Corn-derived food ingredients I avoid
The items in the following list share two characteristics. Each of
them either is or can be derived from corn, and avoiding each of them
seems to reduce my allergic symptoms. Now that I avoid them all, I'm
reliably asymptomatic. It's possible that I'm avoiding some of these
needlessly, but I'm reluctant to risk days or weeks of blistered hands
for minor improvements in the accuracy of this list.
There are a few corn-derived ingredients which don't seem to cause me
any trouble, probably because processing removes or denatures any
recognizable corn proteins. Since your experience might be different,
these are listed in the next section. If
you're extremely sensitive, see Jenny Connors' much longer
list on her Corn
Some of the ingredients listed here don't necessarily have
anything to do with corn, but tend to in practice. Chemically pure
dextrose, for example, can't be an allergen because it isn't a
protein. But the dextrose used in food processing isn't chemically
pure: it contains residue of whatever it was made from. Since that's
usually corn, dextrose gains a place on this list.
Several people have told me that corn oil contains so little protein
that they can't believe it provokes an allergic reaction. While it may
be true that corn oil is extremely low in protein, I have strong
anecdotal evidence (an accidental "blind" test) that it does
affect me. I've also heard from another corn-allergy sufferer who
reacted strongly to topically applied corn oil.
- 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 corn starch,
Featherweight baking powder uses potato starch. I've only found it
in "health" or "whole food" markets.
- Caramel is cooked sugar, often used
for flavoring or coloring. You'll find it in soft drinks, especially
colas, and in dark breads. You can make caramel from cane or beet
sugar, but commercial food producers often use corn syrup. Jolt Cola was an exception, but no
longer: they've switched from cane sugar to corn syrup.
- confectioner's sugar
- Confectioner's sugar is
ordinary table sugar, reduced to a fine powder. To keep the powder
from caking, manufacturers commonly add corn starch to it. Domino
Sugar tells me their 10x confectioner's sugar is about 2% cornstarch.
A rec.food.cooking contributor gave 4% as a typical fraction, but
another correspondent claims it can run as high as
30%. Trader Joe's
Organic Powdered Sugar is made with tapioca starch instead. It's not
available year-round, unfortunately, but only through the winter
- 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. The
only exception that I know of is corned beef, so-called because it's cured
with coarse salt that resembles kernels of corn. But processed meats often
contain dextrose, food starch, or corn syrup, so don't assume that corned
beef is corn-free. In cooking, you can usually substitute arrowroot
powder for cornstarch.
- dextrin, maltodextrin
- Dextrin and maltodextrin are
thickening agents, often made from corn starch. You'll find them 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's 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.
- Excipients are substances used to bind
the contents of a pill or tablet. My dictionary mentions honey, syrup, and
gum arabic, but corn starch is also a possibility.
- golden syrup
- Golden syrup is a sugar syrup,
sometimes 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.
- glucona delta lactone
- Glucona delta lactone
("GDL") is 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's made by Archer Daniels Midland, a
world-wide giant in the manufacture of corn
- invert sugar or invert syrup
- Invert syrup is
enzymatically treated bulk corn sugars, used because it's not so thick
as corn syrup. I've noticed it in cookies, but don't know where else
it might turn up.
- malt, malt syrup, malt extract
- Malt is germinated
grain, often barley. But it can be any grain: corn and rice are also
common. They're 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.
- mono- and di-glycerides
- Mono- and di-glycerides are
often found in sauces, dressings, 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 labelled as such, but I've never seen animal
glycerides so marked.
- monosodium glutamate or
- MSG 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". Alert
Reader Beverly noticed that the MSG in Accent flavor enhancer is
described on the container as "drawn from corn". I'm told
that this is commonly true of MSG in US-made foods, but not in
imported oriental products. The MSG
Myth site also describes corn as a source of
- Sorbitol is a sweet substance (but not a
sugar) that occurs naturally in a number of fruits and berries. It's
produced commercially by the breakdown of dextrose. It's
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.
- starch, food starch, modified food starch
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's likely that
corn starch is present.
- Sucrose usually means cane sugar, but
Craig Gelfand has
spotted an English candy whose ingredients included "sucrose
- Treacle is a mixture of molasses and corn
syrup, also known as golden syrup.
- vanilla extract
- The major brands of real vanilla
extract all have corn syrup in them. (I haven't checked imitation vanilla
flavorings.) There are vanilla extracts without corn syrup; a local brand
is Scotts of Acton, MA.
- 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
- 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; I don't know what
growth medium they use. Because Xanthan gum is very cheap, its
applications are still growing. You'll often find it in salad
dressings, mayonnaise, and fast-food "milk shakes". I've
also seen it in cream cheese and I'm told it's in Egg Beaters egg
- My dictionary tells me that zein is
"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". A helpful
netizen tells me that zein is the usual encapsulant for time-release
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