How Corn is used in Products

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Alcohol (Ale, beer, gin, whiskey): Generic alcohol is made from a variety of grains, including corn.

Applesauce: Most applesauce is sweetened and corn syrup is the sweetener of choice.  Mott’s Natural is unsweetened (nothing but apples and water).

Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C): Supplemental ascorbic acid, also known as Vitamin C, rarely comes from the sources where you would find vitamin C naturally.  Instead, it is synthesized from corn.

Aspirin and other medications: Nearly every solid or liquid medication that I have checked contains cornstarch or corn syrup.  The only corn-free analgesics I found were Adult strength liquid Tylenol and Alka-Seltzer.  The 500mg tablets of Naprosyn may be corn-free, but the 250mg and 375mg tablets are not.  Sudafed is made with potato starch, but some formulations also have cornstarch.  One that doesn’t, as of this writing, is Sudafed Plus, a combination decongestant and antihistamine.  Benadryl is available in liquid forms free from corn products, but the variety of formulations means you have to read the labels very carefully.  All sorts of Benadryl tablets seem to have starch, dextrose (be sure to read Dextrose page 5) or sorbitol.  You can check the ingredient list for all forms of Sudafed, Benadryl and many related medications at the Warner-Lambert website.

Baby Formula: Most baby formula contains a substantial amount of corn syrup, which both provides calories and counteracts the constipating effects of the iron additives.  Bryan Bluhm tells me that switching from a liquid formula (48% corn syrup by weight) to a powdered one without corn products improved a friend’s baby’s sleep pattern tremendously

Baking Powder: Not to be confused with baking soda (bicarbonate of soda, sodium bicarbonate), baking powder is a mixture of chemical leavening agents with starch.  The starch in every common baking powder is cornstarch, but Featherweight brand baking powder uses potato starch.  Ener-G Foods also offers a corn-free Double-Acting Baking Powder.  These are available in “health” or “whole food” markets.  See page 8 for substitutions.

Beer: Beer manufacturing is a process of treating malt to convert and extract the barley starch to fermentable sugars using the amyloytic enzymes present in mart followed by yeast fermentation.  However, demand for lighter, less filling beer, especially in the U.S., has permitted use of more refined carbohydrate sources of two types:

  • Dry adjuncts, primarily dry milled corn grits, broken rice, refined corn starch, and more recently, dextrose.
  • Liquid adjuncts, namely corn syrups.

Bleached Flour: According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s rules, it is possible for bleached flour to contain cornstarch without any obvious mention on the label.  The reason is that cornstarch is allowed as a diluent for some bleaching agents.  Since the flour is labeled as bleached, you are supposed to understand that it could contain any of many bleaching agents and their inactive ingredients.

Bread and Baked goods/Baking mixes: Commercially baked bread is almost certain to contain corn products.  Pita bread (if it is reasonably authentic) is the only likely exception, but even that is not certain.  Donuts are almost certain to have corn products in glaze, coating sugar, filling or batter.  Many bakers scatter corn meal to keep baked goods from sticking in the oven.  Check for it on the bottom of bread loaves, bagels, pizza and calzones.  Corn meal on bagels seems to be standard in Boston, with very few exceptions but unheard of in Montreal.  Commercial products are subject to change without notice, so you should always check the labels.  When you get discouraged, check the labels at a “health” or “whole foods” market instead.  They carry foods with less conventional formulations, which often means the omission of cornstarch and corn syrup.  Virtually any item at the market may have corn as a derived ingredient included.

Cake Mixes: Use a pregelatinized corn starch that will form a paste in cold or warm water.  In baked goods that use yeast for rising, dextrose is used as a yeast nutrient.

Candies: Corn syrup is used in hard candies to provide a body giving them chewiness and a desirable mouth feel without excessive sweetness.  Candies that are coated use a pyrodextrin corn starch for a coating.

Caramel: is cooked sugar, often used for flavoring or coloring dark breads or soft drinks, especially colas.  You can make caramel from cane or beet sugar, but commercial food producers often use corn syrup.

Carbonated Beverages: High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) blended with sucrose in a 50/50 blend is sweeter than the same concentration of sucrose.  The use of HFCS in carbonated beverages is common throughout Canada and the U.S.

Citric Acid: Most commonly used to provide tartness in some candies and drinks.  It can be made from corn, although it isn’t necessarily.

Confectioner’s Sugar: Ordinary table sugar, reduced to a fine powder.  To keep the powder from caking, manufacturers commonly add cornstarch to it.  Domino Sugar tells me their 10x confectioner’s sugar is about 2% cornstarch.  A contributor gave 4% as a typical fraction, but another correspondent claims it can run as high as 30%.  Monitor Sugars Big Chief brand powdered sugar is made with 3% wheat starch instead.

Cookies: Corn starch, corn flour or dextrose may be found in cookies.

Corn: Any food or ingredient with corn in its name is certain to be a problem, including whole corn, corn flour, cornstarch, corn gluten, corn syrup, corn meal, corn oil and popcorn.  One exception is corned beef, so-called because it is cured with coarse salt that resembles kernels of corn.  But processed meat often contains dextrose, food starch, or corn syrup, so don’t assume that corned beef is corn-free.  Cornstarch is used as a thickener and corn syrup as a sweetener in many frostings.   Since cornstarch is added to confectioner’s sugar, corn is in most homemade frostings.  Bisquick contains corn.  Although most chocolate does not contain corn, some bakers use malt-sweetened chocolate to avoid refined sugar.  Malt can be from corn, rice or barley but often the type of malt is not specified and could be from corn.

Corn Flakes: The flaking grits are cooked to a rubbery consistency with syrup, malt, salt and flavoring added.  After tempering, the cooked grits are flattened between large steel rolls, followed by toasting in travelling ovens to a golden brown color. 

Corn Meal: A popular dry corn product because of its long shelf life.  It is used to produce an assortment of chemically leavened bread and fried products like corn bread and muffins.

Corn Starch: Derived from the wet milling process and is an important manufactured product.  Some uses depend on the properties in the dry state, but most applications related to its properties as a cooked, hydrated paste.

Cosmetics: Corncobs, when finely ground, are relatively dust free and very absorbent.  This absorbency makes corncobs useful carriers for pesticides, fertilizes, vitamins, hand soaps, cosmetics, and animal litters.

Dextrin: A thickening agent, often made from cornstarch.  You will find it in sauces, dressings and ice cream.

Dextrose (glucose, fructose): Dextrose (also known as glucose or “corn sugar”) and fructose (fruit sugar) are simple sugars that are often made from corn.  Dextrose is used in a variety of foods, including cookies, ice cream and sports drinks such as Gatorade.  It also shows up in prepared foods that are supposed to come out crispy, such as French fries, fish sticks and potato puffs.  It is common in intravenous solutions, which could be quite dangerous.  Fructose is usually seen in the form of high fructose corn syrup, but makes an occasional appearance on its own.  Dextrose is a standardized food form (synthetic) of the basic sugar.  It maintains moisture so products don’t go stale (causing weight gain).  It is an excellent food for yeast to grow on during fermentation (watch out for Candida).  It is a starting point for manufacturing of Vitamin C (only for Type A’s) and is used in fermentation to produce penicillin and other antibiotics (avoids for O’s, B’s and AB’s).  It is used for brewing low calorie beers (lite beer), for producing citric acid, the amino acid lysine and other chemicals such as MSG.

Excipients: Substances used to bind the contents of a pill or tablet.  My dictionary mentions honey, syrup and gum Arabic, but cornstarch is also a possibility.

Fructose: See Dextrose, above.

Glucona delta lactone (“GDL”): A recently-appearing additive in cured meats.  Its appearance in this list is provisional, as all I really know of its origin is that it is made by Archer Daniels Midland, a world-wide giant in the manufacture of corn products.

Golden Syrup: A mixture of molasses and corn syrup, also known as treacle.  I’ve found it in cookies and candy, mostly in Canada.  Tate & Lyle’s golden syrup is purely from cane sugar, however.

Granola Bars: Some types of Granola bars use dextrose as a sweetener.

Gypsum Wallboard: Starch-containing corn flour is gelatinzed during the manufacturing process.  It functions by controlling the rate of water loss during drying of the board.  Soluble carbohydrates migrate to the surface and control the rate of crystallization of the gypsum, providing a strong bond between the gypsum and the liner.

Instant Coffee & Tea: Maltodextrins are derived from the wet milling process.  They are a dextrose equivalent product of complete solubility but little or no sweetness.  Maltodextrins are sprayed on instant tea and coffee to keep the granules fee flowing.  This solution is also used instant soup mixes or other packages where the contents must be kept free flowing.

Invert Sugar or Invert Syrup: Invert syrup is enzymatically treated bulk corn sugars, used because it is not as thick as corn syrup.

Lactic Acid: Another tartness agent and preservative, often used in the manufacture of cheese.  It is derived from lactose (milk sugar), which Archer Daniels Midland, at least, makes from corn.

Malt, Malt Syrup, Malt extract: Malt is germinated grain, often barley.  But it can be any grain.  Corn and rice are also common.  They are much cheaper than barley and so unspecified malt is probably not barley.  Malt appears in alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, chocolate and breakfast cereals, among other places.

Maltodextrin: A thickening agent, often made from cornstarch.  You will find it in sauces, dressings and ice cream.

Mars Bars & Twix Bars: Many candy bars contain corn syrup.

Milk Cartons: They coated with corn to allow the milk to slide down the plastic jug.  This is considered to be pleasing to the eye of the consumer.

Mono- and di-glycerides: Often found in sauces, dressing, and ice cream, where they modify (improve?) the texture of the finished product.  Glycerides are made from both animal and vegetable fats or oils, corn included.  Vegetable mono- and di-glycerides are sometimes labeled as such, but I have never seen animal glycerides so marked.

Monosodium glutamate or MSG: This is a “flavor enhancer”, used in many packaged foods, particularly prepared meals and instant soups.  Chinese food is a major source of added MSG.  Reactions to it are sometimes called “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”.  The MSG in Accent flavor enhancer is described on the container as “drawn from corn”.  This is commonly true on MSG in US-made foods, but not in imported oriental products.  Worldwide food processing giant Archer Daniels Midland specifically mentions MSG as one of their corn products.

Paint and Varnish: Tetrahydrofurfuryl alcohol is a resin developed from processing corncobs.  These resins are useful in the paint and varnish industry as solvents for dyes, resins, and lacquers.

Paper Products: Many use raw starch in the manufacturing process.  The properties of high paste viscosity and strong gels are useful in specially coated papers.  Pyrodextrins are also used for paper manufacturing for the adhesive property on remoistenable gums for postage stamps and packaging tape.


  • Aspirin – an oxidized starch paste, which dries to a clear, adherent, continuous film, is spread in a thin layer over the aspirin.
  • Intravenous – some IVs consist of dextrose and water solutions. 
  • Antibiotics – preferred carbohydrate sources are corn syrup, dextrose, corn starch, lactose and sucrose.  Cornsteep liquor was early found to provide a ready source of soluble nitrogenous nutrients plus unknown growth factors that stimulate antibiotic production.  Over 85 different types of antibiotics are produced using corn.

Salt Ordinary: iodized table salt contains dextrose.  According to a consumer affairs representative at Morton International dextrose is added to stabilize the iodine compound in the salt.  Without it, the iodide decomposes and the iodine evaporates.  Sea salt contains iodine naturally, but loses most of it in processing.

Sorbitol: A sweet substance (but not a sugar) that occurs naturally in a number of fruits and berries.  It is produced commercially by the breakdown of dextrose.  It is used as a sugar substitute for diabetics, in the manufacture of vitamin C and in some candies.  Readers tell me it also appears in oral hygiene products such as toothpaste and mouthwash.

Snack Foods – Corn Chips & Doritos: These snack foods are generally made from whole corn (cornmeal).  The high starch content of cornmeal and flour is important in giving a high puff in preparation of extruded (pressed) snack products in which a delicate corn flavor is desired.

Spark Plugs: Starch is used in the production of the porcelain part of spark plugs.

Starch, Food Starch, Modified Food Starch: Added starch in foods can come from any of several sources, but corn seems to be the most common.  Unless the type of starch is specified, it is likely that cornstarch is present.

Sucrose: Usually means cane sugar, but Craig Gelfand has spotted an English candy with the ingredient “Sucrose (from corn)” listed.

Tire, Rubber: In the production of tires, corn starch is sprinkled on the molds before pouring the rubber, to prevent the rubber from sticking to the molds.

Toothpaste: Sorbitol, which is produced from the corn sugar dextrose, is used in toothpaste as a low-calorie, water-soluble, bulking agent.

Treacle: A mixture of molasses and corn syrup, also known as golden syrup.

Vanilla Extract: Many major brands of real vanilla extract have corn syrup in them.

Vegetable—Anything: Unless you know exactly what the vegetables are, you should be suspicious of any ingredient with vegetable in the name, including vegetable oil, vegetable broth, vegetable protein, vegetable shortening, hydrolyzed vegetable protein and vegetable mono- and Di-glicerides.

Vinegar Distilled: White vinegar is made from a variety of grains, including corn.

Whiskey: The major carbohydrate in the production of whiskey is corn.  A typical Canadian whiskey is made from a mixture of about 90% corn, 5% rye, and 5% barley malt.

Xanthan Gum: Xanthan gum is a common thickener, the fermentation product of the bacterium Xanthomonas Campestris X. Campestris can be grown in various media, including bulk corn sugars.  Some brands of Xanthan gum claim to be corn-free; but is unknown as to what growth medium they use.  Because Xanthan gum is very cheap, its applications are still growing.  It is often found in salad dressings, mayonnaise, fast food milk shakes, cream cheese and egg substitutes.

Yogurt: Some of the different brands of yogurt use corn syrup as a sweetener.

Zein: A soft, yellow powder obtained from corn, used chiefly in the manufacture of textile fibers, plastics and paper coatings, or a man-made fiber produced from this protein.  Zein is the usual encapsulate in time-release medications.

If you become aware of any new products that need to be included, please let us know.

Category: Corn: The Bad News