Wednesday, February 22, 2012
When the manufacturer of the classic Twinkie snack cake filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week, a little part of America died. Hostess Brands' Twinkies have not only been a mainstay on our supermarket shelves and in our bellies, they've been a staple in our popular culture and, above all, in our hearts. Often criticized for its lack of any nutritional value whatsoever, the Twinkie has managed to persevere as a cultural and gastronomical icon. Harold Ramis' character in Ghostbusters famously used a Twinkie to explain psychokinetic energy, and Woody Harrelson's character in Zombieland willfully tracked down the "spongy, yellow, delicious bastards" throughout the film. An urban legend even claims that Twinkies are so packed with preservatives, they'll last forever. Unfortunately, they don't really have an infinite shelf life, but that doesn't matter, because Hostess says they'll continue selling the Golden Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling despite their recent financial woes. But maybe hide a few somewhere safe, just in case.
There are few experiences more quintessentially American than finding one's fingers covered in sticky orange dust, the inevitable result of a cheesy-puff snack attack. Cheese puffs are a puffed-corn snack that also comes in ball and curl varieties. Most famous are Cheetos, the brand of cheese-flavored munchies with bags and commercials featuring Chester Cheetah, arguably the cheesiest cartoon cat of all time. The popularity of these terrible treats, which traditionally symbolize having no concern for your health, has inspired fictional brands too. There are Cheesy Poofs, a favorite on the scurrilous animated series South Park. And there is Sabor de Soledad, a Mexican off-brand eaten by Liz Lemon on comedy series 30 Rock. (Lemon turns to these when she is upset, which is appropriate since the name translates as Taste of Loneliness.)
From Krystal sliders to Rendezvous ribs, the Deep South is full of culinary traditions. But perhaps the greatest Southern contribution to our gastronomic enjoyment is in the form of the tasty treat: the Moon Pie. Around World War I, marshmallow crème, a New England staple, began being sold in other parts of the country. A couple of years later, coal miners outside of Chattanooga, Tenn., began dipping their graham crackers in the fluff. After selling an ever increasing number of graham crackers to the miners, Earl Mitchell Sr., a salesman for Chattanooga Bakery, decided to combine the two ingredients into a pie. He layered graham crackers with the marshmallow fluff and the name was born when his grandson commented that the indentations where bubbles had popped looked like the moon. Today, the pies come in chocolate, vanilla and banana, and are such a Southern staple that since 2008, Mobile, Ala., has dropped a 12-ft. mechanical moon pie to ring in the New Year.
Though cops in particular get a bad rap for their doughnut consumption, this form of fried dough is beloved the world over. Often glazed or topped with sugar, sometimes filled with jam or custard, their most iconic shape is the round ring (though the holes themselves have become independently popular). Their history is murky; many theorize that Dutch settlers introduced the delicacy to the New World. What's not in dispute: their lip-smacking deliciousness. Despite the prevalence of American chains like Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme, Canada actually has more doughnut shops per capita than any other country.
McDonald's French Fries
There's something magical about those golden tubers extending from the bright red McDonald's fry box. Indeed, the iconic golden arches themselves are reminiscent of those delectable fries. They've never pretended to be healthy: a 5.4-oz. (153 g) large order of fries contains 500 calories and more than 38% of your recommended daily fat intake. But the salt-covered, crunchy potato shoestrings have been a McDonald's staple since the fast-food chain's early years, thanks to the combination of Russet Burbank potatoes, vegetable oil, natural flavors and a few other (rather scientific-sounding) ingredients. But those "natural flavors" have come under scrutiny from health and religious organizations. That's because while potatoes are a vegetable, McDonald's fries are bafflingly not vegetarian. In fact, the indescribable flavor of McDonald's fries comes from beef flavoring, a taste that was created by accident in the 1950s when the restaurant's oil supplier mixed in beef fat to its vegetable oil to extend its shelf life. While the recipe has been tweaked since then, mainly for health reasons, the flavor has been maintained. These days, they're cooked with canola oil and the beef flavoring is derived from other sources, but the fries still maintain their crispy goodness.
When Richard LaMotta wanted to launch his ice cream sandwich into the market in 1981, he chose a bold strategy. Until that point, frozen treats marketed at children had a price ceiling of $1, with the belief that parents wouldn't want to shell out more than that magic number on an ice cream cone. But what about an ice cream treat aimed for adults? LaMotta knew that if he was going to use better ingredients, he'd have to charge more. LaMotta's first 50 carts in New York City sold the Chipwich — ice cream sandwiched between two chocolate-chip cookies — for $2 a piece. LaMotta reached out to the press, sharing Chipwiches with any reporter who might want to write about it. He gained 30 lb., but launched a phenomenon. In 2002, LaMotta sold the company to CoolBrands, who five years later sold it to Nestlé. Because the Chipwich competed with Nestlé's own cookies, they discontinued its sales, but you can make it yourself in the kitchen.
Take the fatty skin of a pig and fry it in yet more fat. Pork rinds leave no illusion of health consciousness. The crunchy, puffed snack is crafted from a pig's undesirable leftovers and spun into something irresistible. The rinds start off as small shards of pig hide, after which they're cured, dried and fried. The hot-oil bath balloons the rinds to more than five times their original size, after which they receive a healthy dose of seasoning, much the same as potato chips. Some are simply salted, and others are tossed in barbecue or chili-lime spices. But some health junkies note that the snack food actually rises above the rest of the fatty-food depths: pork rinds have no carbs and top the charts in protein, making them a perfect choice for those following the Atkins diet. For the rest of us, though, it's eat-at-your-own-peril.
Snickers may cause "substantial satisfaction," but that gluttonous gratification comes at a price — to your diet, that is. The milk-chocolaty treat, which is packed with delicious peanuts, nougat and caramel, has been taunting dieters around the world since the 1930s. Over the years, the candy bar has taken on many variations — from Snickers Almond to peanut-butter and ice cream bars, to pizza (seriously) — but the original always remains No. 1, with more than 15 million bars being produced every single day. That's a whole lot of peanuts — 99 tons of them, to be exact. While it may be impossible to avoid this sugary treat, any nutritionist would warn you to stay away. After all, one 2.07-oz. (58.7 g) bar is packed with 280 calories — 130 of which come from fat. No wonder it can "handle your hunger."
It's an American mainstay, present in all its cheesy, saucy goodness at almost every sporting event or social gathering. But as much as we love it, pepperoni pizza is junk. Delicious, greasy, gooey junk. Sure, Congress and others may argue that pizza contains something from each of the four food groups — grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy and meats — but when the grain is enriched and mixed with oil, the cheese is piled on and the meat is highly processed and full of salt and saturated fat, it's easy to see how pizza takes a turn from health food to junk food. But despite its bad nutritional rap, pizza is deliciously irresistible and not so awful when devoured in moderation. So enjoy the slices, just try to hold off on thirds.
Nothing satisfies a craving for crunch quite like Doritos. The cheesy chips are a Super Bowl party staple and a solid companion to a PB & J. The classic nacho flavor will forever reign as a snack-time favorite, but part of the brand's brilliance lies in its extensive collection of flavors that are almost embarrassing to try. Opting for Cool Ranch is no longer risky when there are edgier flavors like All Nighter Cheeseburger and Blazin' Buffalo & Ranch. Experiments like Doritos 3D and the Mountain Dew flavor may not have lasted long, but Doritos Collisions was certainly a winner. Two flavors in one bag? Genius. For Doritos purists however, the standard nacho-cheese snack pack will always remain the vending machine go-to.