When I was in college my co-op had a special junk food brunch. Among other things we ordered sugary cereal, Pop Tarts and Twinkies. The normally staid, academic bunch went temporarily insane (thankfully no one was killed!), breakdancing on top of tables and jamming Twinkies into the ceiling with forks. Those Twinkies stayed there for a whole semester without changing color or shape. Makes one wonder what’s in those darned things. Well, now we know. I’ll give you a hint: they are not baked. Read on…
At the heart of the book is the fundamental question: why is it you can bake a cake at home with as few as six ingredients, but Twinkies require 39? And why do many of them seem to bear so little resemblance to actual food? The answer: To stay fresh on a grocery-store shelf, Twinkies can’t contain anything that might spoil, like milk, cream or butter. Once you remove such real ingredients, something has to take their placeâ€”and cellulose gum, lecithin and sodium stearoyl lactylate are a good start. Add the fact that industrial quantities of batter have to pump easily through automated tubes into cake molds, and you begin to get the idea.
Even so, it can be unsettling to learn just how closely the basic ingredients in processed foods resemble industrial materials. Corn dextrin, a common thickener, is also the glue on postage stamps and envelopes. Ferrous sulfate, the iron supplement in enriched flour and vitamin pills, is used as a disinfectant and weedkiller. Is this cause for concern? Ettlinger says no, though you wouldn’t want a diet that consists solely of Twinkies. Ultimately, all food, natural and otherwise, is composed of chemical compoundsâ€”and normal ingredients like salt have industrial applications, too. Still, it gives you pause when he describes calcium sulfate, a dough conditioner, as “food-grade plaster of Paris.”
Technorati Tags: twinkie