September 12, 2007

The Twinkie Defense

Walk with me...

I've been an anti-Twinkies advocate my whole life. The mere sight of the oily yellow cake clinging desperately to the inside of it's cellophane wrapper was enough to ruin my appetite for hours. I was sure there could be no worse junk food and that my guts would instantly turn into liquefied sewage one ever touched my lips.

I was wrong. Allow me to shed some light on this often misunderstood snack.

On April 6, 1930, at a Hostess' Schiller Park, IL bakery, Jimmy Dewar was trying to find an alternate use for the lady-fingers pans that filled the shelves. Strawberry lady fingers were a seasonal specialty and the pans went unused most of the year so Dewar thought up a cheap, enticing treat for the off season. A little sponge cake batter, a little filling and the Twinkie was born.

It was the height of the Depression and Dewar sold the baked goods for 5 cents in packs of two. An ad campaign for Twinkle Toe Shoes caught Dewar's attention and he named the paired cakes after them. The inexpensive, feel-good treat took over Chicago and today Hostess produces over 500 million Twinkies a year from the Shiller Park, IL plant. That's 1,000 Twinkies a minute. Chicago is still the #1 Twinkie eatingest city in the United States and The New York Times designated Chicago the "Twinkie Capital of the World." It's hard to disagree with Jimmy Dewar when he said, "Twinkies was the best darn-tootin' idea I ever had." Dewar ate two Twinkies a day for his entire life. When he died in 1985, he bragged to family and friends that he was a chain smoker and enjoyed at least three Twinkies with a glass of milk before bedtime.

The basic ingredients for Twinkies have remained essentially the same since their inception. However, the original Twinkies had a banana creme filling rather than vanilla. During World War II, the U.S. experienced a banana shortage and rather than raising the price for Twinkies, Hostess opted to keep the price low and substitute vanilla filling. But in June 2007, Hostess reintroduced the banana version to supermarket shelves. Sales for Twinkies went up 20%. Amanda Reid, a litigation consultant in midtown Manhattan bit into the revival version and pronounced it "banana-y." "You can still taste the original Twinkie flavor underneath it," she said. "It almost makes it seem like it's a little bit healthier than a regular Twinkie." It may be indeed. Welcome back, banana!

The humble Twinkie weighs in at 43g, packs 150 calories and 5 grams of fat. Lou Browning from Shelbeyville, Indiana, has eaten over 21,500 Twinkies in his lifetime. He is not obese, rather a tear-jerking testament to the worship of Twinkies. Despite their rather innocuous content, Twinkies have been vilified in the junk food world and all manner of rumors about their physical properties perpetuated. Perhaps you've heard about their long shelf life? You may be surprised to find out that a Twinkie's shelf life is officially 25 days. After that the taste and texture begin to deteriorate. A science teacher at George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill, Maine removed a single Twinkie from its packaging and placed it above the blackboard to test actual longevity. The Twinkie did not spoil for 30 years. The teacher claims it became "rather brittle, but if you dusted if off, it's probably still edible."

Because Twinkies have no dairy ingredients and are 2/3 air, they do outlast most baked goods for freshness but the myths of their longevity have been long over exaggerated. However, due to this perception of longevity, bomb shelters in the 1960's were stocked with stockpiles of Twinkies and in 1999 Bill Clinton and the White House Millennium Council placed a Twinkie inside the Nation's Millennium Time Capsule to represent, "an object of enduring American symbolism." Another Twinkie myth is that the filling ferments into an alcoholic beverage after
eight years. Now that's just silly.

Even though the nutritional content of a single Twinkie is rather harmless, Twinkies have been vilified as the creme de la creme of junk food because of what ruthless mad scientists have done to them. Christopher Sell invented the "fried Twinkie" at his Brooklyn restaurant. It was described by the New York Times in this way: "Something magical occurs when the pastry hits the hot oil. The creamy white vegetable shortening filling liquefies, impregnating the sponge cake with its luscious vanilla flavor. . . The cake itself softens and warms, nearly melting, contrasting with the crisp, deep-fried crust in a buttery and suave way. The shop adds its own ruby-hued berry sauce, which provides a bit of tart sophistication."

By 2002, the Arkansas State Fair had introduced the fried Twinkie and the recipe spread to other state fairs across the U.S.. A common do-it-yourself recipe for the fried Twinkie is to dip whole Twinkies in pancake batter then deep fry them. A second more decadent treat is to pull out your favorite Tiramisu recipe and substitute the Twinkies for lady fingers. There is Twinkies sushi, Twinkies ice cream, Twinkies cheese cake, Twinkies wedding cake, you name it, they've made it. Weird Al invented the stunning "Twinkie-Weiner Sandwich," which consists of a Twinkie slit lengthwise to form a bun, into which a hot dog is placed. The bun is then garnished with Easy Cheese.

This baked snack has staked it's place in America's pop culture. You'll see it constantly mocked on t.v. shows, in the movie theater and by health food advocates. But even more surprising, Twinkies have taken their place in the legal books. In 1979 Dan White was on trial for a double assassination. A defense therapist put a novel argument before the jury, claiming that the defendant shouldn't be held responsible for his actions because he had been influenced by damaging biological factors due to harmful diet of "Twinkies and Coke." He begged the jury to find that White was in a diminished psychological state due to this diet. Mr. White was convicted for the two assasinations. Local media mocked the riduculous defense and now a "Twinkie Defense" is a general derogatory term for a criminal defendant's claim that some unusual factor (tobacco, sugar, allerlgies, etc) diminished their responsibility for their crimes.

I'm the first to admit when I'm wrong. But I'm shocked at just how wrong I've been about Twinkies. Long story short, next week I'm hosting a Twinkies party to officially reconcile myself to these misunderstood snacks. My guests are encouraged to bring one of the many Twinkies recipes and these confections will be sampled throughout the night to understand the joyful nuances of the treat. It's never too late to begin healing. Join us.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

A Twinkies party. Twinkies party. Twinkies...
Are you getting paid for this?

Heffalump said...

Ah, but did you actually EAT a twinkie yet?
I prefer ding dongs myself.

Sarah said...

Eat one? Are you kidding me? Can't I love them without having to EAT them? Baby steps, Heffalump. I'll get there.

Sarah said...

I'm not getting paid to review Twinkies and nobody asked me to write this post, but Adum came home last week with a box full of Twinkies and I spent days gagging at the sight of them. Then I asked myself why I was reacting this way and did a little research. I'm one of those freaks who LOVES research projects. Lucky you.

Shiloh said...

Sarah-
I've never wanted a twinkie as badly as I do after reading this! :)

wynne said...

I've always enjoyed my junk food, and I'd never say no if someone offered me a twinkie. I like them. I am glad that, perhaps, someday, Sarah will eat one, and maybe even enjoy it.

And I'd love to come to the party, but I don't think I can afford the plane ticket.

Summer said...

Sorry, despite the great history you have given, I still have absolutely no desire to eat a twinkie. I've honestly had 1 1/2 twinkies in my whole life. Too fluffy for me. This coming from someone who can't stand cool whip.

Melissa said...

Sarah - I like Twinkies. They are good frozen or you can throw strawberries and a little whipped cream on top for an easy strawberry shortcake. I am disappointed that you didn't have the The T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. Project
Sounds like a fantastic party... where are we meeting?

Melissa said...

Okay... I didn't finish my sentence... I'm sleep deprived... it was supposed to say that I'm disappointed that you didn't quote the T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. Project in your research... valuable information can be found on that website.

chronicler said...

I like twinkies, if I have to eat one I will. But I'm with heffalump, a frozen ding dong is like Heaven!

We must be minus 2 hours or so on the dining out thingy. Have fun!

Lisa Fewox said...

Can you share some of the recipes that people come up with after the party?

Sarah said...

Sure - I think most of my guests are just grossed out right now at the whole idea and are just humoring me by saying they'll come. But here is a link to a website that has tons of really fun looking Twinkies recipes. Seriously, I'd happily eat most of these.

Melissa, thanks for brining the T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. project up! Good stuff there :)

The Editor said...

Sarah, I had just finished a nice chilled Atkins Chocolate shake when I went to the Hostess recipe website, with it's glowing blue background (always a no-no for marketing food). I clicked on the twinkie globs, tarted up with berries, whipped cream, coconut, etc., piled in gross looking gooey globs, and nearly lost the contents of my stomach. So GROSS looking. I would never dare serve a Twinkie recipe, even disguised. What if someone asked what was in it? I remain convinced that Twinkies will be forever associated with haute white trash cuisine.

Heather O. said...

I dunno Sarah, it sounds like your research perhaps was tainted by some Twinkie propaganda. I read a review of a book that chases down every ingredient that is in a Twinkie, and it really turned my stomach. I'll try to track down the name of the book, but seriously, there is some stuff in there that you do not want to put in your body. The original Twinkie was fairly innocuous, yes, but times have changed, baby.

But frozen ho-hos rock, although I admit those are probably just as carcinogenic as the Twinkie.

Amy said...

I have no problems with the ingredients or nutritional value of Twinkies. It's the texture that gets to me. I can't remember actually eating a Twinkie, but I must have at some point, because the squishiness has stuck with me and deterred me from ever eating another one.

Hope your party is fun. In contrast, I'm hosting a celebration of lemons next week (CA being the most-lemon-producing state). Lemon chicken, lemon rice, lemon cheesecake, lemonade, and lemon bars. You are welcome to come.

Heather O. said...

OK here is the review.

Anonymous said...

We lived by a hostess outlet, and oddly enough rarely had twinkies. For some reason Mom would buy the Tiger Tails, though. My personal favorite is the Ho-Ho, though I share the common sentiment toward the hockey puck, I mean Ding Dong, which was especially fun in elementary school to say that one is eating a Ding Dong. By far the worst Hostess creation is the Sno-Ball.

Anonymous said...

Alright! Anonymous commenting is back. I also like the orange cupcakes.

- J-Rod

Jessica G. said...

Oh, if I lived anywhere close to you, I would be seriously trying to weasel an invitation! I haven't had a Twinkie in years but time has not dimished the passion.

Ang said...

If we are going to rate Hostess baked treats, I think the chocolate cupcake wins, hands down.

Bubbles said...

Who knew twinkies could be so much fun. Me? I can't remember the last time I ate a twinkie. Blahhh . . .

Janell said...

Long live the chocolate cupcake with its tasty, white swirl of frosting!

Suzie Petunia said...

I feel fatter after reading this.

pflower10 said...

Twinkies, Ding Dong's, Ho HO's, Tiger tails, Sno Balls etc, etc...are all Ok I guess in theory but the second I put one in my mouth I instantly regret it. I think I could frost a cardboard box and have a better treat. EWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!

Famous Amos on the other hand, always in good taste.

Glo said...

Hey! Pass along those recipes! These cakes brought joy to the Depressed!

kaff said...

I am totally grossed out after reading this! I haven't eaten any Hostess "treats" with a filling since elementary school. I don't know what that filling is made of but, YUCK!

Mary said...

A Twinkie Party??? I will confess to having eaten a Twinkie or two... or more in my lifetime, but, even with my cool airline bennies, I respectfully decline. I might eat something you see.... and die.

Annie said...

Glad to hear you are making nice with the Twinkies, but you can ever, ever get me to sit at the same table with Cheetos!

John Newman said...

Oh my. Who would have guessed the poor Twinkie has been misunderstood all this time? I have to admit. They're a guilty pleasure, for me. I don't have them often (maybe once or twice a year). Now that I know how a deep fried Twinkie works, though, i admit, it sounds yummy. My arteries are harding just thinking about it!

A. said...

I'm with Melisssa on the TWINKIES project...best web site ever... http://www.twinkiesproject.com/

Marie said...

This is just spooky. I'm away from Hollywood Flakes for a couple weeks. First she posts on Lewis Carroll (an especial favorite of mine), and then we post about deep-fried twinkies and Weird Al's Twinkie-weiner sandwiches ON THE SAME DAY. Sarah, something Twilight Zone has happened to us. I'm afraid. What does it MEAN??

Whatever it means, I don't think we have experienced a full Vulcan mind bridge yet, because I adore Twinkies, though I know, as you say, that they are the nutritional equivalent of sewage. I especially like them frozen. Mmmmm... I'm coming to your party. I'll bring the Twinkie stroganoff.

By the way, I stood in line at the UT State Fair to get a deep-fried Twinkie (that's when I got the picture for my blog), but the stench was so overwhelming I had to abandon my dream.