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Is 'Corn' and its by products dominating North American diets?

Ive been told by someone I respect that Corn and it's by-products are the primary element in the the North American diet. I have just looked through my kitchen and pantry in search of corn products and here they are;
1)Corn oil,
2)Corn chips,
3)Corn starch
4)Corn Syrup
5)Corn Flakes
6)Orville Rickenbakker (Pop Corn kernels)
7)Corn niblets
8)Corned beef, can of ??
9)Corn flour
10)corn meal

Actually, I'm quite surprised at the number of items I've come across that are manufactured from Corn.
What else can you find among your kitchen supplies?

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  1. Corned beef doesn't actually have corn in it.

    Some white vinegar is made from corn.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Humbucker

      Most, if not all, white distilled vinegar in the US is made from corn.

      And well traditionally corned beef doesn't have corn in it- the name comes from the type salt originally used- much of the commercially prepared corn beefs do have corn derivatives in them today.

      1. re: Humbucker

        Actually, it does. Most cows are fed a corn based diet, so the beef is basically reconstituted corn.

      2. Don't forget all the seemingly non-corn products, which use corn as an intermediate product, such as fruit juices and soda (using HFCS).

        15 Replies
        1. re: moki

          I heard Michael Pollan this morning on the radio. He's the guy who wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma. He says that corn is in everything now. Also in almost everything now (food) is cotton. It seems totally weird to me that we're eating cotton and corn in many, many different guises. They're cheap due to government subsidies, and their use in food is growing bigger everyday. His book's amazing and he's a good interview. I think you can hear him in an archive of Democracy Now on KPFA on the web. It was this morning's show. Pollan teaches at UC Berkeley. He's written a second book, but I can't remember the name.

          1. re: oakjoan

            On that note, I was looking at the recent US. gov. figures, the average American now consumes more HFCS than sugar in a year (28.4 kg vs 26.7 kg) (USDA). Plus, with government import tariffs on sugar continuing, we probably haven't seen the last of HFCS and corn products.

            1. re: moki

              Just continue showing America our interests by our wallets. I go through great lengths to avoid high fructose corn syrup. Very true about the subsidies. People just don't know or care much about the food bill in America.

              1. re: moki

                It's late for me so I misread and thought you wrote "the average American cow", although it did make sense for a moment.

                Not surprising about the rise. I'm personally trying to boycott HFCS-containing products in my purchases.

              2. re: oakjoan

                I was given The Omnivore's Dilemma and In The Defense of Food recently. Very eye opening. Just to give an idea...was in the grocery store. Picked up a pack of Bologne to read the label. I had always known that it was made of "the parts you don't want to know about" as my Mom would say. Imagine my surprise when I saw corn syrup listed. Corn syrup in bologne???

                1. re: rHairing

                  I've seen it in packages of whole wheat bread. :(

                  1. re: Prav

                    And crackers, frozen pizza and so on. My take is, the food product manufacturers are trying to bulk up their products using the least costly materials, while still maintaining the products' desired profile of taste, texture, colour etc. they had in mind. So, gram for gram, the more HFCS, fructose-glucose, corn syrup and other cheap stuff they can sneak in, the higher their profit margins.

                  1. re: oakjoan

                    The first chapter of Ominvore's Dilemma is devoted to corn in our diet. Definitely worth reading.

                    1. re: oakjoan

                      In TOD, Pollan basically says that North Americans are mostly made of corn. We get our carbon atoms from the food we eat and the isotope that is corn is predominantly what makes us up. So that means that even if it isn't corn, it's corn.


                    2. re: moki

                      fruit juice doesn't use corn syrup.

                      1. re: xanadude

                        Hight fructose corn syrup is a HIGHLY common ingredient in fruit juices. Check the labels.

                        1. re: spellweaver16

                          I suppose it depends on the country, but in the US (below quoted from wikipedia:fruit juice but known from other sources)

                          "In the USA, fruit juice can only legally be used to describe a product which is 100% fruit juice. A blend of fruit juice(s) with other ingredients, such as high-fructose corn syrup, is called a juice cocktail or juice drink[4] According to the FDA, the term "nectar" is generally accepted in the U.S. and in international trade for a diluted juice to denote a beverage that contains fruit juice or puree, water, and which may contain sweeteners.[5]"

                          1. re: xanadude

                            My bad, you're right, the technical term for what I was referring to is a juice drink or cocktail, I was in a hurry and didn't think it out. On the other hand, it's probably also a bad sign that we now commonly refer to juice cocktails or drinks as fruit juice.

                            1. re: moki

                              Exactly. Earlier today I sat in for an educational seminar for caretakers, on nutrition, and one of the important points was to be able to distinguish the difference between fruit juices and fruit drinks/beverages/cocktails/punches etc.

                              The common trick is to splash the packaging with enticing graphics of real fruit, catchy text that says "made with real fruit", "rich in vitamin C" and so on. Of course the magic words (beverage, punch etc.) are made the least prominent in the packaging.

                    3. If you read "Omnivore's Dilemma," the author goes into great detail regarding corn as the main crop of the Americas. It's fascinating to think about because most people think of either wheat or rice as the main, fundamental plant that sustains us.

                      1. It is definitely getting harder to find items that don't contain HFCS. That stuff is just terrible for you!

                        6 Replies
                            1. re: creamy

                              Couldn't agree more, creamy! I'm diabetic, and I have to avoid this stuff like the plague. I'm the cranky, aging geek you see in the aisles carefully scrutinizing food labels - and I'm so glad that governments have stepped up labeling requirements. You can't have too much information about the food you eat!

                            2. re: smarsh

                              I don't think HFCS in itself is really that much worse for you than regular old sugar. At least there's been no conclusive research that indicates this is true. The main issue is that it's used in EVERYTHING and turns up in a lot of places you wouldn't even normally expect for there to be sugar, so you end up consuming a lot more of it than you ought to if you don't pay attention. This hidden sugar, in everything from saltines to peanut butter, is what makes people fat and can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and other nasty illnesses.

                              There's also nothing wrong with eating corn, but if your diet consists of 90% corn and corn by-products, your body is overdosing on some nutrients and lacking in others.

                              I also personally think HFCS tastes overly sweet and artificial, which is reason enough for me to avoid it.

                              1. re: oolah

                                oolah, that is the point I was trying to make. I've certainly read all the anecdotal evidence like the Phil Lempert article above. I've yet to see any hard fast scientific evidence that proves that HFCS is the devil. My hope is always that when people make broad statements like "that stuff is terrible for you" that they have scientific data to back it up.

                                I do however agree with you that HFCS being in everything makes us vulnerable to sugars we wouldn't normally, purposefully, consume.

                                1. re: smarsh

                                  I agree there is no scientific data, but then that's what I find frustrating about USDA / North American standards, that any food additive is presumed innocent unless "proved" otherwise, just like all the hormones and pesticides that are used on a routine basis on all our foodstuff.

                                  Sorry I'm ranting too much in this thread already..

                          1. Some interesting reads:



                            From 1977 to 1997... HFCS consumption increased from 9.6lb to 62.4lbs per capita!

                            1. Michael Pollan talking about corn's world domination:


                              1. Check out the movie "King Corn" At one point they did a hair analysis of one person's diet. Abut 80% of it was corn.

                                Corn is also the main diet for mass-market beef, chicken, and pork. It is in a lot of commerical baked goods, jams, sodas, well almost all processed food on the market.

                                I mean most of the corn in Iowa is grown for HFCS.

                                After seeing the movie, I just about swore the stuff off.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: adventuresinbaking

                                  I don't have access to any figures, but from my readings of the financial press, due to subsidies, most of the corn in Iowa is grown for ethanol production. This is kind of sad; higher corn prices have impacted food prices across North America. Meanwhile, cheap sugar-cane ethanol from Brazil is not allowed into the US. Some one should be asking John, Hillary, or Barack what's up with that!

                                  1. re: KevinB

                                    KevinB, you have a good point, which is why more and more research is now devoted to switchgrass and sugar-cane ethanol. 18 to 20% of the corn crop is now used for ethanol (DoA), which led to a 70% increase in corn prices! TechnologyReview has a good article on the issue: http://www.technologyreview.com/read_...

                                    1. re: KevinB

                                      fruglescot, it seems the Omnivore's Dilemma and the related hulabaloo in the past couple of years have passed you by.

                                      The real reason to avoid hfcs in my opinion is that sugar tastes better. (Notice the excitement on Chowhound every year when "Kosher" Coke comes out...or the excitement over finding Mexican Coke...)And, yeah, why would you want hidden anything in your food? I don't necessary agree with the prevailing recently popular view that corn is the root (or stalk and ear) of all evil. I think consumers not reading labels or caring about the content of their diets might be, though. It is incumbent upon us all to be smart consumers--which is why many of us hang out here on chowhound, to educate ourselves about the best places to spend our restaurant dollars and be savvy consumers of food in general.

                                      The thing about "most" corn is being grown for ethanol is a very recent development. Most of the folks in the heartland who got behind ethanol in the first place were looking to create an additional market for corn to help bolster/steady the incomes of corn farmers. The original idea was that any "unsold" corn would be used for ethanol production--so, what we're experiencing right now in terms of food prices is somewhat intended, though, I don't they had any idea originally that demand woiuld so outstrip the available "excess" corn production. The ethanol producers are now scrambling to find something other than corn, say, silage, (anything cellulose based--including some of the things moki describes) to produce ethanol. Hopefully, that will get corn and food prices back into line.


                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        The sector is looking for ways to convert biomass to fuel. So far the technology to do so efficiently is lacking .

                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                          Correct--but it's being worked on furiously by many and several pilots of various kinds are underway. I believe someone will hit on it eventually...American (and Canadian) ingenuity and the efficient markets being what they are...

                                          I came back in to mention the other root of evil, in addition to consumers not paying attention, and that's the fact that various products don't bear the price of cleaning up the pollution, etc. I'm hoping that gets corrected eventually (sooner, rather than later). I know about 20 years ago we applied disincentive pressure to the petroleum industry to gradually reduce pollution by giving them ceilings and pollution "credits" that gradually reduced over time. I don't know if that was ultimately effective, but, maybe there can be something like that in place for food producers as well...


                                        2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                          I am currently reading his book OD and have attended his lecture here in Toronto recently. So I'm on my way to enlightenment about corn thanks to Mr. Pollan and the Chowhounds on this thread.
                                          Read my review of the lecture near the bottom of this thread


                                    2. So if we are inundated with all these corn-based products (most bio-engineered and grown with innumerable pesticides harmful to our health over many years), why do we continue buying them and why is our government keep subsidizing production? The fact it is a cheap product and the subsidizing of it is part of our national "pork barrel" spending are not great answers. I guess, we don't get it or we don't care; or worse, both.

                                      14 Replies
                                      1. re: creamy

                                        I stopped buying them over a year ago after reading OD. It's NOT that hard and I'm rewarded by feeling great physically and mentally/philosophically for the lack of HFCS (and other healthy choices, too).

                                        1. re: creamy

                                          One of the reasons for GMO (genetically modified organisms) crops is to cut down on the use of pesticides--either herbicides using glyphosphate resistance or insecticides in the case of Bt genes which provide resistance to different insect pests.

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            cut down on the use of synthetic pesticides--in many cases, resistance is created by the plant essentially manufacturing "natural" pesticides themselves.

                                            1. re: xanadude

                                              Although crop plants are traditionally bred for resistance, insertion of the Bt gene has improved the resistance of a few crops to some key pests. Crop plants do not "manufacture" pesticides.

                                              My comment to creamy was intended to point out that his/her comment, "most bio-engineered and grown with innumerable pesticides" doesn't make sense in that GM crops are normally so developed to be able to reduce the use of pesticides.

                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                Its been a little while since I checked on this, but I am pretty sure that instead of GMO's being sprayed with pesticides, they have pesticides in the plants.

                                                Also, these products use amonia based fertilizers, which burn off topsoil.

                                                I also have read that GMO organizisms and pests are similar to the problems we are running into with pennicillin. GMO companies creat a crop that is resistant to pests/disease, until the disease/pest mutates to become resistant to the pesticides.

                                                1. re: adventuresinbaking

                                                  Exactly the point: Bt maize requires much less insecticide use. Roundup ready cotton allows small early dosages of herbicides, reducing overall herbicide use greatly.

                                                  One of the two most common GM outputs is the insertion of the Bt gene in crop plants. So far pests have not developed resistance to Bt.

                                                  Synthetic fertilizers do not in any way burn off topsoil.

                                                2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                  The Bt gene codes for producing Bt toxin, which *is* a naturally occurring insecticide and common organic pesticide. Resistance (in this case) isn't by 'making the plant stronger' or 'less attractive to insects' but by producing Bt toxin within the plant.

                                                  1. re: xanadude

                                                    Entomopathogenic bacteria such as Bacillus thuringiensis have been isolated to produce insecticides. The insecticide itself is not naturally occuring.

                                                    You missed the point about host plant resistance. "Resistance" is a technical breeding term that we're long achieved though conventional crossing. It has nothing to do with the introduction of gene sequences such as Bt.

                                            2. re: creamy

                                              Perhaps some don't care or don't realize what's going on, but I think most don't have the time and energy to eliminate corn from their diets. It's hard to believe how much of our food actually contains corn. For example:

                                              - A classic PB+J sandwich is full of corn (in the form of HFCS) - the bread, the jam, and even the peanut butter.

                                              - That ballpark hotdog is really corny - the dog, the pickles, the ketchup and, of course, the bun have HFCS.

                                              - A breakfast of Special-K cereal and Dannon yogurt has HFCS.

                                              - Even cough syrup (Robitussin) contains HFCS.

                                              These examples might be different in Canada - I know that there's less use of HFCS up there, but it still exists (for example, in Dare cookies, alas).

                                              I've been trying, this past year, to eliminate HFCS from my diet. It's *really* hard. I spend a lot more time reading labels. I've had to give up many products, including some that I love (Sunkist lemonade, Wheatsworth crackers, Carr's ginger-lemon cookies, Rose's lime juice). And I wasn't even trying to eliminate plain old corn syrup or corn-fed beef.

                                              Gradually, though, people are are becoming more aware of what's in their food, and are demanding change. But it won't happen overnight, because the use of corn is so pervasive.


                                              1. re: AnneInMpls

                                                If there's a trader joes near you, you shd utilize it. Many of the mentioned items don't contain corn syrup.

                                                1. re: xanadude

                                                  There are other sources for corn-syrup-free food than Trader Joes! I shop at a co-op (cooperatively-owned natural foods store), which carries organic and local foods. Most organic products don't use corn syrup as a sweetener. Hooray for organic lemonade! (Sure wish I could find a source for organic frozen limeade, too...) And even the local grocery stores carry a decent selection of organic products these days. Not to mention the products that never switched over to the stuff.

                                                  But label-reading is still required, because HFCS still shows up unexpectedly. For example, my co-op carried Brownberry bread (now Arnold's), which used to contain HFCS before Arnold's redid the recipe.

                                                  Heaven forbid that I ever go grocery shopping without my reading glasses!


                                                2. re: AnneInMpls

                                                  That's why I'm gradually switching to non-mainstream food products. They are less available and a bigger strain on the wallet, but it simply boils down to using the more basic ingredients:

                                                  PB -- natural almond/peanut butter + honey
                                                  cereal -- cooking my own oatmeal/ cream of wheat etc.
                                                  yogurt -- plain + honey / jam etc.

                                                  1. re: AnneInMpls

                                                    As far as that "really corny" ballpark dog, don't forget that the pork, chicken, turkey, or beef from which it was made was likely raised with corn as its primary food source. So you're getting animal protein that's essentially a corn byproduct along with your other corn byproducts.

                                                  2. re: creamy

                                                    creamy, just look at our presidential primaries. Imagine campaigning in Iowa under the platform "no more corn subsidies!" I remember Mike Gravel didn't even bother campaigning for the Iowa Caucuses for the corn ethanol subsidies reason.

                                                  3. I spend a few weeks every summer in France and Italy visiting family, and over the years I have noticed the changing composition of the crops being grown, from small plots growing diverse crops to large mono-culture fields by region. Last summer I was struck by the amount of corn being grown, from North to South, squeezed into every available space.

                                                    Given that there is little human consumption of fresh corn there, and corn is grown mainly for chicken feed, I wondered if this was a sign that the EEC had either fallen into the vicious circle of subsidies-hfcs or whether it was for ethanol. Cattle were still grazing outdoors on GRASS. OTOH, I've also noticed that there are far more packaged snacks/cookies/cereals/drinks in the supermarket aisles than there were 20 years ago.

                                                    1. Hello everyone! I am new to the boards and when I saw this topic I could not resist replying. I avoid HFCS like the plague ever since I read OD. I refuse to believe it's healthy and that people should be eating a diet that contains mostly one ingredient.

                                                      1. Look a little harder and you will find many, many more corny products in your pantry. Anything with maltodextrin, dextrose, invert syrup, citric acid, caramel food coloring, any starch that isn't otherwise labeled, any form of cellulose, etc. When I was diagnosed as being allergic to corn 10 years ago, literature said there was corn in 75% of grocery store items, other then fresh produce & meats. Now I'd say its up to 90-95% of all grocery store items, including produce & meats- thanks to citric acid washes used on both.

                                                        Once you get through your pantry, start looking in the bathroom too. Shampoo, conditioners, lotions- even toilet paper- have corn in them, for the most part. Avoiding corn is a full time job for me, and I still make mistakes, which unfortunately cost me weeks to recover from.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: anniemax

                                                          Big sympathy on the corn allergy! I've become more aware of the issue because I have a friend who's in the same boat as you. She has a really tough time finding anything she can eat - especially when we try to go to a restaurant.

                                                          I'm sure you know about the Corn Allergen List, anniemax, but others might find it as educational as I did. It's mindboggling to realize that corn is almost everywhere.



                                                          1. re: AnneInMpls

                                                            That is a great site. Thank you, AnneInMpls.

                                                            After reading all these posts I wonder how many of us will stop at a local fruit/vegetable stand, during late summer, selling "Native Corn"?
                                                            I'm sure we all remember eating fresh ears with lots of butter and a pinch of salt. Sun streaming in. Ahh.
                                                            Now, the crop has been ruined by smarty pants thinking they were making it better for the rest of us or trying to make a fast buck. I'm all for science but stay away from food, please.

                                                          2. re: anniemax

                                                            That must be so challenging! There are so many things I didn't realize were corn, like crystalline fructose (naively, I thought it was crystalized fruit sugar... but if that were the case, that's what they'd call it). OTOH, I'll bet you have a healthy, low processed food diet.

                                                          3. Most of the unpronounceable and unintelligible ingredients in processed foods are derived from either corn or soy. Just because it doesn't say corn, doesn't mean it isn't corn.

                                                            Since most livestock in the US is fed a corn based diet, most of your meat, dairy, and eggs are essentially reconstituted corn.

                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                Very interesting... its good to know that Europe's disdain for Corn was actually the result of a real threat and not just Cultural Darwinism... what a history of Corn first it saved much of Europe from starvation then it got them back with Pellagra... just goes to prove the wisdom of millenary traditions.

                                                                Nowadays the risk of Pellagra is lower because Niacin is by law, a required additive to refined grains and you will find it in everything from mainstream Cereals to Breads to Pastas.

                                                                I guess the risk is if you eat a diet with a very high level of Whole Corn Grain products (exempt from the niacin fortification law) that has not gone through Nixtamalization then it could potential be a threat but nothing that can't be cured with some milk or multi-vitamin or meats etc.,

                                                                The other beautiful aspect of Nixtamalization is that it also makes Calcium available.

                                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                  Could someone with knowledge of their family history tells us what is was like to live on diet that really was based on corn, where this lack of niacin was a real danger? Maybe your ancestors ate nothing but corn bread and corn mush in the American south, or polenta in northern Italy. Viewed across cultures and over several centuries, this hand wringing over ubiquitous corn starch, corn syrup and corn feed beef almost seems silly.

                                                                  Have prices on imported Italian pasta risen so much that you can only afford to eat corn pasta? How many times a week do you make corn bread? Is it the northern style heavy in wheat flour and sugar, or the southern style with mail order stone cracked heirloom corn? Cereal prices so high that you can only afford plain corn flakes instead of Swiss oats? What ever happened to the gold standard of American cooking - meat and potatoes? Has corn gruel replaced congee in Asian American households?


                                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                                    Obviously for my relatives... corn represented probably 25 to 75% of what they ate in a given week depending on the seasons and Pellagra was nonexistent in Mexico... nothing new here. Our family history is full of long, healthy lives even when some of my early 20th Century ancestors started every morning with moonshine & homemade cigars.... if they didn't die of some violent means they mostly lived passed 70.

                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                      Not many people these days (or at least not many people who regularly post to chowhound) are living on subsistence diets. So pellagra, scurvy, and other forms of malnutrition aren’t that common in this community. But you don’t have to go back many generations to find legitimate concerns about meeting basic food needs. I remember conversations with my great-grandparents about scratching out a living in the late 19th century and the cravings that resulted from nutritional imbalances. And presumably people in non-industrialized countries still struggle with these problems. Just because they aren’t an issue for modern urbanites doesn’t mean they’re not real.