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Anatomy of a Twinkie

by Melody Chandler
Nov 20, 2012


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Melody Chandler/MEDILL

Shelves stand bare of Twinkies and many other Hostess goodies. Halted production lines triggered a run on the famous Twinkie.

The biggest celebrity shock to grip the nation since Kristen Stewart cheated on Twilight hunk, Robert Pattinson, is clearly the possible demise of the Twinkie.

Hostess Brands Inc., the 82-year-old company that makes the famous cream-filled sponge cake, announced last week it would close.

But now there’s hope! The company agreed to enter private mediation with union strikers and its lenders to try and avoid liquidation.

Still, with the fate of the iconic snack in danger, many Americans are rushing out to stock-up on their sponge cake snack before it’s gone for good.

The run for a final Twinkie-fix may be futile, though. Many store shelves that housed the sweet treat are now bare of Twinkies and other Hostess products.

Twinkies are available on eBay, though, for prices ranging from 99 cents per Twinkie to a spoofy $20 million a box.

The little yellow sponge cake isn’t winning any nutritional awards, though.

“Much like most packaged cakes, Twinkies truly have no redeeming nutritional value,” said Justin Heaton, Northwestern University’s campus dietician. “One Twinkie has 150 calories and 4.5 grams of fat from mostly flour, sugar and corn syrup.”

Those numbers may not deter the average American, but the Twinkie contains more secrets in its creamy belly than the average calorie and fat count.

In his book, “Twinkie Deconstructed,” author Steve Ettlinger digs deep into the guts of the snack.

Some of the fun and delicious ingredients Ettlinger found in the Twinkie include bleach for bleached flour.

“That must mean that Twinkie flour—that nice, clean, familiar cake flour—is then bleached with poisonous chlorine gas. But don’t worry, it’s OK to eat (we think),” Ettlinger stated in his book.

Twinkie’s ingredient list demonstrates how basic components for many foods have industrial applications also. For instance, a thickener such as corn dextrose can also be found in postage stamp glue.

Ettlinger's book offers other examples:

-- glucose syrup—used to sweeten the Twinkie, brown it and keep it moist. The syrup also is used as shoe polish and is in hand lotion

-- cornstarch—often used to thicken sauces. It's also used in cardboard production as well as in the kitchen.

Although the alternate uses may be disconcerting to consumers, this does not mean Twinkies or other foods using these ingredients are unsafe.

And some chemically modified ingredients in the Twinkie are what help it last so long.

And the Twinkie as a popular product has lasted a long time indeed. People have been eating the sweet cakes since they were created in the Chicago area in the 1930s.

Chicago resident, Dan Wirtz, 65, said his mom used to pack them in his lunchbox almost every day as a kid.

He fondly remembers an incident where a friend with acne spotted the Twinkies in his lunchbox, turned to him and said, “I hate you.”

Wirtz said he would miss the snack if it were discontinued, but believes that it won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

If the quick disappearance of an endangered product in stores, the exorbitant prices for Twinkies on eBay and the renewed negotiations between Hostess and strikers are any sign, the Twinkie will be preserved.