Sweeteners from Starch: History, Definitions, Regulatory Status


Sugar production in the Indus Valley was reported during Alexander the Great’s invasion around 325 BCE, but Europeans did not have access to cane sugar until the Crusades. Once Europeans developed a taste for sugar, demand for it grew rapidly. The Caribbean islands became major producers of cane sugar in the sixteenth century, but supply was disrupted during the Napoleonic Wars. In response, France turned to sugar beets, and in 1811 a Russian chemist discovered that acid-catalyzed hydrolysis of starch produced a sweet substance. By 1831, an American syrup plant capable of producing syrup from starch had been built, and 140 American plants were producing starch from various sources 150 years later. In 1999, the United States corn refining industry used 1.4 billion bushels of corn to produce 33 billion pounds of sweeteners, which was more than double the amount produced in 1984. To discuss changes in the industry and the forces driving them, it is necessary to first define the types of sweeteners covered.


DE, or dextrose equivalence, is a method of measuring the total reducing sugars present in a substance, based on the dry weight of D-glucose. The Lane-Eynon titration method is the approved way to determine DE, which involves measuring the reduction of a copper sulfate solution. The DE value of unhydrolyzed starch is zero, while that of anhydrous D-glucose is 100. Glucose/corn syrups fall within the range of 20 to 95 DE.

Maltodextrins are saccharides derived from edible starch with a dextrose equivalency of less than 20, and are available as dried products or purified aqueous solutions. They may also be referred to as dextrins outside of the US, as only the US has an official definition for maltodextrins.

Glucose syrups, which are also known as corn syrups in the US, are nutritive saccharides derived from edible starch that have a dextrose equivalency of 20 or higher. These syrups are purified aqueous solutions.

Dried corn syrups or corn syrup solids are glucose/corn syrups from which a significant amount of water has been removed.

High fructose syrups are purified solutions of saccharides obtained from edible starch that have undergone isomerization of at least 42% of the D-glucose to fructose.

Crystalline fructose is a crystalline product with a minimum of 98.0% fructose and a maximum of 0.5% glucose.

Dextrose monohydrate is a purified, crystalline form of D-glucose that contains one molecule of water of crystallization for each molecule of D-glucose.

Anhydrous dextrose is a purified, crystalline form of D-glucose that does not contain any water of crystallization.

The Baume (Be) units are used to measure the specific gravity of a solution through an arbitrary system of graduating hydrometers in degrees.

The degree of polymerization (DP) refers to the number of glucosyl units in an oligo- or polysaccharide. DP 1 represents a monosaccharide, DP 2 represents disaccharides and so on.

Refractive index (RI) measures the refraction of light rays when they pass obliquely from one solution to another of different density. It is commonly used to measure the solids level of sweeteners and is affected by carbohydrate profiles, ash level, solids level, and temperature.

Retrogradation is the reassociation of solubilized starch polymers in their native state, those in dextrins, or in low-DE hydrolyzates, resulting in an insoluble precipitate. Dextrins are depolymerized starches produced by heating a starch moistened with dilute hydrochloric acid or heating a moist starch in the presence of gaseous hydrogen chloride until a cold-water-soluble product is formed.

Reversion refers to the condensation reaction of reducing sugars to form di- and higher oligosaccharides.

Regulatory Status

According to the US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 21, Section 184, corn syrups, maltodextrins, and D-glucose are considered to be “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). On August 23, 1996, high fructose corn syrup was also classified as GRAS under 21CFR, Section 184.1866.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *