Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Are You SURE You Wanna Know What's in That Twinkie??

You've seen them in the snack aisle when you go to your favorite grocery store, bodega, convenience store or Mom and Pop store on the corner. (A truly dying breed, by the way.) Amongst the Ho-Ho's, Ding Dongs, Devil Dogs, Fruit Pies and other snack cakes is the One Cake to Rule Them All, the Mighty Hostess Twinkie. Everyone who has breathed the air that surrounds this small Class M Planet has eaten or ingested at least one of the golden spongy treats with the super sweet creamy filling. It's damn near a rite of passage in this country to inhale as many Twinkies as is humanly possible before the gag reflex kicks in.
But have you ever wondered what exactly goes inside of America's Number One Snack Cake?? And by extension, do you really know what ingredients go into the food we eat?? This question is answered in a delightfully funny and informative little book called Twinkie, Deconstructed. The author, Steve Ettlinger, a writer who did a turn as an assistant chef, takes the reader on a whirlwind tour around the world from industrial egg processing plants in New Jersey to Gypsum mines in Oklahoma, from soybean farms in Nebraska, to milk production facilities in New Zealand.
All to find out what exactly goes into a Twinkie, and ultimately the various processed foods that we Americans eat. His journey starts out with an innocent question posed by his daughter, "Where does Polysorbate 60 come from, Daddy?" Unable to answer that question to his daughter's satisfaction, Ettlinger takes off to find out the answer. On the way he finds out, among other things that there are no dairy products in a Twinkie's creme filling, hence the 'creme' spelling. The flour used to give a Twinkie its texture is bleached by the use of the highly corrosive and poison gas, chlorine. It is enriched with vitamins created from ores, petroleum, fungi and bacteria. The iron comes from mines in Minnesota as well as sulfur refined from crude oil. Finding out where such nutrients like Niacin, Riboflavin, Thiamine and Folic Acid come from would make most people reach for a chemistry book instead of a cookbook. Of course there's our old friend, high fructose corn syrup which is abundant in Twinkies. Did you know that glucose is found not only in Twinkies, but also in shoe polish and processed tobacco? Yum,Yum, makes me wanna go to the 7-11 and buy a case of Twinkies for the kiddies post-soccer game treat. From the same crude oil that keeps your minivan's engine from seizing up comes the vegetable oil that is used to make that previously mentioned creme filling. Cellulose gum is used in Twinkies as well as rocket fuel. I can go on and on, and it's not my place to spoil the book, but suffice it to say, it should cause most of its readers to do a double take before grabbing a Twinkie or any other processed snack cake off the store shelves. The book is easy to read, and the chapters are laid out in the order of the amount of each ingredient found in a Twinkie. Flour first to Yellow Dye No.5 to Red Dye 40 last. It's not too technical and the writer has a wry sense of humor that will liven up the dry and boring bits. It's a pretty good trip and after reading it you'll never want to look at a Twinkie the same way again.

Twinkie, Deconstructed