Know the corn syrup science, dilly dilly

Bud Light Super Bowl commercial triggers corn syrup brouhaha

(Anheuser-Busch commercial screenshot)

So those of us who watched Super Bowl LIII (that’s 53, if you’re a little rusty on your Roman numerals) can pretty much agree it was a snoozefest. Lots of excitement about punts and that’s about it.

Until Bud Light aired its commercial slamming corn syrup, and the ag social media world lit up like the Super Bowl XXIX scoreboard (which tallied the most points scored in a Super Bowl, at 75).

Now, stay with me. This isn’t about football or beer — it’s about science.

In its ad, Anheuser-Busch capitalized on our nation’s health craze and science illiteracy and inferred that using corn syrup to make beer was bad. All sweeteners are unhealthy, right? It called out other light beer makers for that practice.

Immediately, my Twitter feed showed several corn growers I follow pouring their Bud Lights down the drain in protest.

Then, the National Corn Growers Association tweeted that America’s corn farmers were “disappointed” in Bud Light, and thanked Miller Lite and Coors Light for “supporting our industry.”

Anheuser-Busch responded in a statement, saying, “Bud Light’s Super Bowl commercials are only meant to point out a key difference in Bud Light from some other light beers” and that it “fully supports corn growers and will continue to invest in the corn industry.”

And back and forth it went.

Except using corn syrup or any sweetener in the making of beer doesn’t sweeten the beer, it ignites the chemical process of fermentation. No one is drinking that sweetener.

Here’s the science, folks, in a very elementary and incomplete description: In brewing, the mash process has to convert the starches in the grain (typically barley) into fermentable sugars. There are other steps in between, but then fermentation uses yeast to convert the sugar or glucose to alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.

Some brewers add supplemental ingredients to create those fermentable sugars, and that’s the corn or rice or sugar beets or whatever that is being debated.

Bottom line: You need sugar in the fermentables, but that sweetener can come from a variety of sources.

My ultimate bottom line: The sweetener brouhaha is more about fear-mongering than beer.

We see it all the time in advertising — implying that an ingredient is bad because it has three syllables, or that something is better because some marketer attaches the meaningless word “natural” to the label. Just jump on the bandwagon of whatever latest consumer health craze is coming down the pike and you’ll have increased sales.

We see it with GMOs, with almond milk, with gluten-free declarations, with grass-fed and free-range and food emulsifiers and anything else that triggers health or safety anxiety. And “absence claims” references like the Bud Light ad are just as harmful.

We all want transparency, but not a verbal sleight of hand.

Here’s how you combat that anxiety, so you don’t fall prey to the next Dr. Oz or Bud Light declaration: Tune your radar to detect elements, or at least raise your antennae and be aware of motives, that scare rather than inform. Then do your own homework.

Fear sells, but knowledge is power.



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  1. Well said, Susan! I am so nauseated by the natural/free range/grass fed/ etc etc BS. And the average consumer is so pathetically ignorant of ANY of the true facts behind our foods, or even how and where they come from. Great marketing, but let’s skip the sleight-of-hand and try using real facts for once. Looks like the advertisers have learned well from the general media!


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