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!