Chocolate-Covered Twinkie

$2.95
Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Company
8566 Eager Road, Brentwood

"One of the most extraordinary things about Twinkies is how much people think about Twinkies," says author Steve Ettlinger. "I've become a Twinkie confessor. When I talk to people, they feel they have to tell me: 'Well, I wasn't really a Twinkie lover,' or, 'I was more of a Ding Dong person.' Everybody relates to Twinkies. They either say they love them or they say they don't, but the fact that they have to tell me I find extraordinary -- because I'm not usually asking."

That's got to be one of the few questions that Ettlinger hasn't been asking about Hostess Twinkies during the years of research that went into his recently published Twinkie, Deconstructed, a book that traces the far-flung origins of the calcium caseinate, monocalcium phosphate and polysorbate 60 that, when combined, transform into a "Golden Sponge Cake with a Creamy Filling."

Of course, without all those exotic ingredients, we'd be missing an essential bit of Americana. So embedded is the Twinkie in our collective cerebra, that in 1999 President Bill Clinton and the White House Millennial Council placed one of the golden cakelets in the so-called Millennium Time Capsule. Back before Gloria was saving the children, Edith placed a Twinkie-a-day in Archie's lunch box. The Twinkie has also made its way into an episode of The Family Guy, and has had cameos in Grease, Sleepless in Seattle and Ghostbusters.

So, sure, the Twinkie is nothing if not American. And yet, while tracking down a Twinkie's component parts, Ettlinger found that, like America itself, a Twinkie is much more complicated than its iconic image suggests.

"There are a lot of things in Twinkies that are processed either directly from petroleum or somehow with petroleum products. I'm talking about artificial colors, artificial flavors, vitamins and sorbic acid. Sorbic acid is the only preservative in Twinkies, and it's made from natural gas," notes Ettlinger, who adds that many highly processed foods share these same ingredients. "That sorbic acid might come from a manufacturer who is well known but has plants in Germany and China."

This was a little more than I could stomach. You see, I'd called Ettlinger while halfway through an impossibly rich Chocolate-Covered Twinkie I'd picked up at Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Company in Brentwood. Dressed in a quarter-inch of milk chocolate, this "Golden Sponge Cake with a Creamy Filling" was more like a common streetwalker dressed in a Galliano gown. It's not that it didn't work, it's just that the Twinkie was outmatched (and outclassed) by the case of chocolate that surrounded it.

So it's good that I called Ettlinger, because once I had him telling me about the humble Twinkie, its exotic ancestors and something called the Twinkie Nexus, I had just the excuse I'd been looking for to put my gussied-up Twinkie down.

"Of the twenty most common chemicals made in the United States, fourteen are used to make Twinkies, but they're also chemicals that are made all around the world that drive industry -- they're all interconnected," says Ettlinger, outlining the Twinkie Nexus. "It's not like you're just buying corn, or just buying flour. You're buying chemicals that are made by huge multinationals in a variety of places around the world."

But, Ettlinger adds, a lot of the Twinkie's ingredients are mined, that's right, mined, closer to home.

"I was astounded to find ingredients made from five kinds of rocks in Twinkies," says Ettlinger, who in the course of researching his book traveled to Green River, Wyoming, where he says most of the country's sodium carbonate ore is mined. "I never really contemplated that before, and it kind of flipped me out that a little delicate cake was made from rocks."

A mind-bender, to be sure. The thing is, once I got off the phone Ettlinger was gone -- but that chocolate-covered Twinkie was still there, waiting for me. I unsheathed it from its plastic wrapper and polished it off in two bites, rocks be damned.

After all, why should I worry? I've always been a Zinger man.

 
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