Hostess, the company that makes Twinkies, filed for bankruptcy this month. Several generations probably wondered if the iconic snack of their youth had reached the end of the line. However, the batch of synthetic chemicals used in their manufacture could keep Twinkies around long after the Hostess brand is gone.
Twinkies have been selling by the tens of millions per year since 1930, when they were made with basic, whole ingredients like eggs, milk and butter. As America’s industrial food complex grew, Twinkies needed a longer shelf life and a long list of chemicals replaced real food in their manufacture.
The financial travails of Hostess have placed the mysterious ingredients of its anti-nutritious flagship product under the media microscope. Twinkies are considered a snack food, but when you analyze what’s in them, they really can’t be considered food.
What’s really in a Twinkie?
Hostess downplays the ingredients used to make Twinkies. Most of the information available about them can be found in the book “Twinkie, Deconstructed,” by science writer and former cook Steve Ettlinger. Ettlinger traveled the world investigating Twinkie ingredients, and he said he was “blown away by just how far removed the cakes are from nature.”
Twinkies, like most processed foods, get a great deal of their ingredients from common industrial chemicals, like phosphoric acid and sulfuric acid and ethylene, which come from natural gas. In fact, Twinkies are made with 14 of the top 20 industrial chemicals produced in the U.S. The phosphoric acid in Twinkies is refined from phosphorus mined in Idaho and send to a Midwest plant where it’s stored in huge metal tanks because it’s considered a hazardous material.
A noxious concoction
The white flour in Twinkies is produced with explosive chlorine gas. Monoglycerides and diglycerides replaced eggs in the Twinkie recipe. The main preservative, sorbic acid, is made from ethane and methane, catalyzed with palladium, and mixed at one point with carbon monoxide. Niacin, a basic vitamin in enriched flour, is the result of numerous chemical reactions involving ammonia, the flammable chemical acetaldehyde, and nitric acid.
Polysorbate 60 and cellulose gum—ingredients used to make sheet rock, shampoo and rocket fuel, are used to give the “cream filling” a creamy texture without using real fat. Artificial butter flavoring is used in the cake and artificial vanilla flavoring goes into the filling. Both flavorings are chemicals derived from petroleum processed in Chinese plants.
Twinkie shelf life
Rumor has it that Twinkies can remain edible for more than a hundred years. Earlier this month Ettlinger told the New York Times he had some in his office since 2005 that had hardened, but were not spoiled. But according to Hostess Twinkies have a shelf life of 25 days. Also according to Hostess: it takes 45 seconds to explode a Twinkie in a microwave.
Twinkies represent just about everything bad about the American food supply. Our reliance on processed food is worsened by the growing scarcity and rising price of petroleum. Most of the chemicals used in coloring, flavoring and preserving processed food are made in China. In addition to all their industrial chemicals, Twinkies are loaded with refined grains, added sugars and synthetic fats.
The world would be a better place without Twinkies, but the point of Chapter 11 bankruptcy is to allow Hostess to continue cranking out the noxious concoctions. The eradication of the Twinkie scourge will ultimately be up to the choices made by consumers.