Are Retro Sodas Sweetened with Real Sugar? Or High Fructose CANE Syrup?

26 Sep

As public opinion of high fructose corn syrup continues to plummet, some food manufacturers are switching back to “real sugar”. Pepsi Throwback is a prime example. “Made with Real Sugar” is printed on the front of the can, and the ingredients list names “sugar”  as the sweetener.

When “sugar” appears on the ingredients list of a product, according to FDA regulations, “the term sugar shall refer to sucrose, which is obtained from sugar cane or sugar beets.”

So that means granulated sugar is used to sweeten Pepsi Throwback, right?


It is not unheard of to sweeten beverages with granulated sugar. But beginning in the 1940’s, a product called “medium invert sugar (MIS), a solution in which one-half of the sucrose has been inverted, came to be widely used in the soft-drink industry.”1

Tom Wilson, a technical services manager at Imperial Sugar Company in Port Wentworth, GA, discussed the use of invert sugar in an article published by last month:

Wilson explains that sucrose in beverages generally comes from cane or beet sugar. Processors then dissolve that sugar in water to yield liquid sucrose with a specific color, concentration and pH, or take the process a few steps further by adding acid to hydrolyze the liquid sucrose into liquid invert sugar.

Most beverage makers opt for the liquid forms because they’re “much easier to handle than a bulk truck of dried sugar or 50-lb. super-sacks that you need to open, put into a tank, add water, monitor the concentration—all those things that are already done when you buy the liquid,” he says. And by getting inversion out of the way, you avoid potential taste changes in the can or bottle. The degree of inversion is up to the user, Wilson notes, and the finished liquid invert is very similar in viscosity, pH, flow characteristics and concentration to HFCS. “That’s an easy transition for a bottler to make.”

When a food manufacturer switches back to “real sugar”, chances are, they are actually switching back to invert sugar.

I have two reactions:

1) If the health concerns about “free fructose” are valid, and beverage makers are, in fact, using invert sugar, then the products using so-called “real sugar” contain free fructose. Medium invert sugar consists of 50% sucrose, 25% glucose, and 25% fructose. Full invert sugar has no sucrose at all, and is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. The most commonly used form of high fructose corn syrup,  HFCS-55, is 45% glucose and 55% fructose.

2) If beverage manufacturers are using invert sugar, but labeling it as sugar, then this may be a case of deceptive labeling. Invert sugar has its own FDA definition. Jones Pure Cane Cola properly lists “inverted cane sugar” in its ingredients.

HFCS was named high fructose corn syrup because it had more fructose than regular corn syrup. Now, due to the demonization of fructose, the Corn Refiner’s Association is attempting to re-brand HFCS to “corn sugar”.

Perhaps we need a new perspective.

Invert sugar has more fructose than table sugar. So, instead of re-naming high fructose corn syrup to corn sugar, shouldn’t we be renaming invert sugar to high-fructose cane (or beet) syrup?


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