Thursday, February 14, 2013

Twinkie Talks: The secrets inside the sponge cake


By Cole Chernushin, Guest Writer

Having made it through the year 2012, our nation has had plenty to celebrate. We survived the Mayan calendar, weathered Super Storm Sandy and zombies haven't overrun us.

No one suspected that the only thing to not make it through the Mayan Apocalypse would be the Twinkie.

The sweet, spongy cream - filled snack came to extinction last November after Hostess Brands Incorporated shut down all operations.

This decision took place after months of strikes on the part of unionized employees, finally resulting in the abject failure to achieve a negation, leading to the closure of all of Hostess' 33 bakeries, 565 distribution centers, approximately 5,500 delivery routes, 570 bakery outlet stores and the loss of 18,500 jobs.

Though some speculate on who should shoulder the blame for this fallout between the pastry giant and its employees, one thing is for certain: Twinkies as we know them have yet to be restocked nationwide.

Having been deprived of such a national treasure, it should come as no surprise that Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Justin Lytle, and lead baker of PLU dining services, Erica Fickeisen, decided to dedicate their latest lecture to Twinkies. They held the event to teach students about the content of not only Twinkies, but all processed food.

“We don’t want to scare you from eating these things,” Lytle said. “We just want you to consider what you’re eating.”

Students, alumni and even a few proud in-laws gathered in Rieke 103 on Feb. 7, with a total of roughly 70 attendees. The audience could smell the thick, sugary, haze seeping enticingly from the front of the lecture hall. Needless to say, the free Twinkies Fickeisen made from scratch were an absolute hit.

Lytle and Fickeisen’s lecture contained far less fluff than the pastries they presented. Each Hostess-made golden torpedo contains 37 ingredients - Fickeisen’s homemade version contained a mere 17. There was an abundance of lecture material as Lytle and Fickeisen described the processes involved in the creation of each piece of the Twinkie puzzle.

Lytle used a slideshow presentation, as well as short videos, to explain the chemistry of the Twinkie.

Each additive had its own spotlight, more often than not drawing surprise from the crowd. This surprise was then channeled into the overarching theme of investigating this generation's shift towards modified over natural and synthetic over organic.

“I always knew that processed foods generally had a lot of petroleum products and all sorts of things like that, and as a result I try to avoid those things," senior Demetri Sampas said. "I do find the processes that they use to make them very interesting, particularly the one for sorbic acid. I had no idea what went into that.”

Others speculate on why these substances are so appealing. “Maybe one of our problems is that additives make things too delicious,” Fickeisen said “Once you stop eating [foods with high amounts of additives] you realize that whole foods are far better.”