies as to whether HFCS makes us fatter than consuming other sugars, are inconclusive. But in lab rat tests, rats that took in the same calories but had access to HFCP gained more weight—specifically, they gained it in their belly area.
In addition, as nations become more developed, the increase in obesity and weight gain directly corelates on a timeline as we consume eight times more sugar per person on an annual basis then we did post World War ll. This is no accident.
The key is to simply avoid it. But if you remember from some of my previous writing, there are two extremely powerful adversaries in the sugar battle: foods that are high in what’s called the bliss point; and the addictive, dopamine-induced reactions our brains undergo when we consume sugar.
And as a reminder, you can find HFCS in virtually every processed food we eat.
I once read a package of organic dried blueberries as I was enjoying them only to find that there was not one ingredient in the bag but two; organic blueberries and HFCS.
Being in a particular mood that day, I called the 800 number on the bag. Interestingly, the facility was in Peoria, Illinois.
After exercising more patience than I probably should have, I made contact with a real live human.
Fully expecting to stump the woman on the other end when I asked why there was high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient listed on my organic dried blueberries, I was let down when she immediately and simply answered with confidence that it was used as a preservative.
It seems there truly is no escape from this clear syrupy nectar.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is an executive chef, former certified beer judge and currently the executive chef for Lone Mountain Ranch.