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It's Twinkie time

The Washington Post
Published April 25, 2005

C'mon, admit it. You eat Twinkies. You love 'em.

Maybe you feel a little guilty about it, but you're not alone. Americans spent $47 million on them in the past 12 months.

Hostess makes 500 million of them every year. And sales are increasing, according to Information Resources Inc., a Chicago firm that tracks retail sales and trends.

This month, the little cream-filled, yellow spongecake celebrates its 75th birthday--and no, it's not because the same ones have been on the shelf for that long. That's just one of the urban myths surrounding the snack cakes that were invented in 1930.

Back then, James Dewar, manager of Chicago's Continental Bakery, wanted to find another use for his company's shortcake pans. He decided to fill the small, oblong cakes with a banana-cream filling and name them after the "Twinkle Toe" shoes he saw advertised on a billboard in St. Louis.

Banana cream-filled Twinkies--selling two for a nickel--debuted as part of the Hostess baked-goods line. During World War II, when there was a banana shortage, the filling flavor changed to vanilla.

By the 1950s, Twinkies had become a school lunchbox staple. In 1999, President Clinton and the White House Millennium Council selected the Twinkie to be preserved in the nation's millennium time capsule, calling it an enduring American icon.

The Twinkie factory is still in Chicago, which also happens to be the U.S. city with the highest per capita consumption of Twinkies. Chicagoans who want their Twinkies gussied up can go to comfort-food restaurant Kitsch'n on Roscoe, 2005 W. Roscoe St., for Twinkie Tiramisu. Or they can get a fat infusion at hot dog shop Swank Frank, 1589 N. Milwaukee Ave., which sells those state fair favorites, deep-fried Twinkies.

The cakes' sturdiness and longevity have led to the myth, say Hostess officials, that Twinkies have a shelf life measured in years, even decades.

In reality, Twinkies' shelf life is more like 25 days, says Theresa Cogswell, who calls herself the Twinkie guru and is vice president for research and development at Interstate Bakeries Corp., the parent company of Hostess.

"You can eat older Twinkies, but they're just not as good as when they're fresh. Then they're awesome,'' she said.

Still, a 25-day shelf life is pretty long. That's because Twinkies contain no dairy-based ingredients that could quickly go bad. Twinkies are basically flour, sugar (three kinds of it), oil, eggs and chemicals (mainly preservatives and stabilizers). They're 150 calories each, about a third of that from fat. "There are no bad foods--just bad quantities," Cogswell said.

Lewis Browning, a retired milk-truck driver, has been eating one or two Twinkies a day for 64 years. "Had one for breakfast this morning with a banana and a glass of milk," he said. The 22,000 he's eaten have earned him an appearance on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno'' and a lifetime supply of Twinkies from Hostess.

Others save their Twinkies for special occasions. Philip Delaplane, 50, an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, said he's loved Twinkies since he was a child. So does his wife, Pam. For their wedding last year, Delaplane built a four-tier wedding cake out of Twinkies.

"We didn't want anything too stuffy. We wanted something fun,'' he said. "It was the talk of the wedding.''