REVIEWS - vastly incomplete collection:



THE NEW YORKER

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books


Loose leafs from the New Yorker Books Department.


JUNE 12, 2008

YELLOW NO. 5

If you happen to find yourself this summer at a black-tie affair, eating macaroni and cheese out of a tiny carafe with a doll’s spoon, consider Gillian Reagan’s recent piece in the Observer about the rise of “ironic” food: gourmet pigs-in-blankets, tiny butter-lettuced B.L.T.s, or other kinds of childhood fare offered at trust-fund prices. (The old steak tartare, perhaps, just can’t hold its own against the elfin mini-burger.) Reagan’s discussion begins in Henri Bendel’s store on Fifth Avenue, where the Greenpoint baker Sarah Magid was serving homemade snack cakes imitating the store-bought: “People see it and say, ‘Oh my God, is that a Twinkie and it’s…organic?” Magid said. (Note to enthusiasts: “organic” does not mean “calorie-free.”) Of those peddled by the folks at Hostess, “sitting on the shelf and gathering dust,” Magid said, they’re “not meant for human consumption, if you break down what the ingredients are.”


Steve Ettlinger’s culinary-science study, “Twinkie, Deconstructed,” just gone paperback, has done exactly that. Ettlinger investigates, in order, every ingredient on the box, in an effort to explain to his kids where high-fructose corn syrup, for example, comes from. It’s not exactly a bedtime story. (“Red No. 40 and Yellow No. 5 are made from oil, some processed by European companies, some by domestic companies, but most likely from Chinese petroleum refined in the Yellow River Delta at the edge of the Yellow Sea,” he writes.) What would Magid think of her fellow Brooklyn bakers who’ve gone even further around the anti-organic bend, claiming to have invented the deep-fried Twinkie? (Moreover, how did it leapfrog from Bay Ridge to the Indiana State Fair?)

The deep-fried Twinkie has been unironically on the menu at the 40/40 Club, the Flower District night spot, since it opened, and today, the executive chef Juan Jara, who helped put it on the menu, said that it’s staying. “A lot of people actually ask for them,” he said, including Jay-Z, who owns the club. Five party platters (eighty-five dollars each) of deep-fried twinkies have been pre-ordered for tonight, to accompany watching the fourth game in the Lakers-Celtics N.B.A. finals. 40/40 plans to expand to Tokyo and Macau, prompting the question of whether Yellow No. 5, in the form of a deep-fried Twinkie, will be making its way back to its origins.—Lauren Porcaro



From Publishers Weekly (January 1, 2007):


In this delightful romp through the food processing industry, Ettlinger, who writes on consumer products (The Complete Illustrated Guide to Everything Sold in Hardware Stores), says, "Believers of urban legends take note.... Twinkies are not just made of chemicals," nor will their ingredients allow them to last, "even exposed on a roof, for 25 years." But what exactly their ingredients are, and how they come from places like Minnesota and Madagascar to be made into what Ettlinger calls "the uber-iconic food product, the archetype of all processed foods," is the subject of his book. Each chapter looks at individual ingredients, in the same order as on a Twinkie package, so Ettlinger finds himself traveling to eastern Pennsylvania farms to study wheat, as well as to high-security plants that manufacture highly toxic chlorine used in minute amounts to make the bleached flour that is "the only kind that works in sugar-heavy" Twinkies or birthday and wedding cakes. His exploration of the manufacturing processes of cellulose gum ("perfect for lending viscosity to the filling in snack cakes—or rocket fuel"), for example, cleverly reveals how Twinkie ingredients "are produced by or dependent on nearly every basic industry we know." (Mar. 1)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal (Feb.)



From http://www.nycnosh.com/?p=261#comments:


The Origin of Cream-filled Species: Twinkie, Deconstructed

Filed under: Snacks, Groceries, Eclectic, Baked Goods, American, Books — Nosher @ 11:03 pm


Forget everything you know about the history of molecular gastronomy. Put Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal out of your mind and focus instead on another name that has never been associated with haute cuisine and Michelin stars: Hostess. The historic transformation of a little yellow cake from a snack whose shelf life could be measured in hours into an almost immortal dessert that practically never spoils is the real mythological beginning to the food-as-science movement. It all started after World War II, when, driven to find new ways to retain the freshness of its flagship product, the Hostess company embarked on a dismantling and reconstruction of the Twinkie. This fantastical, bionic journey is chronicled ingredient-by-ingredient in Steve Ettlinger’s thorough and often charming Twinkie, Deconstructed.


Ettlinger is an author who is best known for his encyclopedic guides to hardware stores and garden centers, and this experience has given him a great knack for systematizing–Twinkie’s chapters are cleverly organized in order of ingredients in the snack cake, and he details the origins of each in turn, making a great effort to visit the places where each component is manufactured. While this approach is nothing if not completist, it does occasionally work against the rhythm and flow of the book’s prose, which sometimes feels a bit too much like an eye-blurring 300-page shopping list.


But always, the jarring dissonance of section headings–a discussion of wheat flour is followed immediately by a chapter on bleach, for example–is enough to keep you reading…and pondering the dietary status of something as quintessentially un-foodlike as a Twinkie. There is of course real educational value in placing special emphasis on the idea that many of a Twinkie’s components are synthesized and mined, not harvested. But don’t be fooled for an instant into thinking that Ettlinger is anything but a fan of the little snack and its “emblematic quest for perfection in food”–the point of this book is more to offer a field guide to every item on the ingredient list, rather than to adopt a more Michael Pollan-esque stance and take Hostess to task for its use of chemicals in baking. And really, it is hard to fault Ettlinger for not turning his light-hearted book into a journalistic exposé when you recall that his focal point is a pre-packaged dessert that no one is likely to mistake for a health food. In the final analysis, it is just as hard to damn the Twinkie as it is to praise it–as horrifying as the snack might be from a pure food perspective, its Methuselah-like shelf stability unarguably represents a great scientific accomplishment–one that in hindsight doesn’t seem too far-removed from a Nitrogen-solidified gin and tonic or a styrofoam box of parmesan “air” served up at El Bulli.





From The Toronto Star (April 15, 2007):




Deconstructing the Twinkie

No, it won't stay fresh forever, but some of its ingredients do come from mines.

April 15, 2007

Patricia Hluchy


It has a name that many people can't utter without a smirk, yet half a billion of them are sold each year. The stuff of urban legend, pop-culture satire and even then-U.S. president Bill Clinton's Millennium Time Capsule, Twinkie is about as iconic as an American food can get.


Since its birth during the Depression, the gold-coloured cakelet has morphed from scrumptious symbol of American ingenuity to epitome of additive-laden junk. Rumour has it that the gold-coloured snack can last forever (in truth, the shelf life is about 25 days).


The belief that a Twinkie can survive a nuclear holocaust inspired an episode of the animated series The Family Guy, while an instalment last year of the comic strip Doonesbury joked that a year's supply of Twinkies are baked every February.


When New York City writer Steve Ettlinger set out several years ago to write a book about artificial ingredients in processed foods, Twinkie emerged as the perfect specimen.


"It's the quintessential processed food," says Ettlinger, author of Twinkie, Deconstructed (Hudson Street/Penguin). "And the ingredients in a Twinkie are found, I realized pretty early on, in most processed foods; they're in canned goods, they're in salad dressings, they're in ice cream, cookies."


Ettlinger, a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, got the idea for his book while at the beach in Connecticut with his son and daughter.


The kids were eating ice cream bars, and dad, as was his wont, began reading the list of ingredients. Soon the children wanted to know what polysorbate 60 was and where it came from. Dad was stumped.


That substance – an "emulsifier" that basically does the work of cream and eggs at much lower cost, and is created through a complicated chemical process involving corn syrup, palm oil and petroleum – has its own section in Twinkie, Deconstructed. In fact, each of the 26 chapters in Ettlinger's book is devoted to a Twinkie component.


The cake's main ingredient is wheat flour, while its least prevalent are the dyes "yellow no. 5" and "red no. 40." In between are substances including water, corn sweeteners and syrup, cellulose gum and sodium stearoyl lactylate.


In the course of five years of research, Ettlinger sometimes had to remind himself that he was writing about something you eat and not, say, the mineral, petrochemical or wood pulp industries.


"Some of the ingredients listed on the Twinkie ingredient label are recognizable foods, sugar and flour, and so forth," he says. "And the corn and soybean products, while highly processed, nonetheless obviously start with corn and soybeans.


"But the more chemical-sounding names, or the names of things that are unfamiliar, I thought at one point would be sourced from raw materials like seeds or berries or weeds or bark or something. Somewhere I figured there'd be a factory with a recognizable food coming in the back door and the more odd-sounding thing coming out the front."


Instead, he found himself interviewing scientists about complicated, sometimes dangerous, chemical reactions – or visiting mines.


"Almost any bread or cake you eat is made from at least five different kinds of rock," says Ettlinger. "The raw material for baking powder and a few other things are rocks."


So the author went 500 metres beneath the ground in Green River, Wyo., to observe the mining of trona, a rock containing sodium sesquicarbonate, from which baking soda is derived.


Ettlinger discovered that a whole lot of Twinkie ingredients – as with many other processed foods – are derived from petroleum and petroleum products.


That includes the food colouring that gives Twinkies their warm, golden-yellow glow. "The colours are made in great part from petroleum products in China," says Ettlinger. "Their final mix is usually in the country that's using the colour. In this case, I travelled to St. Louis, where I saw the grey powders mixed together and then turning bright red or yellow."


Some of the B vitamins that enrich most flour are also derived at least partly from petroleum, such as niacin or B3 (the ingredients are water, air and petroleum), and thiamine mononitrate or B1 (from coal tar).


"It's pure chemistry," says Ettlinger. "I really thought if anything was going to be extracted from a plant, somehow it would be vitamins, and they're not. And then the minerals – the lone mineral, ferrous sulphate, definitely is not. Ferrous sulphate, which you can buy as an iron supplement in your pharmacy, is made from running steel at a steel mill through a big bath of sulphuric acid."


It doesn't exactly get the salivary glands working overtime. Neither do Ettlinger's descriptions of the toxic substances that are raw materials for some processed-food ingredients.


Flammable and carcinogenic benzene, for example, plays a major role in the extremely complicated set of chemical reactions that yield the artificial flavouring vanillin.


And the chlorine used to bleach the flour in Twinkies – and the cakes many of us bake at home – is extremely toxic.


"It's hard to wrap your mind around that," he concedes, "unless you remind yourself that you have two very reactive and toxic chemicals sitting on your kitchen table. Before you get alarmed, let me tell you that it's salt. So we have to remind ourselves that a lot of common foods at first blush seem like they might be made of dangerous chemicals, but the chemicals react together to make harmless and even benign chemicals that we eat."


His descriptions of alternate uses for the ingredients he explores can be eye-opening. Take cane sugar, which – together with corn-derived products – accounts for the 4 3/4 teaspoons of sweeteners in each Twinkie.


As Ettlinger points out in Twinkie, Deconstructed, cane sugar and its derivatives are added to polyurethane foam to work as a flame retardant, and are used to make water-based ink, cure tobacco, and help clean out cement mixers. Sweet.


Several Twinkie ingredients are manufactured in China and India. Despite the recall by Mississauga's Menu Foods and other companies of pet food containing gluten from China tainted with melamine, Ettlinger is confident that the global trade in food additives is safe. Still, he has mixed feelings.


"My suspicion is that the food for human consumption is produced under more rigorous conditions and controls than food for pets," he says. "I was very reassured by the high level of professionalism among the people I met, the places I went.


"But, yes, it makes you pause for a moment to consider that all these products, which are super-concentrated and used in small, small amounts, are also spread across, because of that, many millions of servings of products. Should there be a problem with a raw ingredient coming from, say, a foreign country, it would be spread around every part of the continent in no time."


Although he describes himself in Twinkie, Deconstructed as a foodie who delighted in the regional foods of France while living there for six years, and who likes to gather mussels when he visits coastal Maine every summer, Ettlinger, 58, strikes a non-judgmental tone in his book and his interview with the Star.


Does he eat Twinkies? Almost never, he says. "I snack more on whole foods, and I'm probably more conscious of that now. Nuts, fruits.


"I'll leave the preaching to others about how you should eat local or organic foods," he continues. "But if people ask me, `Is the Twinkie bad for you?' which is a way of saying, `Is it good for you?' – if you want something that is good for you, eat fruits and vegetables and don't worry about the rest."


Nor is Ettlinger keen to pounce on Twinkie – and, specifically, the high-fructose corn syrup it contains – as a guilty party in North America's obesity epidemic. "When I researched (high-fructose corn syrup), I was prepared to find all kinds of nasty things about it because the molecules are changed in such a way that they might be hard to digest," he says. "In fact, I could not find any damning scientific studies."


Ettlinger maintains the jury is still out, but he cites portion size as a more likely culprit. "When I was growing up, Coke and Pepsi (both of which contain high-fructose corn syrup) were served as treats in six-ounce cups or eight-ounce bottles. And now people are drinking Coke and Pepsi routinely as a beverage at meals, quite often buying 22-ounce bottles."


But, didn't Ettlinger experience any distaste or horror while deconstructing the Twinkie? "I experienced more amazement," he replies.


"It continues to stun me the extent to which we go to make artificial ingredients and the extent to which those ingredients are bound up in the major industries of the world.


"For example, 14 of the most common chemicals we use are found in Twinkies. I mention the Twinkie-Industrial Complex. It's tied in with major industries that are also often tied with government policy. This isn't mere food," he says. "This is industry."


======




From Boldtype.com



“The ingredients in this unassuming little snack can also be found in cigarette filters, the glue on postage stamps, concrete, shoe leather, paint, and artillery shells.”


Review


If you are what you eat, and you eat Twinkies, it turns out you're a complex culinary and chemical compilation of close to 40 ingredients sourced from all over the United States and abroad. And while it might not be surprising that America's fabled "Golden Sponge Cake" is less golden than it is Yellow No. 5 and Red No. 40, what is surprising is that the ingredients in this unassuming little snack can also be found in cigarette filters, the glue on postage stamps, concrete, shoe leather, paint, and artillery shells.


In Twinkie, Deconstructed, author Steve Ettlinger goes on a quest to uncover the origins of each of the Twinkie's ingredients in the hope that he'll be able to answer one seemingly simple question posed by his six-year-old daughter: "Where does polysorbate 60 come from, Daddy?" Devoting each chapter to an ingredient, Ettlinger succeeds in answering that question by chapter 19. Along the way, the reader is invited to watch the somewhat uncanny alchemy of Twinkie creation as the author explores an interminably long and ostensibly disconnected assembly line of food scientists, farmers, miners, flavor analysts, and petrochemical engineers — bakers, curiously, are scarce.


From pickle liquor to pockle, the process is as peculiar as it is educational — examining every one of Twinkie's solvents, moistening agents, emulsifying systems, and humectants. With each chapter, Ettlinger adds insight and context to the items listed on the packaging of a Twinkie, as well as other common comestibles found throughout the average supermarket. Yet it's the author's ability to add a dash of history and a pinch of anecdote that adds texture, flavor, and shelf life to this book. Blending a well-known cast of characters — Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon, and Miss Muffet — together with cameos from a relatively obscure troupe — Hennig Brand, Carl Wilhelm Scheele, William Henry Perkin — Ettlinger shares his enriched and tasty Twinkie tale one morsel at a time. The effect is satiating.


-Justin Kazmark


=======


A photo project/book inspired by this book and consisting entirely of pictures of these ingredients came out in 2010. See http://www.eschlimanphoto.com/personal