In Your Food: Sundae Woes

When one of my best friends developed an allergy to genetically engineered corn, I became much more aware of how sweeteners including High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) can hide in everyday foods. I started looking at labels when I was planning to entertain her, and boy did I get a shock! HFCS is everywhere!

So I’m starting a blog series on what’s In Your Food. I’m not going to argue about whether HFCS is eeeeevil or not. I’m simply going to point out some places it hides where you might not have expected to find it, and suggest alternatives.

OK, this first place isn’t that much a surprise. One of my earliest discoveries on this adventure, when I wanted a sundae, was that my favorite chocolate syrup is full of HFCS.

chocolate syrup

Le sigh.

Notice that corn syrup is not only the first ingredient, it’s also the second. Double dose. And then sugar farther down the list. Well, it’s a syrup, it’s gonna be sugary.

I’ve stopped eating so many chocolate sundaes, which is probably a good thing, but it’s sad. There are some corn-free syrup choices, though.I haven’t tried this one, but I found it in my local grocery store.

chocolate syrup - no HFCS

A health-food store might have more options. Or you can melt chocolate chips (make sure they’re HFCS-free) in the microwave for homemade sauce.

Many ice creams also contain HFCS. Happily for me, my favorite brand, Häagen-Dazs, does not! It’s sweetened with good ol’ cane sugar. Or so I thought! Recently I discovered that some flavors do include HFCS. The classic vanilla is corn-free, as is the strawberry, but the sorbet I looked at was not. Very disappointing. So read the label, folks.

The ingredients can be hard to find on Häagen-Dazs packages.The list for vanilla is up at the top close to the lid (shown at the bottom in this picture).


One good option if you don’t want to hunt for the ingredients panel is the Häagen-Dazs “5” series – each with only five ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, eggs, and the flavor.

Haagen-Daasz 5

To top off my sundae, I needed whipped cream. I love home-made, but if I’m feeling lazy I’ll fall back on a can. Guess what…most are sweetened with HFCS.

whipped cream

A store brand, Kroger, came to my rescue with whipped cream sweetened with cane sugar. Whew!

whipped cream - no HFCS

The moral of this story is: always read the label. ALWAYS read the label! You’ll often be surprised what you find.





In Your Food: Sundae Woes — 10 Comments

  1. Nothing like a food allergy to make you start reading ingredient labels. Peanuts get into the most amazing places (Mexican food? Really?) So, yeah,*ALWAYS* read the label. And if the problem is serious and the food has potential to contain the offending substance, and there is no label/no one to ask, you just have to sigh and walk away.

  2. My local Whole Foods sells Santa Cruz Organic Chocolate Flavored Syrup. It’s list is: Organic Invert Sugar, Organic Cocoa, Water, Organic Vanilla Extract, Salt, Xanthan Gum.
    So the question becomes — what’s Invert Sugar? Wikipedia says it’s a mix of fructose and glucose, but I wonder what the source of them is?
    BTW, I do think it’s yummy.

    • Don’t just read the label once. Read it frequently as ingredients change and processing plants upgrade or change locations.

      A woman at church was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. She bought only “sugar free” treats and couldn’t understand why they spiked her blood sugar. The label said HFCS used as a substitute for sugar. le sigh. I can still hear her crying “But it’s not sugar!”

  3. an allergy to genetically engineered corn

    Say hi to your friend from me. Luckily, living outside the US, I can mostly avoid it, but it’s decidedly not fun. (I have the same problem with soy and suspect the same reason.)

    And I second the ‘read early, read often’ suggestion – I’ve had a couple of spectacular encounters with previously safe foods. Including surprise shellfish in a beef dish.

  4. When it comes to food allergies, check every thing, every time. It’s not just in sweets either. HFCS is in ketchup, salad dressings, all sorts of things that it’s just not intuitive. Same thing happens with milk. Who would expect, lactic acid (which can be derived from 2 sources: Milk, or vegetables) shows up in all sorts of foods, and it’s rarely labeled where it’s derived from. If you have an allergy, you have to assume it’s the one you’re allergic to and thus can’t eat it.

  5. Another insidious one is citric acid, which I have a friend who is sensitive to it. It’s used in everything as a preservative.

  6. Do note that “Corn Syrup” is not the same thing as “High Fructose Corn Syrup”. The difference is immaterial if you’re avoiding corn in general, but corn syrup is almost entirely glucose (AKA dextrose) whereas HFCS is glucose corn syrup processed via enzymes to convert some fraction of the glucose to fructose.

  7. I still remember the time I posted a spaghetti sauce recipe online and someone said she might try it to get spaghetti sauce without HFCS.

  8. I see I’m in good company. Actually I’ve been reading food labels almost all my life, because I have family members who are vegetarian. But the sugar thing is a problem, especially when multiple kinds of sugar are used, because that can obscure just how high the sugar content in an item is.

    The organic syrup sounds good, janetl! Maybe I’ll give that a try. I’ve been melting chocolate chips, which makes for a rich hot fudgy sauce (I like dark chocolate).

    I will be talking about ketchup, salad dressings, spaghetti sauce and more in future posts.