The Twinkie Transformation

Twinkies

I used to love these things as a kid. Who wouldn’t like cake, sugar and vanilla cream? Well that wasn’t what I was eating in the ’80s. Indeed, when these “cakes” were first made in the 1930s, they were made with real ingredients: sugar, flour, baking soda, etc. If you do a little web browsing, you’ll tend to find something like this:

https://www.thespruceeats.com/the-history-of-the-twinkie-1328770

Of course, these things are off the menu for me today because sugar and flour are really bad for me. Nevertheless, what I think is more interesting is the transformation of the Twinkie from a basic cake into a Frankenstein’s Monster food-based product. About a decade ago, stories made the rounds that the Twinkie would survive a nuclear holocaust, and that they weren’t actually baked like real cakes. I’m not that concerned in the mythology. I think it’s more telling just to look at the ingredients:

Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Flour, Niacin, Iron, Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B1 (Thiamin), Folic Acid), Water, Sugar, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Shortening and/or beef shortening (Soybean* Cotton Seed Oil and/or Canola Oil, Beef Fat), Eggs, Dextrose, Soy Lecithin, Raising Agents: Sodium Bicarbonate (E550), Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Corn Starch and Monocalcium Phosphate, Modified Corn Starch, Glucose, Whey (from Milk), Glycerin, Soybean* Oil, Salt, Mono & Diglycerides of Fatty Acids (E471), Polyoxyethylene Sorbitan Monostearate (E435), Sodium Stearoyl-2-Lactylate (E481), Natural and Artificial Flavors, Preservative: Sorbic Acid (E200), Stabiliser: Xanthan Gum (E415) & Cellulose Gum, Enzymes, Wheat Flour, Allura Red (E129)*, Tartrazine (E102), **May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children, *Genetically Modified.

What’s not to love from the above right? Always read the label.

So from all of the above wonders, I think I can tease out what looks obviously industrial and horrible:

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Shortening (Soybean* Cotton Seed Oil and/or Canola Oil)
  • Soy Lecithin
  • Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate
  • Monocalcium Phosphate
  • Glycerin
  • Mono & Diglycerides of Fatty Acids (E471)
  • Polyoxyethylene Sorbitan Monostearate (E435)
  • Sodium Stearoyl-2-Lactylate (E481)
  • Sorbic Acid (E200)
  • Stabiliser: Xanthan Gum (E415)
  • Cellulose Gum
  • Allura Red (E129)
  • Tartrazine (E102)

I think anyone who is reading this website has some idea about high fructose corn syrup. It’s one of the worst things you can put in your body and it’s everywhere. If you don’t know, here’s a good place to start: https://www.lewrockwell.com/2015/07/christina-sarich/newly-discovered-dangers-of-high-fructose-corn-syrup/

I’ve written about the oils I eat and oils I avoid. Cottonseed, canola, and soya are all at the top of my avoid list.

Soy lecithin is in all kinds of things. It’s an emulsifier which helps liquids and oils from separating. As things go, it’s not the worst thing in the world, but I stay away from it. Mark Sisson makes a case that it does not need to be avoided at all cost, especially if it’s in dark chocolate.

Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate

So what the hell is this? Well it’s an inorganic compound that is used as a leavening agent in baking powders. “Because the resulting phosphate residue has an off-taste, SAPP is usually used in very sweet cakes which mask the off-taste,” according to Wikipedia. It also has some other uses in industry:

In leather treatment, it can be used to remove iron stains on hides during processing. It can stabilize hydrogen peroxide solutions against reduction. It can be used with sulfamic acid in some dairy applications for cleaning, especially to remove soapstone. When added to scalding water, it facilitates removal of hair and scurf in hog slaughter and feathers and scurf in poultry slaughter. In petroleum production, it can be used as a dispersant in oil well drilling muds. It is used in cat foods as a palatability additive.

Glycerin

This is used as a sweetener and is derived through the processes of  hydrolysissaponification, or transesterification. Glycerin is typically derived from soybeans, palm or animal tallow. According to Wikipedia:

In food and beverages, glycerol serves as a humectantsolvent, and sweetener, and may help preserve foods. It is also used as filler in commercially prepared low-fat foods (e.g., cookies), and as a thickening agent in liqueurs. Glycerol and water are used to preserve certain types of plant leaves. 

Mono & Diglycerides of Fatty Acids (E471)

These are emulsifiers too. They come from seed oils and animal fats. This site gives a good explanation of the industrial process https://foodadditives.net/emulsifiers/mono-and-diglycerides/. It looks highly processed to me.

Polyoxyethylene Sorbitan Monostearate (E435)

This is another emulsifier that is made from sorbitol, stearic acid (C18) and ethylene oxide. Apparently it is blended with E471. According to the Food and Drug Administration “polysorbate 60 is manufactured by reacting stearic acid with sorbitol to obtain sorbitan monostearate first and then condensed with ethylene oxide.”

Sodium Stearoyl-2-Lactylate (E481)

Yet another emulsifier and stabiliser. SSL is synthesized from food-grade stearic acid (mostly from palm oil), lactic acid (from the fermentation of sugar beet or chemical synthesis) and sodium hydroxide.

Sorbic Acid (E200)

This is a preservative to stop the growth of mould. How is it made: The traditional route to sorbic acid involves condensation of malonic acid and trans-butenal. It can also be prepared from isomeric hexadienoic acids, which are available via a nickel-catalyzed reaction of allyl chlorideacetylene, and carbon monoxide. The route used commercially, however, is from crotonaldehyde and ketene. An estimated 30,000 tons are produced annually.

It sounds all natural to me!

Xanthan Gum (E415)

This one gets the trifecta: thickener, emulsifier and stabilizer. What is it made of: a repeat pentasaccharide unit consisting of D-glucose, D-glucuronic acid, D-mannose, pyruvic acid and acetic acid. According to the Food Additives site

Commercial Xanthan gum is produced by fermentation of a carbohydrate source (mainly from corn starch) with strains of Xanthomonas campestris (a naturally occurring bacterium can be found on the leaf surfaces of green vegetables), then purified with ethanol or isopropanol. The final product is manufactured to a salt (sodium, potassium or calcium).

Cellulose Gum

This one is used as a thickener, binder, emulsifier and stabilizer. How does this get made? “Cellulose Gum is a water-soluble cellulose ether obtained by chemical modification from natural cellulose such as cotton linter or wood pulp” according to Food Additives.

Allura Red (E129)

Azo dyes are synthetic colours that contain an azo group. Azo groups do not occur naturally according to Food-Info. In addition,

Since it is an azo dye, it may elicit intolerance in people intolerant to salicylates. Additionally, it is a histamine liberator, and may intensify symptoms of asthma. In combination with benzoates, it is also implicated in hyperactivity in children. One of its degradation products causes bladder cancer in animals when present in high concentrations.

But where is the red in the Twinkie? I’m guessing it is mixed with our final ingredient below.

Tartrazine (E102)

This is a yellow azo die. So another thing that does not occur naturally. It apparently causes problems for asthmatics and may contribute to ADHD behaviour in children.

Conclusion

There’s a book out there that apparently digs very deep into the processes of a lot of the above ingredients. It’s called Twinkie, Deconstructed. Apparently, some of the above ingredients need to be mined. All for a simple sponge cake that originally had a few natural ingredients.

I don’t think I need to read the book. My three hours of research is enough for me. I can’t eat Twinkies, but even if I could, I would run screaming from them. You don’t need a degree in bio-chemistry to see that the ingredients are highly processed. I was not made to consume highly processed foods. I was made to eat real foods: plants and animals.

What’s telling when you go to the Wikipedia entries is that they almost all call these ingredients naturally occurring. I think that this is a way to give the gloss of nature to these ingredients.

The Twinkie is a classic semi “food-based” product.

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