Test your command of
useless knowledge by subscribing to TechRepublic’s Geek Trivia e-newsletter. Automatically
sign up today!

Believe it or not, April 6 is the 75th birthday of perhaps
the most popular packaged snack cake ever seen in the face of the Earth—the
Twinkie. On this day in 1930, Chicago bakery manager Jimmy Dewar concocted the
world’s first batch of Twinkies, and junk-food fanatics have been reaping the
benefits (and consequences) ever since.

As with most inventions, Twinkies were the product of as
much opportunity as inspiration. Dewar worked at Hostess’ Schiller Park, IL
bakery, and he was looking for a way to make better use of specialized
shortbread-finger baking pans. Shortbread fingers were a seasonal treat made
only in summers, and Dewar wanted to find some use for the finger pans for the
other nine months of the year.

In what some would term a stroke of genius, Dewar filled the
pans with golden sponge-cake batter and then piped sweet filling into the baked
finger cakes. Thus was born the first Twinkie, though it differed slightly from
the version sold today.

Rather than piping in frosting-like vanilla cream, Dewar’s
original Twinkies boasted a banana filling. The vanilla cream filling wouldn’t
become a standard feature in Twinkies until World War II, when rationing and
supply shortages made bananas too expensive to use as a base for consumer
pastry filling.

After all, the Twinkie was a product of the Depression. Designed
to be inexpensive—Twinkies originally sold for five cents per pair—it was therefore
wiser to change the recipe than the price during wartime.

And, yes, Twinkies originally came in pairs, which has led
some individuals to incorrectly theorize that the name was a play on the word twins. While the opposite is true—people
sometimes refer to twins (including the Minnesota Major League Baseball
franchise) as twinkies—Twinkies
actually got their name from shoes. Dewar saw a billboard ad for “Twinkle
Toe Shoes” and conjured up the name Twinkies
for his paired pastry products.

Of course, the twin connection is far from the only urban
myth attached to Twinkies. Foremost among these crackpot theories is the notion
that Twinkies have a viable shelf life numbered in years, thanks in part to
their bizarre chemical makeup. While Twinkies do have a relatively long shelf
life for baked goods, they last far less than a year, and the secret to their
longevity is hardly mad science.


What’s the official shelf life of a Hostess Twinkie snack
cake, and what aspect of the Twinkie recipe makes its comparative longevity

Given average conditions, a pair of Hostess Twinkies can
survive in the cellophane wrapping without appreciable loss of flavor or
freshness for up to 25 days. While that’s hardly equal to the multiyear life
spans attributed to Twinkies, 25 days still constitutes a pretty long shelf
life for a baked good. (Hey, would you
eat a three-week old donut, even if sealed in cellophane?) If that’s not long
enough for you, the U.S. military’s latest MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) ration
packs have an estimated shelf life of five to 10 years, though Twinkies are
reputedly a great deal more appetizing.

The secret to Twinkies’ longevity, other than the obvious
chemical preservatives, is that the Twinkie recipe doesn’t include any dairy
products. (Twinkies are also roughly two-thirds air by volume, so there’s only
so much food there that can go bad.)

But don’t let the ever-freshness fool you: Twinkies contain
a whopping 160 calories per cake, along with 5 grams of fat, (including 2 grams
of saturated fat), 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 2000 milligrams of salt, 25
grams of carbohydrates—but zero grams of fiber. In other words, there’s a
reason many consider Twinkies to be the quintessential junk food.

The fact that some folks go the extra step of deep-frying
their Twinkies in funnel-cake batter—an increasingly common confection at fairs
and carnivals in the United States—is so unhealthy it staggers the imagination,
though a TechRepublic staff member, Rex Baldazo,
swears by these high-intensity treats.

Despite the less-than-healthy appeal of eating Twinkies,
Americans consume more than 500 million of the snack cakes every year. Among
these junk-food aficionados, Chicagoans consume the most Twinkies per capita,
compared to any other market, which led The
New York Times
to designate Chicago the “Twinkie Capital of the

Kansas City, MO is the home of Twinkie headquarters—in other
words, the Interstate Bakeries Corporation’s Twinkie-related business
operations. Seventeen different commercial bakeries across the United States
actually produce these treasured treats. Now that’s some half-baked Geek

The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of
this week’s Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article.
Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and
discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.

This week’s quibble comes from the March 23 edition of Geek
Trivia, “Tipping
the scales.”
I wrote, “The Richter Scale is logarithmic, meaning
that a magnitude 2.0 quake is more than 30 times stronger than a magnitude 1.0.”
However, TechRepublic member Mprentice
felt I wasn’t being completely accurate.

“The Richter Magnitude Scale measures the amplitude of
the movement [of] waves caused by an earthquake, not the energy released. An
earthquake of magnitude 2.0 has 10 times more ground movement than a quake of
1.0. That difference in movement then corresponds to about 31 times more energy
being released. A logarithmic scale is a scale increase by 10-fold for each one
whole point. You statement that it is 30 times stronger confuses the

You’ve made a fair point, dear reader. I’ll be more careful
with my logarithms in the future.

For more, check out the Geek
Trivia Archive

The Trivia Geek, also
known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who’s
duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic
books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.