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The History of the Twinkie

From humble snack cake to pop culture icon.

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Twinkies

Twinkies

Photo by Christian Cable [flickr]

Twinkies were first produced in 1930 by the Continental Baking Company in Illinois as a way to use shortbread pans that were no longer in use. With strawberries out of season, one of the bakers created a banana cream filled cake using the small shortbread pans. During World War II banana imports all but ceased, the company switched the banana cream for vanilla, and the Twinkie as we know it today was born. Vanilla cream has been the dominant flavor for Twinkies ever since, with a few brief limited time productions of chocolate, banana, and other fruit flavors.

It's all in the Name

The name "Twinkie" is said to have been inspired by a billboard for "Twinkle Toe Shoes" near the bakery. It is unknown whether the shoes resembled the shape of the Twinkie cake or if the baker just found the name pleasant and catchy. Whatever the reason, the name has been a hit with fans and has added to the playful allure of this fun food.

Twinkies in Pop Culture

Twinkies have been a favorite snack food in America for almost a hundred years and have also become a permanent part of American pop culture. From school lunch boxes to urban legends and criminal defenses, Twinkies have become much more than just a humble snack cake.

In 1979, while on trial for murder, Dan White claimed that his mental capacity had been diminished by over indulging in junk foods like Twinkies. The explanation for his actions was so outlandish that it quickly earned the nickname "The Twinkie Defense." While this is not a true legal term, it is often humorously referred to in the legal community.

In 1995, The T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. project, which stands for Tests With Inorganic Noxious Kakes In Extreme Situations, was launched by scientists Christopher Scott Gouge and Todd William Stadler. The experiments in this fun project were designed to discover the scientific properties of this common snack cake, including solubility, density, radio reactivity, and oxidation among others. These experiments and their results continue to be enjoyed by Twinkie enthusiasts and young scientists today.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton included Twinkies in the millennium time capsule as an icon of American food culture. It is no coincidence that urban legends and rumors have perpetuated for years that a Twinkie has a shelf life of years or even decades.

Today, Twinkies are being used in more and more creative ways. Deep fried Twinkies have become a common novelty food at state fairs and from other street food vendors. Several devote fans have built multitiered wedding cakes out of their beloved Twinkies. Twinkies have also found their way into various other foods, such as pie, sushi, and tiramisu.

It's rare for a single food item to maintain popularity for nearly 100 years, but it's clear that America's love affair with this fluffy, little, cream filled snack cake is still strong.

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