The secret life of the Twinkie

What the cannoli is to Italy, so the Twinkie is to the USA. And despite an apparent legion of detractors, and a brief vacation from store shelves between 2012 and 2013, the Twinkie still stands proudly as a symbol of American culture, ingenuity, and love of food that can't possibly be good for you. However, despite the confusing lacquer of myths and legends that have attached to the little golden snack over the years, when you chew your way through to the center you'll discover that the secret life of the Twinkie is creamier and seasoned with more adventure than you ever imagined.

Its awkward childhood

Childhood is a time of experimentation, and searching for the person we want to be when we grow up. The octogenarian Twinkie is no different—when it was younger it too had to "find itself". Born in 1933 as a way to make use of seasonally unemployed snack-making machines, the Twinkie first hit stores containing not the familiar (and sensible) vanilla cream filling, but rather a totally punk (for a cream cake) banana cream filling. As far as childhood fads go, this one lasted quite a while, but before the Twinkie could become a surly teenager, World War II kicked off and switched off America's supply of bananas. Left without its favorite ingredient, the Twinkie had no choice but to get sensible, and there are fewer more sensible, or popular, flavors than vanilla.

By the time bananas started to become available again, the vanilla cream Twinkie was so popular, there was no point going back, and that's the way it has (thankfully) remained ever since.

The Twinkie is the Six-Million-Dollar Man of snack foods

The Twinkie is no ordinary cake. Despite seeming like the softest, creamiest dessert when you open the packet, the fact that it can sit on an (unrefrigerated) shelf for a disturbingly long time and still come out soft and creamy means there's something else going on. But this remarkable longevity is no accident—instead, it's the result of some remarkable science that makes the humble Twinkie the baked equivalent of the Six Million Dollar Man. But unlike Steve Austin, the Twinkie didn't need to crash an experimental plane to gain these advancements, because it was born that way.

Many of the ingredients that you would expect to be in a cake, like eggs, milk, and butter, are not in a Twinkie, because they spoil too easily. Instead, the Twinkie's creators substituted those ingredients with some less-perishable ones, like diacetyl, sodium stearoyl lactylate, and polysorbate 60 (and more of your childhood favorites), that do a similar job without going bad. And while Mr. Austin might be better at jumping, running, and being a secret agent, when you're in the mood for something creamy and satisfying to put in your mouth, you're probably going to choose a Twinkie.

Tough, but not invincible

Like the Six Million Dollar Man, the Twinkie is one tough cookie. However, also like the Six Million Dollar Man, it's not invincible. Despite what urban legends would have you believe, the Twinkie will not stay fresh forever. In fact, the current (as of 2016) shelf life of the Twinkie is "only" 45 days—nearly twice as long as it was prior to the Great Twinkie Disappearance of 2012, which makes us wonder exactly what kind of adventures it got up to during that time. But even though the Twinkie isn't the answer to your post-apocalyptic prayers, that's still pretty good stamina for a small confection, and it's definitely tougher than most of the fashionable "natural" food you buy, like the tomato. Put the Twinkie up against a tomato, like in the video above, and the Twinkie wins hands down.

So, as long as you're within 45 days of the apocalypse, feel free to eat Twinkies like your life depends upon it. But if you come across them too long after that, it might be best to save them for your dog.

Role-playing as a hot dog bun

The Twinkie seems like a pretty complete little snack: you don't see too many people seasoning them, or dipping them in ketchup before chowing down, after all. But just because the Twinkie appears perfect and happy with its existence to us, doesn't mean it sees itself that way. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that the Twinkie has, on occasion, indulged in a little role-playing, as a hot dog bun. It even played that role for the 1989 cult hit UHF, starring "Weird" Al Yankovic as, well, Weird Al, but this time named George. In the film, he tries to cheer up his friend by making him a delicious Twinkie wiener sandwich (as seen above). The recipe is quite simple, if a bit bizarre: slice a Twinkie down the middle, insert a hot dog, and add some spray cheese for garnish. If you're feeling adventurous, you can push the role-playing into Oreo territory, and dip it in some milk before shoving it in your mouth.

The fact that the Twinkie wiener sandwich isn't more of a thing either suggests humanity just isn't living as awesomely as it could, or that it might not hold up in the real world. But then, fantasies rarely do, do they?

The Twinkie Defense

In November 1978, Dan White, a cop-turned-politician in San Francisco, shot and killed Mayor George Moscone, as well as gay rights campaigner and fellow politician Harvey Milk, in a dispute over his position as a city supervisor. During the trial, White's defense team claimed he should not be held fully responsible for the murders, since he was severely depressed at the time. To support this claim, the defense highlighted the formerly health-conscious defendant's consumption of junk food, including Twinkies, as evidence of a dramatic change in his mental health. Despite Twinkies being mentioned exactly once during the trial, the press reported that the defense had blamed White's depressed state almost entirely on eating Twinkies, spawning the term "Twinkie Defense". Twinkie-centric or not, the defence strategy worked as White was actually acquitted of murder (getting nailed for "voluntary manslaughter" instead).

Despite being an innocent bystander, guilty of nothing more than keeping bad company, the much-maligned Twinkie is now mentioned every time a defense lawyer attempts a Hail Mary argument, and all it was ever trying to do was make people happy. And maybe a little less hungry.

Twinkie the Kid says, "eat me!"

In 1971, almost two decades before the Twinkie's acting career reached its brief apogee in UHF, it actually held down a regular role, playing a heroic cowboy called Twinkie the Kid. Popular with the children (probably), the animated Kid went around saving the day and handing out Twinkies everywhere he went, all in the name of boosting sales and consumption of Twinkies … which seems a little self-defeating when you think about it. Considering America's love of fast food, Twinkie the Kid handing out Twinkies is really something of an invitation for people everywhere to dine on him. It's like if Kentucky Fried Chicken made its mascot an actual chicken.

So maybe it's not a self-defeating practice, but rather a def-eating one. Pun totally intended. And no, we're not sorry.