Sunday, September 27, 2009

Candy...Corn?

FINALLY it’s starting to cool off in Arizona. The rest of the states have been experiencing Fall weather for at least a month or so by now, but I only realized it was Fall the other day when I walked into a grocery store and saw Halloween candy lining the shelves. It’s candy corn season!


We seem to have a candy for every holiday and season in America. Candy corn frequently comes in the form of “Reindeer Corn” at Christmas time along with candy canes, “Cupid Corn” for Valentines Day accompanied by heart shaped chocolates and “Bunny Corn” for Easter paired with the Cadbury Egg. The regular orange, white and yellow candy corn variety is usually available year round in the candy aisle, but the Halloween season accounts for 75% of the annual candy corn production. I was curious what is contained in these morsels that bear no actual resemblance to corn, so I wrote down the information from a bag of Brach’s Candy Corn:

In 20 pieces of Brach’s Candy Corn you will consume 150 calories, 0 fat, 75 mg of sodium, 38g of carbohydrates (33g of which are from sugar). The ingredients (in Brach’s variety) include: sugar, corn syrup, confectioners glaze, salt, honey, dextrose, artificial flavor, gelatin, titanium dioxide, color, yellow 6, yellow 5, red 3, blue 1, sesame oil. I did some research on some of the more questionable ingredients and this is what I came up with:
  • Corn syrup: corn syrup is made by breaking corn starch with hydrochloric acid and heating it to produce a thick, viscous syrup. It is cheaper than sugar and is about ¾ as sweet as cane sugar. To create high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) the corn syrup is converted using enzymes that turn the dextrose molecules into fructose molecules. The result is a syrup that is much sweeter than sugar, inexpensive to produce and actually harder for our bodies to digest. HFCS is another blog post in itself…
  • Confectioners glaze: a food grade shellac that extends a products self life and appearance. It can also be used as a coating for pills to make them more difficult to digest as in “time release” capsule.
  • Dextrose: Another name for glucose produced from corn starch.
  • Artificial Flavor: The secret ingredient in candy corn—it must be what makes it so addicting. According to the FDA’s code of federal regulations, a artificial flavor is:
“any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof.”
         So, it’s a chemically manufactured combination of substances that impart a flavor.
  • Gelatin: collagen extracted from the skin, intestines, and bones of animals such as pigs and cattle (watch out Vegetarians, Vegans and those that follow Kosher tradition). It can also be made from fish sources and is found in other foods like Jello, gummy candies, and yogurt.
  • Titanium dioxide: Hey, that’s in my sunscreen! Why am I eating it too? It’s what makes the nice tip of the candy corn so white and is apparently able to be consumed.
  • Color: Some substance other than the explicit colorings yellow 6, yellow 5, red 3, blue 1 that adds color to the corn. There is a complicated set of Federal Regulations about what constitutes an artificial color, and if you are really bored, you can read about it here.
  • Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Red 3, Blue 1: These food colorings are FDA regulated color additives used in foods, drugs and cosmetics. Most have complicated chemical names and descriptions. Here is the FDA’s description of food additives. In all of the colorings, there is a specified allowable level of lead, arsenic and mercury as outlined in the above referenced document.
By learning more about this candy, I was able to realize that the candy corn tradition at Halloween is one that I can live without. We are often challenged to make food decisions especially at holiday times regarding items that aren’t necessarily in line with our daily food behaviors. By taking an extra minute to read a label, maybe even do some research, we are able to empower ourselves to make informed decisions about what we allow into our bodies. Food choices are critical in creating optimal health and while there must be a balance in life, careful consideration and education can often make the alternative less appealing.

1 comment:

Shana said...

Oh Kell...I live on Candy corn all through October...now its over!! I knew they were bad, bad, bad all along!!

Love Ya!