The Secret Behind the Twinkie

The treat is full of ingredients that can't be found in the four food groups.

ByABC News
April 25, 2007, 5:57 PM

May 3, 2007 — -- When looking at a Twinkie, most people see a small, spongy yellow cake, four inches long with a creamy inside. Others see a moist, delicious treat, and some people remember the Twinkie as a symbol of American culture that's been around since the 1930s.

But when Steve Ettlinger looks at a Twinkie, he sees something else.

"I see an example of modern food technology at work," he said. "I see the mastery of the problems of shelf-life, of distribution, of making something in large quantities while keeping it sanitary, while keeping it uniform. I'm really awestruck at their ability to do this. It's really impressive."

Click here for the recipe for vegan Twinkies!

Ettlinger is author of the book "Twinkie, Deconstructed." During his research, he counted a whopping 39 ingredients in one Twinkie. "That's counting the vitamins and minerals in the fortified flour," he said. "It's more than I expected. When I first looked at it, I thought, yeah well, maybe a dozen. Thirty-nine!"

According to Ettlinger, Interstate Bakeries Corporation, the company that makes Twinkies, didn't exactly cooperate with his research. "I called them up naively, thinking maybe I could get a tour of the plant," he said, "or tell me where they got their stuff because, after all, it's printed clearly on the label. They called back the next day and said, you know, it's not really for us. If you want to reminisce about your childhood experience with Twinkies, we'll be glad to help you, but you're kind of on your own."

Interstate turns out a whopping 500 million Twinkies every year. At first glance, the ingredients contain items you might expect -- flour, sugar, corn syrup, etc. After that, things get a littlefuzzy.

Cooking With Chemistry

For instance, corn dextrin, a corn starch and a thickener, adds a certain cohesiveness to that sticky Twinkie crust. But in a separate life, corn dextrin also serves as a glue. In fact, it's the glue that you find on the back of envelopes.

Another ingredient is cellulose gum, which gives the Twinkie cream its smooth feel. "Cellulose gum, love it," Ettlinger said. "It's a great fat substitute. It's in a lot of low fat salad dressings, ice creams and it's used in rocket fuel to give a slightly gelatinous feel to the rocket fuel. I just love that."