itoggle caption Heather Rousseau /NPR
Unlike the dodo that sits next to it on an NPR Science Desk shelf, this year-and-a-half-old Twinkie is still around — but that doesn't mean you want to eat it.
Heather Rousseau /NPR
We have to confess: When we heard that Twinkies will have nearly double the shelf life, 45 days, when they return to stores next week, our first reaction was — days? Not years?
Urban legend has long deemed Twinkies the cockroaches of the snack food world, a treat that can survive for decades, what humanity would have left to eat come the apocalypse. The true shelf life — which used to be 26 days — seems somewhat less impressive by comparison.
While the Twinkie is indeed a highly processed food — its three dozen or so ingredients include polysorbate 60, sodium stearoyl lactylate and others that could only come from a lab —
it isn't any more so than thousands of other food products out there.
"It is absolutely typical of all processed foods," says Steve Ettlinger, who spent five years tracing the origins of ingredients in many processed foods for his book, Twinkie, Deconstructed .
"Perhaps disappointing to foodies, it's mostly flour and sugar," he tells The Salt.
So why does the Twinkie persist in the popular imagination as a paragon of delicious, unnatural food creations? Perhaps it is the way the snacks seem to override our senses. Unwrapped from their plastic packaging, these sponge cakes appear impossibly soft, their filling so creamy — not rancid, as logic tells us that any milk product left out for days must surely be.
Indeed, most of the items on Twinkies' long list of ingredients go into pulling off that hat trick. Normally, you need butter, milk and eggs to give cakes their moisture and tenderness.