An American Icon Becomes a Science Experiment

An American Icon Becomes a Science Experiment.

Urban legend says Twinkies last forever.  My wife decided to put it to the test.  Today, the package looks as good as the day we bought it last year.  Will it ever spoil?  Who knows?

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An American Icon Becomes a Science Experiment

Last November when Hostess Brands announced that it was closing its bakeries and liquidating all of its assets, Carrie and I realized that our children had never had the opportunity to taste an American icon – the Twinkie.  On that Friday night in mid-November, I raced all over the eastside of Spartanburg attempting to find Twinkies, Ho-Hos, Ding-Dongs, Zingers, and Sweet Sixteen Donuts.  I went to three grocery stores, Wal-Mart, and about 3 other gas stations before I finished amassing my collection of tasty treats for us to share.

Hostess Collection 2012

Over the next few days, we enjoyed eating our treats together as a family.  The kids were getting to experience something that Carrie and I enjoyed when we were kids – actually me more so than Carrie.  She was more of a Little Debbie Swiss Cake Roll girl.  Lydia really enjoyed the Sweet Sixteen donuts and the Ding Dongs.  The girls didn’t really like the Twinkies as much as I thought they would – not enough chocolate, I guess.

Lydia Hostess Pic

As we got down to the last few items from our stash, Carrie decided it would be a good idea to set aside one package of Twinkies to see if they really do spoil after a period of time.  In doing my research on the topic, I found that the Old Hostess Brands, Inc. guaranteed the freshness of their products for 26 days.  The new Hostess Brands, Inc. will guarantee that the Twinkie will stay fresh for at least 45 days.  A common urban legend claims that Twinkies have an infinite shelf-life – well not infinite, but more than a year.  Twinkies are made of mostly sugar and flour, but they do contain a lot of ingredients that you find in processed foods which help extend the shelf-life of the product.  If they contained real eggs and milk, they would spoil much quicker.  In his book Twinkie, Deconstructed, Steve Ettlinger notes that each Twinkie contains 1/500th of a real egg in each cake.  It also contains only one real preservative – sorbic acid.

As I’ve done my research before writing this blog, I have found that Carrie is not the first one to take on this experiment.  Apparently, there is a school in Maine that has a Twinkie that is over 40 years old.  The Twinkie hasn’t crumbled, but the appearance has changed dramatically – a “ghastly ash gray.”  The folks at NPR are also a year and a half into their own experiment.  Their Twinkie looks good, but it is as hard as a rock.  Our Twinkies are still soft and still look edible if you ask me.  It’s tough to see on the photo, but the expiration date for my pack of Twinkies is December 9, 2012.

2012 Twinkie Pic

Fortunately, this isn’t the last Twinkie in circulation.  The new Hostess Brands, Inc. started manufacturing Twinkies again July of this year.  I might have to go buy some so I can get my fill of polysorbate 60, sorbic acid, and sodium stearoyl lactylate.  I am a chemist, but I think I would have a hard time drawing the chemical structure for that last ingredient I listed!

Happy eating!

Music Truly Soothes the Soul

Delta Spirit

Everyone has a vice or a habit.  I have a number of them – Diet Coke, reading, potato chips, red meat, cooking, driving too fast, and music.  All of these vices help me cope with the daily stresses in some way or another.  Some work better than others.

Today my wife, Carrie, said you’ve been awfully grumpy lately.  I guess I’ve been too busy to notice, but when she makes an observation like that, I usually listen.  She has a good way of keeping me in check.  She doesn’t yell or scream or make condescending remarks.  She doesn’t make a big deal about it.  The conversations normally go something like this:

“Hey.  What’s wrong with you?  You’re grumpy.  Snap out of it.  The kids don’t like it when you’re grumpy.”

My reply today was short.  I said something like “really”, and I kept cooking breakfast.  But I knew she was right.  I knew that I needed to snap out of it.  The question is what did I need to do to get my head straight before the start of another week.  I thought about it most of the day and realized that I hadn’t spent much time listening to music lately.  Too much sports talk radio and NPR newscasts.

Well, I had listened to some music – mostly stuff off of the pop/rock station that the kids like to listen to.  You know the one that plays the same songs every two hours.  The kids love it because they can listen to the latest Taylor Swift song whenever they want because the station plays it every 15 minutes.

Nope.  I needed to listen to some “daddy music” as my oldest daughter calls it.  I grew-up listening to music of all kinds.  I remember listening to Simon & Garfunkel, Judy Collins, and Jim Croce riding in the car with my mom when I was a kid.  I eventually moved on to ’80s metal music and then took a brief detour into the rap scene during the early high school years.  I developed a love for De La Soul, Public Enemy, and Eric B. & Rakim.  I even had a Garth Brooks moment, but I don’t like to admit that.  I also started to listen to lots of classic rock and alternative music.  I wore out my first Led Zeppelin IV tape in about 6 months.  U2 was and still is one of my favorite bands.  The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby are probably two of the greatest albums ever recorded.  I started listening to bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth, and The Screaming Trees.  I went to a concert my senior year in high school with three of my best friends where Public Enemy actually opened up for U2 in Columbia, SC.  It was a memorable show, and we all made it to school the next day.  Our moms were so proud!

My tastes changed through the college years.  The Black Crowes.  Grateful Dead.  Phish.  Neil Young.  Widespread Panic.  Radiohead.  Live.  All staples through my college years.  Summer concerts were my favorite times.  The Allman Brothers.  Lynrd Skynrd.  Drivin’ n Cryin’ to name a few.  The weekend I graduated from college, my future wife, my brothers, my best friend from high school and I all went to see U2 and Rage Against the Machine in Clemson, SC.

Listening to music is truly an escape for me.  My tastes continue to evolve.  I enjoy finding new bands on NPR and my brother, Graham, passes on new bands to me from time to time.  I still enjoy going to concerts.  A few years ago when The Smashing Pumpkins reunited, I took in a number of shows in Asheville, NC where they played for a couple of weeks at a small venue as Billy Corgan worked to integrate two new members into the band.  The sound was raw at times, but it was great to hear the songs I listened to through college and the new ones up close and personal.

This past summer my wife and I went to a My Morning Jacket concert in Charlotte, NC.  Band of Horses opened for them.  It was great to get away for a night – no worries.  Just listening to the music.  For some reason, I thought I smelled a skunk at the show, but I could never find it.  Before Christmas I went to see the Silversun Pickups at the Fillmore in Charlotte with a co-worker who has a deep appreciation for music like I do.  I was worried I would be the oldest person at that show, but that wasn’t the case at all.  There was a skunk there too.  Go figure.

I love music.  I look forward to finding out what band is playing on Austin City Limits on PBS each week.  I check Amazon and Rolling Stone to see what new music will be out in the coming months on a weekly basis.  I have hundreds, if not thousands of CDs and MP3 downloads.  Some I’ve had for years.  Others I bought a couple of weeks ago.

Some nights I sit in my chair listening to concerts.  I caught Wilco a couple of months ago, and I enjoy listening to all of the concerts NPR gives us access to.  This is how I escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  It really does soothe the soul.  Tonight I’ve been listening to a band that I heard on Austin City Limits last night.  A band called Delta Spirit.  Their song “California” is impressive.  I read about them a number of months ago, but I was in more of a Sigur Ros mood at the time so I missed out on them then.  They have a good sound.  Good lyrics too.  I found a few concerts on NPR that I’ve listened to this evening.

I think my grumpiness is almost gone.

Music therapy seems to have worked.  My wife and kids will be happy.

Hope everyone has a good week.