Factbox: Twinkies: the All-American junk food

WASHINGTON Fri Nov 16, 2012 1:48pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Twinkie is as American as apple pie.

The quintessential junk food treat - a cream-filled, 150-calorie sponge cake - has been called the "cream puff of the proletariat" and the "snack with a snack in the middle." It faces extinction now that its maker, Hostess Brands, announced plans to liquidate amid a dispute with striking bakers.

Here are some facts about Twinkies:

* James A. Dewar, a manager for the Continental Baking Co, came up with the idea in 1930 after seeing the machines that made shortcakes with strawberry filling sit idle at the bakery when strawberries were out of season. He injected the elongated sponge cake with banana filling - vanilla would be used later - and called it a Twinkie after seeing a billboard for the Twinkle Toe Shoe Company. Dewar, who died in 1985 at age 88, said he ate at least two packets of Twinkies a week.

* Twinkies were scorned by nutritionists as the archetypal unhealthy snack and became a comic's punch line, but somebody is eating them. Hostess was able to manufacture 1,000 a minute at its bakeries and in 2005 the Washington Post said Americans had bought $47 million worth of Twinkies in the previous year.

* Many jokes about Twinkies play off their longevity thanks to their ample chemical preservatives. There has been much speculation about how many decades a Twinkie can sit on a shelf before being eaten. For the sake of freshness, Theresa Cogswell of the Twinkies' parent company Hostess, has said that no more than 25 days was ideal but a Maine college professor gained notoriety by keeping one atop his blackboard for 30 years. He said it still looked good.

* In 2000 President Bill Clinton's White House Millennium Council put together a time capsule in order to give people in 2100 an idea of how we lived. Its contents included historic items such as a piece of the Berlin Wall, film of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, a U.S. World War Two soldier's helmet, a photo of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks and a Twinkie.

* The trial of San Francisco city supervisor Dan White, who fatally shot the mayor and another supervisor in 1978, gave rise to what came to be known as the "Twinkie defense." The defense said White was suffering mental problems, as evidenced by the way he had given up his healthy lifestyle and started eating junk food. The defense argued that this behavior was an indication of his instability. White ended up serving five years in prison for voluntary manslaughter.

* Twinkies' surge in popularity in the 1950s was partially attributed to its ads on "The Howdy Doody Show" directed at kids, who demanded the desserts in their lunch boxes.

* Hostess collected recipes from connoisseurs to publish the "The Twinkies Cookbook" in 2006. The 50 recipes included Twinkie-based burritos, lasagna, tiramisu, milkshakes and sushi (with dried fruit rather than fish). Deep-fried Twinkies have been a staple at U.S. state fairs.

* The Twinkie has a long list of television and movie credits. Archie Bunker always had one in his lunch on the sitcom "All in the Family" and they have been featured in the animated series "Family Guy" and "The Simpsons." A character in "The Deer Hunter" eats Twinkies dipped in mustard. In the wacky comedy "Ghostbusters" a scientist tracking demons calculates that the level of "psychokinetic energy" in New York City could normally be as big as a Twinkie but things had become so bad that that Twinkie would now be 35 feet long and weigh 600 pounds (about 270 kg).

* Twinkies are just part of the Hostess snack food family. Other well-known treats from the company include Ding Dongs, Ho Hos, Suzy Q's, Sno Balls, Zingers and Drake's cakes.

* Twitter and other social media were filled with laments about a Twinkie-less world on Friday. Entrepreneurs and speculators turned to eBay. A box of 10 Twinkies was being offered on the online auction site for a starting bid of $500. "What better way to say, 'I love you' than with the gift of an American icon that will be gone soon," the seller said.

(Editing by David Storey)

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