Some problematic foods

Some foods necessarily contain corn or corn products and some necessarily don't. The great majority of foods lie in between, and there's the problem. Following are my observations on a variety of foods and food categories. I'm trying to be accurate, but commercial products are subject to change without notice, so you should always check the labels. When you get discouraged, go check the labels at a "health" or "whole foods" market instead. They carry foods with less conventional formulations, which often means the omission of corn starch and corn syrup. I do a lot of shopping at Bread & Circus, which is owned by Whole Foods Market, Inc.

This list is quite eclectic. If there's something you want me to add, or something you want to comment on, let me know.

Most applesauce is sweetened, and corn syrup is the sweetener of choice. Mott's Natural is unsweetened (nothing but apples and water). You can also make your own applesauce by microwaving apples and pressing them through a sieve.

aspirin and other medications
Nearly every solid or liquid medication that I've checked contains corn starch or corn syrup. As my general health is good, though, this hasn't yet been much of a problem for me.

The only corn-free analgesics I had found were Adult Strength Liquid Tylenol and Alka-Seltzer. I find the liquid Tylenol nauseating, so I stick to the merely disgusting Alka-Seltzer. I'm told that the 500mg tablets of Naprosyn are corn-free, but the 250mg and 375mg tablets are not. Tom Cornsweet tells me that Extra-Strength Excedrin (which has caffeine) and Empirin are both free of corn products. I've confirmed the Empirin (aspirin, cellulose, potato starch), but not the Excedrin. I'm saddened to report that Empirin is out of production as of early 1997. If you're upset about this, please convey your protests to the Warner-Lambert Company.

Stanback Headache Powders, of Salisbury, NC, makes powdered pain relievers from both aspirin ("Original Formula") and acetaminophen (""Aspirin Free"). A helpful netizen tells me that Stanback's Original Formula is sold at Walmart retail stores and also at the Walgreens on-line store. Inactive ingredients are colloidal silicon dioxide, docusate sodium, and potassium chloride. The active ingredients are 650 mg aspirin, 200 mg salicylamide and 32 mg caffeine.

Sudafed is made with potato starch, but some formulations also have corn starch. 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, or sorbitol. You can check the ingredient lists for all forms of Sudafed, Benadryl, and many related medications at the Warner-Lambert Web site.

baby formula
Most baby formulas contain 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.

bread and baked goods
Commercially baked bread is almost certain to contain corn products. Pita bread (if it's reasonably authentic) is the only likely exception, but even that's not for 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 here in Boston, with very few exceptions, but unheard of in Montreal. Tell me how it is in your area, and I'll report it here. (Reader Cynthia Anderson tells me there's cornmeal on some Washington DC bagels.)

Cakes and muffins can be made with either baking powder or baking soda. As mentioned above, nearly all baking powders contain corn starch. You'll also find corn starch (for thickening) or corn syrup (for sweetening) in many frostings. Corn starch is a standard ingredient in confectioner's sugar, used in most home-made frostings. I'm fond of a frosting made with evaporated milk, granulated sugar, and melted chocolate mixed in a blender. Reader Laura Bligh likes to melt a good-quality white chocolate (such as Ghirardelli's classic white confection bar) and spread it over the warm cake.

Although most chocolate doesn't have any corn in it, some bakers use malt-sweetened chocolate to avoid refined sugar. I've seen corn malt mentioned, but often the kind of malt isn't specified.

I heartily recommend buying a bread machine. Even if you know nothing about baking, you can make fresh bread with just a few minutes work. For recipes and advice, join the bread-bakers mailing list by sending your request to The body of your mail should read "subscribe".

breakfast cereals
Among national brands, I eat Rice Chex and Shredded Wheat. (The malt in Rice Chex is barley malt. Call the 800 number on the box if you want to check, and they'll probably send you some discount coupons.) Nearly everything else in the cereal aisle is either made of corn or sweetened with corn syrup. Cheerios, ever-popular among children and parents, has both corn and potato starch. (The slightly different Canadian Cheerios use corn flour in place of the starches.) If you want a wider choice in cereals, go to a health-food store and take a look at the offerings from Erewhon and Arrowhead Mills, among others. Helpful reader Suzanne Guidroz tells me that Malt-O-Meal's Honey Nut Toasty O's seem not to have any corn in them.

Chinese food
Corn starch is the standard thickener for Chinese sauces. Some restaurants will omit it if you ask them to, leaving the sauce very watery. Be sure to ask whether baby corn is among the vegetables in any unfamiliar dish.

cold cuts
Cold cuts (cooked ham, turkey, roast beef, bologna, pastrami, corned beef, and the like) are often treated with dextrose, corn syrup, food starch, or caramel coloring. Very few are free of corn products. This is a major problem, as you usually can't read the original label at a deli counter or sandwich shop. Hebrew National makes some corn-free cold cuts, as do a few smaller companies.

fast food
Fast food is a complete disaster if you're allergic to corn. Start by ruling out all bread products, soft drinks, fried foods, cheap ice cream, and frozen yogurt. Margarine, salad dressings, and ketchup are all dangerous. You're left with real cheese, mustard, water, pure fruit juices, and unprocessed meats. (Hamburger and plain chicken are usually OK, but hot dogs aren't. And don't eat the bun, in any case.)

grits and hominy are principally cornmeal.

hot dogs
Hot dogs are very much like cold cuts. I've only found one variety which is corn-free, an all-beef one from Hebrew National.

ice cream
See the section on Corn-free ice cream and yogurt.

potato chips
Unless you buy a brand of potato chips which makes a particular point of using a single kind of oil, you have to check the ingredients on each bag that you buy. Potato chip makers change oils at the drop of a hat. Flavored chips are likely to have dextrose or food starch as a component of the coating mixture. Helpful reader Suzanne Guidroz tells me that Utz potato chips are made with cottonseed oil. I'm partial to Michael Season's chips myself, made with canola oil.

soft drinks
All of the major soft drinks (i.e., everything made by Coca-Cola or Pepsi) are sweetened with corn syrup or Nutrasweet, but some regional or specialty brands aren't. Soho (with cane sugar) might be the best known one, but R.W. Knudsen and After The Fall (both sweetened with white grape juice) also seem to be widely distributed. Jolt Cola was made entirely with cane sugar, but readers reported cans saying "Corn Syrup and/or Sugar," and now simply "Corn Syrup." The Dublin, TX, bottler of Dr. Pepper makes it without corn syrup, so Texans might want to look for that. Non-Texans can now (June 2002) order Dublin Dr. Pepper over the web. Virgil's Root Beer is made with cane sugar and gets good reviews. Call 1-800-626-SODA to find a retailer near you. Shenandoah Sassafras Rootbeer is free of corn syrup, like all of Journey Food's products.

Several readers have pointed out to me that soft drinks marked "Kosher for Passover" must be free of corn products, although the ingredient labelling is sometimes not changed to reflect the Passover formulation. Passover Coca-Cola is available in many areas in the appropriate season.

Helpful reader Deloris Thiede suggests making your own soft drinks by mixing fruit juices and carbonated water. But be sure to use real fruit juice, she warns, as some fruit drinks are sweetened with corn syrup.

soy milk
Friendly netizen Craig Bond asked White Wave about the content of Silk Soy Milk and learned that they use a corn-based alcohol to carry the natural flavorings. I don't know if this is the case for other soy milks or milk substitutes.

See the section on Corn-free ice cream and yogurt.

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Last Modified: June 3, 2002