If you're the industry demonized as a driver of the obesity epidemic, image gurus might tell you it's time for a makeover -- starting with a new name.
You can find high fructose corn syrup on the labels of baked goods, cereals, jams, soft drinks, sauces, condiments and ice creams -- one of the foods to which it provides bulk. The Corn Refiners Association, which also makes ethanol, starch, corn oil and corn-based animal feed, feels its sweetener is misunderstood.
Audrae Erickson, president of the association, said "the term 'corn sugar' succinctly and accurately describes what this natural ingredient is and where it comes from -- corn."
The association created the website SweetSurprise.com to counter the common misperception that all high fructose corn syrup contains more fructose -- a simple sugar found in fruit -- than table sugar, which is a 50-50 compound of fructose and glucose. Honey has 47 percent fructose, while agave has 75 or more percent. One type of high fructose corn syrup, called HFC-42, is 42 percent fructose, 53 percent glucose and 5 percent other sugars.
On the other hand, another type, HFC-55, is 55 percent fructose, 42 percent glucose, and 3 percent other sugar. And beyond the percentages, a number of nutritionists believe a growing body of research shows there is a difference between table sugar and high fructose corn syrup when it comes to promoting obesity.
High fructose corn syrup, of course, is not the only product to get a new name from its manufacturers in order to make it more palatable to consumers. The following pages showcase several more foods that have received new names intended to change their reputations.
"I feel partly responsible for creating the problem they're trying to solve," said investigative journalist and author Michael Pollan, reached Wednesday at UC Berkeley, where he's a journalism professor.
Pollan has written extensively about how U.S. agricultural policies made high fructose corn syrup a cheap and plentiful substitute for cane sugar.
"I also have specifically urged people to avoid products with high fructose corn syrup in it," he said.
Pollan said he did so not out of a conviction that the product was less healthy than conventional sugar, but because high fructose corn syrup is a marker for "a food that's been highly processed, that's concocted in a laboratory.
"Who do you know who actually cooks with high fructose corn syrup in their home?" he asked. "Who has it in their pantry, anyway? I would say the same thing if they succeed in changing the name to corn sugar."
Pollan predicted that "to the extent we're in this sweetness arms race, you're going to find them moving to higher percentages of fructose. If you want to give a sweeter hit, you put in more fructose," he said. "If it's going to be substantially more than 50 percent fructose -- the FDA would do us a disservice to allow them to call it sugar."