To follow designer Maya Weinstein’s unique cooking demonstration video, you’ll need ingredients few people would ever find in their pantry, let alone want there: eight cups of water and two cups of ground corn, a dash of sulfuric acid and a healthy dose of several natural and genetically engineered enzymes.
But if you consume any amount of processed food or drink–from breads, colas, soups, ketchup, and so on–you’re probably eating the final product every day.
Weinstein has uncovered how to make high-fructose corn syrup, the processed sweetener that’s public enemy No. 1 for some foodies and obesity experts. Now she wants others to try it at home with a DIY citizen science kit that provides anyone with the hard-to-procure ingredients.
While in graduate school at Parsons New School for Design in New York, Weinstein became interested in what went into the mysterious ingredients found on many food labels, including high-fructose corn syrup.
When she couldn’t find the corn syrup recipe anywhere, Weinstein started cold calling farm groups like the Corn Refiners Association. After many dead ends, (she eventually procured a workable recipe from the folks behind the documentary King Corn), research on how an interested individual could buy ingredients intended for an industrial scale, and months of experimenting in the kitchen, she came up with a final product she showed off on YouTube earlier this year: a video that demonstrates how, you too, can make small-batch processed sweetener.
Right now, Weinstein is working on how to craft a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of a DIY High Fructose Corn Syrup Kit that only requires a stove or crock pot to use. “Glucose isomerase is genetically made to increase the fructose level of corn. It is not usually sold to the public,” she says.
She’s also thinking about a cookbook that lays out the recipes for other familiar ingredients in our industrialized food culture, such as DIY Red Dye Number 40, DIY MSG, or perhaps some DIY monosodium glutamate. That would take a lot more investigating, though, since she can’t easily Google her way to the answer. She’s not even sure she’s gotten high-fructose corn syrup exactly right. But she says it has a sweet candy corn taste.
The kits, Weinstein says, could be used to educate both kids and adults about how our foods are made, while also satisfying the mad scientist in all of us. “It’s really meant to show you something that you don’t already know–what industrial products are made of and what they contain.”
High-fructose corn syrup is highly processed, but experts disagree about whether its health effects are any worse than regular sugar. It’s used heavily in the U.S., mainly because corn is heavily subsidized by the government, and so it ends up being cheaper. It’s also “shelf stable,” which means it won’t go bad for a long time. Whatever their accuracy in reproducing the real thing, the kits are a great tool to get a discussion started about the links between health, nutrition, and industrialized food production.
Will the cookbook also help users make something as processed as a Twinkie? Probably not. Weinstein has yet to make food with the small jar of high-fructose corn syrup she has sitting in her fridge.