Origin of the Twinkie

Although today’s health-conscious parents may raise an eyebrow at the thought of packing Twinkies in their children’s lunchboxes, these iconic snack cakes have remained a beloved treat for almost a century. With their distinct golden sponge cake and creamy filling, Twinkies have a special place in American food culture. But what’s the story behind this food item?

This post will explore the origin of the Twinkie, including who invented it, where it got its name, and where it stands today. You’ll also learn how Twinkies are made and their popularity and cultural significance.

Who invented Twinkie?

For years, people have been debating about the exact inventor of Twinkie. Some say James Dewar, a skilled baker at the Continental Baking Company, is behind the iconic dessert. [1] Dewar came up with the idea in the 1930s with the intention of creating a portable and long-lasting dessert that could easily fit in lunchboxes. And so, he made a golden sponge cake with a creamy vanilla filling, which he aptly named Twinkie.

But there’s another theory that says Twinkie was a collaborative effort of the bakers’ team at the Continental Baking Company. [2] This team worked together to create a new type of cake that could have a longer shelf life and be safely transported, ultimately resulting in the creation of the beloved Twinkie.

Despite the ongoing debate over its true inventor, Twinkie has undoubtedly become a cherished icon in American food culture. For generations, it has been enjoyed as a nostalgic treat or a convenient on-the-go snack, with its enduring appeal and widespread popularity standing as a testament to its special place in the hearts of many. Whether you enjoy its golden sponge cake or creamy vanilla filling, there’s no denying the enduring allure of Twinkie as a beloved American treat.

cream filling frosting for Twinkie

Where did it get its name from? 

Like its origin, the source of Twinkie’s name has long been debated with no concrete outcome. Some credit its name to a billboard for “Twinkle Toe Shoes” that James Alexander Dewar, one of the Twinkie’s creators, saw. [3] This ideology was somewhat fueled by the launch of Twinkle Toe Shoes at the same time as Twinkie.

However, some researchers believe that Twinkie’s name was inspired by a 1900s term that described young, attractive men. Given the fresh and youthful appearance of Twinkie, it would be a fitting belief. But regardless of where it got its name from, one thing is for sure: Twinkie has become a beloved American treat and continues to be served on various occasions.

How are Twinkies made?

Hostess Brands, the company behind Twinkies, produces millions of the snack cakes every year using a recipe that has remained largely unchanged since the 1930s. It essentially uses a few key ingredients such as sugar, flour, eggs, and corn syrup.

Mixing these ingredients allows the preparation to create the batter, which is then poured into molds that are shaped like the classic Twinkie and baked in the oven. Once baked, the preparer removes the cakes from the molds and lets them cool. Then they add the filling, which is made from a combination of shortening, sugar, and vanilla flavoring (these are whipped together until the whole thing becomes airy and light). The filling is then injected into the center of the Twinkie through three small holes on the bottom of the cake.

A lot of people don’t know that the original Twinkie filling was banana-flavored. [4] However, World-War II’s banana-shortage forced the manufacturer to switch to a vanilla filling instead. The vanilla filling proved to be a hit with consumers, and the company never switched back.

Another lesser-known fact about Twinkies is that they have a long shelf life. These snack cakes can last up to 45 days on the shelf due to the preservatives in them. However, many fans of the Twinkies believe that they taste best when they are fresh and should be consumed within a few days of purchase.

Popularity and Cultural Significance

Twinkies have been an iconic snack in the United States for over 90 years. The sweet and spongy snack cake has a cult following that spans generations. Having become a cultural symbol of American snacking, Twinkies embody the idea of indulgence and nostalgia.

It all started in the 1930s when the Continental Baking Company first introduced this cake snack. It was an immediate success in the American market, which cemented its roots for future popularity.

The appearance of the snack in mainstream media is a testament to its cultural significance. There are several songs, TV shows, and movies in which the snack was mentioned or featured. One example of this is the 2009 film Zombieland—the main character in the movie openly shared his affection for the snack cake on screen. [5] Twinkies popularity grew further in the 2010s. Despite the scare caused by the Hostess company shutting down production and filing bankruptcy, the snack cake survived and went on to garner more attention from fans and distributors alike.

In 2014, Twinkies resurged under new ownership, which led to great excitement for everyone. The snack cake’s loyal following had been eagerly awaiting its return, and sales soared. The resurgence of Twinkies shows that the snack cake still holds a special place in the hearts of Americans, and its popularity is as strong as ever.

Popular American snack cake

The cultural impact of Twinkies is not limited to the United States. The snack cake has become popular worldwide, with its unique taste and texture appealing to snack lovers around the globe. In countries like Japan, Twinkies are even seen as a luxury item, with prices much higher than in the United States.

Twinkies have also played a role in pop culture beyond their appearance in media. The snack cake has been the subject of various challenges and experiments, such as the “Twinkie diet” and deep-fried Twinkies. [6] These experiments further cement the cultural significance of Twinkies, showing that they have become more than just a snack cake.

Overall, Twinkies are more than just a snack cake. They have become a cultural symbol of American snacking, captivating the hearts of snack lovers for over 90 years and will continue to do so for generations to come.

Health Concerns Surrounding Twinkies 

Twinkies, just like most other snacks, don’t exactly have a great reputation in terms of health. Some of the health concerns surrounding it are associated with added sugar. One serving of two cakes contains 32 grams of sugar, and 31 grams is added on top. Did you know the American Heart Association’s recommended daily limit of 36 grams for men and 25 grams for women? 

Another concern with Twinkies is their high calorie content. Eating two cakes means consuming around 260 calories. Eating several pieces a day can lead to weight gain and other health concerns, especially if you’re not balancing your diet with other nutrient-dense foods.

Twinkies also contain a number of artificial ingredients. Although these help give Twinkies their characteristic flavor and texture, they offer little in terms of nutritional value.

After learning about these health concerns, Hostess has made some changes to the ingredients in its Twinkies. Now you don’t find any artificial colors or flavors in the existing recipe. Plus, there’s less sodium and sugar in each cake than before. While these changes may make Twinkies slightly healthier, they’re still not a nutrient-dense food and should be consumed in moderation.

Fried Twinkies

Twinkies are a firm favorite in America, and there’s one way to enjoy them that’s particularly popular: deep-frying. While plenty of things are deep-fried on sticks at state fairs, deep-fried Twinkies are so loved that Hostess began selling them in grocery stores in 2016.

The first deep-fried Twinkie was invented in Brooklyn in the early 2000s. Christopher Sell, a British restaurant owner, started deep-frying everything from Oreos to pickles and, of course, Twinkies, at his restaurant, the Chip Shop. [7] The snack became so popular that vendors at state fairs across America started selling their own versions.

Deep-fried Twinkie

Now, thanks to their continued popularity, Hostess sells deep-fried Twinkies in grocery stores, so you don’t have to wait until the state fair to enjoy one. They’re available in the frozen section and come in traditional vanilla as well as chocolate. While regular Twinkies are available in a range of flavors, including seasonal releases like pumpkin spice, the deep-fried versions are perfect for satisfying cravings anytime.

Interesting facts

Interesting facts of Twinkie

1. In 2015, a group of scientists launched a weather balloon filled with Twinkies into space. It made the journey and was later auctioned off in charity.

2. In the 1960s, Hostess created a mascot named Twinkie the Kid that appeared in commercials and on packaging. 

3. In the 1980s, Twinkies were used as a plot point in the movie “Ghostbusters” where they were mentioned with the psychokinetic energy in New York City. 

4. Twinkies were originally sold for a nickel each in the 1930s. Today, they retail for around $1 per package. 

Conclusion

The significance of Twinkies in American culture cannot be denied. They had humble beginnings but soon became a nostalgia for many Americans. As a recap, here are the key points to take away:

  • Hostess Brands produces millions of Twinkies every year using a recipe that has remained largely unchanged since the 1930s. 
  • The classic Twinkie batter includes ingredients such as sugar, flour, eggs, and corn syrup, which are mixed together to form the cake. 
  • The white filling of the snack cake, made from shortening, sugar, and vanilla flavoring, is then injected into the center of the Twinkie. 
  • Twinkies were originally banana-flavored, but a vanilla filling was introduced during World War II due to a banana shortage, and it became a hit with consumers. 
  • Despite some controversies over the years, including concerns about health implications, Twinkies remain a popular snack cake in America.

The future of Twinkies and other snacks remains uncertain, though. Rising campaigns against sugary snacks have casted doubt over their longevity.  To remain relevant in the food industry, Hostess Brands may need to adapt and be innovative. Only time will tell whether Twinkies will continue reshaping food trends or go on to become a nostalgic memory of yesteryears. 

References:

  1. Kelly, K. (2022, February 16). Wonder bread: The most famous white bread. America Comes Alive. https://americacomesalive.com/wonder-bread/
  2. Nytimes.com. (2016, December 10). The New York Times – Breaking News, US News, World News and Videos. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/10/business/dealbook/the-rich-history-of-twinkies.html
  3. From humble snack to pop culture icon: The history of Twinkies. (2012, May 11). The Spruce Eats. https://www.thespruceeats.com/the-history-of-the-twinkie-1328770
  4. Stanz, C. (2022, February 9). The untold truth of Twinkies. Mashed.com. https://www.mashed.com/114465/untold-truth-twinkies/
  5. Twinkie. (n.d.). Zombieland Wiki. Retrieved April 7, 2023, from https://zombieland.fandom.com/wiki/Twinkie#:~:text=Trivia,mock%20version%20made%20from%20cornmeal
  6. A Twinkie diet? It comes down to calories. (2010, December 6). Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2010-dec-06-la-he-fitness-twinkie-diet-20101206-story.html
  7. Howcast.com. (n.d.). howcast.com. https://www.howcast.com/videos/511569-about-chris-sell-of-chipshop-deep-frying