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Those aren’t Twinkies!

 

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To my great sorrow, I must report the cream-filled golden sponge cake of my halcyon youth is no more.

There will be no sweetest comeback in the history of ever.

Hostess Twinkies are dead.

Long live Hostess Twinkies!

Greetings, snack cake lovers! You may have heard Hostess Twinkies have made a comeback. That is a lie! But I do not write this to bury Twinkies, along with the various other iconic snack products manufactured by Hostess during the past nine decades, including CupCakes, Zingers, Ho Hos and Ding Dongs. I write it to praise them.

It’s fair to say the Twinkie was the ultimate culinary expression of 20th Century American Exceptionalism. The Italians had their cannolis, the French their eclairs, the Germans their cream horns. As delightful as these old world confections are, they simply could not compete with the the ingenuity of American snack food scientists. The atom bomb may have won World War II, but Hostess’ automatic cream-filling injectors secured the peace.

Science was on our side, and science is never wrong.

By the 1970s, Hostess was boldly celebrating its cream-filled prowess through various animated surrogates such as Twinkie the Kid, Captain CupCake and Fruit Pie the Magician, “the Hostess Pie technician” who successfully modified the company’s cream-filling injectors to pump any even remotely viscous substance into pastry products.

Howdy!

At least one cultural anthropologist theorizes that the metaphorical seeds of modern diversity were first planted by these whimsical, cartoon corporate figureheads. Captain CupCake’s dark chocolate complexion opened the doors of management to all people of color. Fruit Pie the Magician’s ambiguous sexuality foreshadowed the coming mainstream acceptance for the LGBT community. Twinkie the Kid’s indefatigable exuberance evinced a benevolent albeit paler majority willing to concede that all of us share the same creamy filling on the inside.

In fact, the global reach of Hostess, particularly during the last decades of the 20th century, when American snack cake hegemony reached its peak, is incalculable. In the former Soviet Union, there could be folks who’ll tell you that Glasnost had nothing to do with Gorbachev, Reagan or the infiltration of Western sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and everything to do with the scientifically-engineered irresistibility of Hostess Twinkies.

Cold War hero?

Make no mistake, there’s as much science and technology jammed into a Twinkie as your average cell phone. It just took 70 years to get it all in there. Monoglycerides, diglycerides, hydrogenated shortening, cellulose gum, artificial butter and vanilla flavor extracted from petroleum. Eight ingredients are derived from GMO corn: corn starch, glucose, fructose and high fructose corn syrup. Combine these with bleached flour and sugar in the correct proportions—a closely guarded trade secret—throw it in the oven an voila! The golden sponge cake we’ve all come to know and love. Finish it off with an injection of Polysorbate 60, AKA creamy filling, and there you have it.

Technology never tasted so good.

And it never will again. Exactly when the end for Twinkies began remains unclear, but the late 1990s seems like a safe starting point. By then, American appetites, nourished by Wonder Bread (another Hostess product) for three generations, had turned away from science and toward a more natural approach to sustenance. Unable to compete since there’s absolutely nothing natural about a Twinkie, Hostess was bought out by a larger, publicly-held firm whose shareholders were more interested in short term profiteering than honoring the company’s 90-year legacy.

The divorce between management and the company’s heritage was made abundantly clear last year when Hostess abruptly shuttered its ovens rather than pay unionized bakers $16 per hour. No one from the company’s distant past could ever have imagined the day bakers weren’t paid a living wage. Alas, Twinkie the Kid had reached the end of the line.

Or so it seemed. Earlier this year, yet another Wall Street holding company purchased what was left of Hostess Brands, and Twinkies, CupCakes and Ho Hos began appearing once again on local shelves in June. The new Hostess is calling it the “sweetest comeback in the history of ever.” Even sweeter than the Buffalo Bills’ historic 41-38 come-from-behind overtime victory over the Houston Oilers in the 1992-93 NFL Playoffs, in which the Bills scored 32 unanswered points during the second half.

If only.

It only took one bite to tell me something has gone seriously wrong at the new Hostess. They call it sponge cake for a reason. It’s supposed to be moist and spongey. The new Twinkie is not moist and spongey. It’s more dry and cakey. The creamy filling is not as creamy, it sort of melts in your mouth before you even know its there, as if the Polysorbate 60 has been cut with solvent. Twinkies, CupCakes and Zingers have been my go-to comfort snacks my entire life. I’ve eaten so many of them, I’ve grown receptor cells near the base of my brain stem that vigorously tingle whenever I eat a Hostess snack cake.

But after finishing my first new Twinkie? No tingle.

Sadly, the case has been the same for the dozen or so Twinkies and CupCakes I’ve sampled since the “sweetest comeback ever” began. All cake, no sponge. Less creamy creamy filling. No sugar-rush tingle.

The new Hostess admits that it has changed the Twinkie by, among other things, extending its shelf life and slightly reducing it in size. But the changes I sense are more fundamental. The formula is off. Perhaps a bitter baker, distraught at losing his job, altered the recipe before his exit. All I can really tell you is that I know Twinkies, and the things I’ve been eating lately are most definitely not Twinkies.

Which means the “sweetest comeback ever” never really happened.

The Hostess Twinkie is dead.

Long live the Hostess Twinkie!

 

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