Urban legend claims that Twinkies have an indefinite shelf life — the ability to outlast plague, environmental disaster and zombie invasion. In reality, Twinkies have a shelf life of 25 days. Hostess is said to produce 500 million Twinkies a year, using 8 millions pounds of sugar, 7 millions pounds of flour and 1 million eggs.

But the "Today Show" reports that the snacks are filled with 34 other ingredients, many of which are man-made. Hostess claims that its iconic desserts contain “all-natural” food stuffs. This might be true, if you consider rocks and petroleum natural to be “of the Earth” products. Twinkies contain such mouth-watering ingredients as Polysorbate 60, Red 40, mono and diglycerides and calcium sulfate. Because they lack any dairy ingredients, they spoil more slowly than other snacks. This has contributed to their reputation for longevity.

Twinkies and their rocky ingredients were the subject of a 2007 book by Steve Ettlinger called “Twinkie, Deconstructed.” For research, Ettlinger interviewed bakers and even traveled below the Earth to see where Twinkie ingredients were mined. The dessert cakes contain sorbic acid, which is derived from natural gas. Some ingredients were found to come from the oil fields of China. Others came from phosphate mines in Idaho. So-called vitamins in the dessert come from petroleum.

Ettlinger was troubled by the lack of actual food stuffs in this food. As he wrote, “That industrial aspect of our food — and Twinkies are but one among tens of thousands of processed foods — would be less troubling if it were easier to still see where it all comes from. There is often no ‘terroir’ to an ingredient, no one place that it is actually from.” What did Hostess have to say about Ettlinger’s research? David Leavitt is vice president for Snack Marketing at Hostess. As he told reporters, “deconstructing the Twinkie is like trying to deconstruct the universe. We think the millions of people … would agree that Twinkies just taste great.”

Leavitt was not the only person inspired to creativity by Ettlinger’s book. San Francisco photographer Dwight Eschliman decided to photograph all 37 ingredients found in the Twinkie as outlined by Ettlinger’s book. In his project “37 or So Ingredients,” Eschliman broke the Twinkie down into its “component” parts. He was motivated by his mother’s encouragement to eat healthy foods in his childhood and his own role as a parent to a small child.

In Eschliman’s photographs, you can see wheat flour and the yellow, powdery chemical FD&C Yellow #5. The white powders could be soy protein isolate, cellulose gum, baking soda, or soy flour. You can see the complete photography exhibit here.

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