Back at Cornell. I'll try and post as often as I can, probably once a week.
Whenever I tell someone I'm a food science major I am met with a look of intrigue and confusion. Invariably they ask, "What exactly is food science?" My stock answers have been concepts like artificial flavorings (how your Dorito's taste like Cool Ranch or Nacho), genetically modified crops, and recently, understanding why Twinkies last forever.
The other day, though, I realized I don't know much about Twinkies. So I googled.
Twinkies were invented in Illinois by James Dewar. During World War II, when strawberries were on ration, many of Hostess's machines used to make cream-filled strawberry shortcake's sat idle. Dewar thought up a snack cake made with yellow batter and filled with vanilla cream. The snack was extremely popular and Hostess never looked back.
The story behind the name goes like this. One day Dewar was driving by a billboard advertising "Twinkle Toe Shoes," he read Twinkie, thought it was catchy, and voila.
Alright, down to the numbers. A Twinkie weighs 43 grams and is 150 calories (40 of those coming from fat). It contains 12% of the saturated fat you need in a day (a large amount, considering a Twinkie only weighs 43 grams). One Twinkie has 19 grams of sugar (for comparison, a can of coke has 39 and a Snicker bar has 29). Redeeming qualities: 1 gram of protein, a bit of calcium, and some iron.
Now for the fun part. This is the ingredient list: Enriched Wheat Flour (enriched with ferrous sulphate, B vitamins, riboflavin, and folic acid), sugar, corn syrup, water, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable shortening, dextrose, whole eggs, modified corn starch, cellulose gum, whey, leavenings, salt, cornstarch, corn flour, corn syrup solids, mono and diglycerides, soy lecithin, polysorbate 60, dextrin, calcium caseinate, sodium stearol lactylate, wheat gluten, calcium sulphate, natural and artifical flavours, caramel color, sorbic acid, yellow 5 and red 40.
So why does your snack have to sound like a chemistry experiment?
Monoglycerides and diglycerides are emulsifiers that act as egg supplements. They stabilize the cake batter, enhance flavor, and extend shelf life. Only a tiny amount of real whole eggs are added (to leaven the cake).
Polysorbate 60 keeps the cream filling creamy without the use of real fat (which would spoil).
Hydrogenated shortening replaces butter, giving the cake some texture and extending shelf life.
Sorbic acid is the main preservative--it stops the formation of mold.
Cellulose gum replaces fat in the cream filling.
The other odd sounding ingredients are mostly synthesized proteins that give the Twinkie flavor, texture, or shelf life.
An interesting side note: the artificial butter flavoring used in the yellow cake and the artificial vanilla flavoring used in the cream filling are both derived from petroleum. Yum.
So, to be fair, Twinkies aren't really bad for you, they're just not good for you either. Think of them as the marijuana of the food world.