Where Local and Global Appetites Collide

No Chlorine, No Twinkies!

Commercial sodium hypochlorite bleach
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I was in Half Price Books the other day and was having a good time browsing through the cookbook / food section.  The book that caught my eye was “Twinkie, Deconstructed” by Steve Ettlinger.  It is about his journey to discover how the ingredients found in processed foods are grown, mined (yes, mined), and manipulated into what America eats.

It was the one book that I bought.  (Get your copy here)

Twinkies are iconic —  I certainly grew up eating them, and we’ve all heard the stories about how if you put a Twinkie out in the desert, it will still be perfectly edible in 25 years.    (Note: this is a myth.  Twinkies actually have a shelf life of only 25 days)  And we all know that Twinkies are made from ingredients that nobody can pronounce.  I’ve always been curious what those things actually are.  Well, this books tells you.

I’ve finished the first chapter and it is fascinating.  The first ingredient in Twinkies is enriched bleached wheat flour.  Sounds healthy enough but what is fascinating is that the book tells you “what bleached flour is” and “why bleached flour is needed to make Twinkies what they are”.

Flour “bleaches” (i.e. turns white) naturally in about 3 months, but scientists wanted a way to speed this up, since time is money.  The book tells us that “in the early 1900’s, when chlorine gas first became widely available in the U.S., millers found that they could duplicate the three-month, natural maturation process in only a matter of seconds by pumping minute amounts of chlorine gas into the flour, simultaneously achieving three results:

  1. bleaching
  2. oxidation (taming the protein or starch to the point where it is practically nonfunctional, so as to yield bread and cakes with a soft, delicate crumb)
  3. balancing (reducing the pH by generating just a bit of hydrochloric acid to further tame the protein)

The book goes on to say “It is not clear exactly how this all works; what is clear is that this treatment makes bleached flour the only kind that works in sugar-heavy and “high-ratio” (more sugar than flour) cakes like Twinkies or birthday and wedding cakes. ”

Food science.  I never knew this existed as a profession when I was in school.  How do they ever come up with these ideas?  I can’t wait to see what he has to say about corn syrup! 

I think this book is going to change my life.  Why?  Because I am a very logical person and if you can explain to me why something is like it is, then I can remember it more easily and make a decision whether I want to include it in part of my lifestyle – and stick to it!  And for 2010, I am resolving to cut out unhealthy food ingredients.

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