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 Allergens site.

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, but Hain 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 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 holiday season.

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 products.

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
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 MSG.

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
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's likely that corn starch is present.

Sucrose usually means cane sugar, but Craig Gelfand has spotted an English candy whose ingredients included "sucrose (from corn)".

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 di-glycerides.

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 substitute.

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 medications.

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