No added Sugar... with Sugar?!

Daniela from Austin writes:

The side of the can said "no added sugar." Yet the nutrition label shows "cold-fermented corn sugar." What gives?


Charlotte says:

This is an interesting case, Daniela!  The label says “no added sugar,” even though one of the ingredients is “cold fermented corn sugar.” While those claims might sound contradictory, there is actually an explanation here.   

This is an alcoholic beverage, with 4.5% alcohol declared on the front of the can. Alcohol is created through fermentation, a process in which yeast or other microorganisms break down carbohydrates and convert it into alcohol. So corn sugar is listed as an ingredient because it is the starting material for the fermentation process! That’s why the label explicitly notes that the ingredient isn’t “corn sugar,” but “cold fermented corn sugar.”

At the end of the fermentation process, there would be no sugars left to declare in the Nutrition Facts - the label here is telling the truth.

While carbohydrates and alcohol are not the same, do keep in mind that one gram of alcohol actually provides more calories than one gram of carbohydrates (there are 7 calories per gram of alcohol compared with 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates).

Keen label readers might be surprised to see that there are Nutrition Facts or a list of ingredients on an alcoholic beverage at all!  That’s because most alcoholic beverages are regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), (which doesn’t require Nutrition Facts), rather than the Food and Drug Administration, (which does require them with some exceptions).

As it turns out, this particular beverage doesn’t meet the technical definition of an alcoholic beverage subject to the TTB’s rules, which means that it is subject to the FDA’s rules.  The Nutrition Fact and ingredients list that tripped you up, Daniela, is pretty unusual for a boozy drink