The 80 Year-Old Twinkie

                      image via Super Healthy Kids

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The sounds of Louis Armstrong …a photograph of U.S. troops liberating a concentration camp…Neil Armstrong’s walk on the Moon…the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr…the literary works of William Faulkner…Twinkies…

That’s right, Hostess Twinkies made the cut. On the occasion of the millennium, a twin-pack of the snack cakes was included among the artifacts placed in our nation’s official time capsule. Intended as a record of 20th century cultural, scientific, humanistic, and technological achievements, the items are held at the National Archives and Records Administration where they will represent us to future generations.

It’s really not such a stretch. Twinkies are an enduring American symbol. They are the apex of modern food technology; a triumph of manufacturing, sanitation, and distribution. They have inspired countless pop culture references, silly science experiments, campaign reform, legal defense, and a slew of urban legends. And their legendary shelf-life should ensure their survival into the 22nd century when the time capsule is opened.

About that shelf-life…

Twinkies contain their share of the usual cake ingredients like flour and sugar, but the quest for shelf-life has led to the removal of items that promote spoilage like milk and butter. In their place are some very un-Twinkielike ingredients. There’s a flour supplement that is more commonly used as a weed killer, a thickener that is the adhesive of choice for stamps from the U.S. Postal Service, and a fat substitute that also doubles as rocket fuel. There are sheet rock materials and shampoo components, a handful of petroleum-based ingredients, and five items that are mined from rocks.

This year, the Twinkie turns 80. Rather than scrutinizing, we should be celebrating. Who cares if the little treats contain 39 ingredients when you can bake a cake at home with around half a dozen?  Few have expressed this more eloquently than David Leavitt, Vice President of Snack Marketing for Hostess:

Deconstructing the Twinkie is like trying to deconstruct the universe. Some people look at the sky and think it’s beautiful; others try to count the stars.

Happy Birthday, Twinkie!

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