What is corn syrup and why is it used to make hard candy?

What is Corn Syrup?

Corn syrup is a moderately sweet, viscous liquid derived from corn starch. It is an invert sugar, which means it contains both glucose and fructose. This characteristic makes it different from High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), which is produced by further processing corn syrup to convert some of the glucose into fructose, resulting in a much sweeter product. HFCS is often used by large-scale manufacturers as a cheaper alternative to regular sugar. However, most major brands of corn syrup available in grocery stores, such as Karo® Syrup, do not contain HFCS. It's always advisable to check the ingredient list on the product label to confirm its contents.

Why is Corn Syrup Used in Candy Making?

Corn syrup plays a crucial role in the candy-making process, especially for hard candies, due to its properties as an invert sugar. Here are some of the key reasons why corn syrup is a preferred ingredient:

1. Prevents Crystallization: One of the primary benefits of using corn syrup in candy making is its ability to inhibit the formation of sugar crystals. This is essential for achieving the smooth, clear texture that is characteristic of hard candies, caramels, and other confections.

2. Provides Smooth Texture: Corn syrup helps to create a smooth and glossy texture in candies, ensuring that they are not grainy or gritty.

3. Adds Moisture and Shine: Beyond candy making, corn syrup can be used to add moisture and a glossy finish to dessert sauces and frostings.

4. Extends Shelf Life: It helps to prolong the freshness of baked goods by retaining moisture.

5. Prevents Ice Crystals: In ice creams and other frozen desserts, corn syrup helps to prevent the formation of large ice crystals, ensuring a smooth and creamy texture.

Types of Corn Syrup

Corn syrup is commonly available in two varieties:

Light Corn Syrup: This is clear and has a mild, sweet flavor. It is the preferred choice for candy making as it does not affect the color or flavor of the final product.

Dark Corn Syrup: Contains molasses, which gives it a deep brown color and a robust, caramel-like flavor. While it can be used in baking, it is not recommended for candy making as it can alter the desired taste and appearance.

Reduced calorie or "Lite" corn syrup is also available but is not suitable for candy making due to its different properties.

Invert Sugar Substitutes

For those looking for alternatives to corn syrup, other invert sugars can be used:

Glucose Syrup: Another type of invert sugar used by professionals, glucose syrup can be substituted for corn syrup at a 1:1 ratio. It is often available at professional cake and candy supply stores.

Hi-Sweet: This is a powdered form of corn syrup. Using Hi-Sweet can help keep hard candy from becoming sticky in humid weather. Hi-Sweet is available for purchase on various specialty websites, including our own.

Can I make my own invert sugar?

It is possible to make your own invert sugar by adding an acid, such as citric acid or cream of tartar, to a simple sugar syrup and boiling it. Here are two recipes to guide you:

By understanding the properties and benefits of corn syrup, you can better appreciate its role in creating high-quality candies and confections. Whether you use store-bought corn syrup or make your own invert sugar, mastering this ingredient is key to successful candy making.