A recent ‘experiment’ has disproved the urban legend that Twinkies last forever while igniting interest about biology.
A Pennsylvania man tried eating eight-year-old Twinkies, only to find they tasted like ‘rotting ginkgo fruit.’
Researchers were called upon to investigate the ‘mummified’ and moldy cakes, one of which took a drill to get through but still had cream filling inside.
The experts discovered a common airborne mold had snuck inside the plastic wrapping when the Twinkie was being packaged and feasted on the golden dessert.
Photos of the Twinkies and the mycologists’ analysis have gone viral on Twitter.
Researches were called upon to investigate ‘mummified’ and moldy cakes that tasted like ‘rotting ginkgo fruit.’ They discovered a common airborne mold snuck inside the plastic wrapping when the Twinkie was being package and feasted on the yellow dessert
When Hostess declared bankruptcy in 2012, Colin Purrington bought a box of Twinkies, put them in the basement and promptly forgot about them.
Until last week, when in a pandemic-fueled craving, he remembered the eight-year-old snack cakes.
‘When there’s no desserts in the house, you get desperate,’ Purrington, a photographer and stay-at-home dad, told NPR. ‘[I was] just so bored, with the pandemic. It’s terrible, but it just is mind-numbing after a while.’
Like many, he believed the hype about Twinkies’ longevity and expected them to be as fresh as the day he bought them.
He took one out of the box and took a bite.
‘[It] was chewy, unsweet, and smelled like rotting ginkgo fruit,’ he later tweeted. ‘I gagged. I have nobody to blame but myself — the box clearly warned, ‘Best Used by Nov 26th’ 2012.’
‘Although I grew up thinking Twinkies would last for years, if not forever, I was wrong,’ he said.
He looked at the others in the package and realized they didn’t all have the same golden hue. One had a quarter-sized blemish and the other ‘had shriveled into a small log, sucking in the plastic like it was vacuum-packed,’ Purrington said in one of a series of tweets.
Colin Purrington took a bite out of a Twinkie he had been saving since 2012. ‘[It] was chewy, unsweet, and smelled like rotting ginkgo fruit,’ he later tweeted. ‘I gagged.’
‘Is that something a fungus or bacteria does, or is there some abiotic chain-reaction taking place?’ he asked.
His tweets caught the eye of mycologists Brian Lovett and Matt Kasson of West Virginia University in Morgantown.
Purrington sent the Twinkies to the scientists who wanted to find out just what had infected his snacks.
Kasson called it, ‘Operation #MoldyTwinkie.’
The Twinkie Purrington bit out of (left) next to a new Twinkie. ‘The biggest difference is that the cream filling has browned and constricted a bit, leaving air gaps,’ he said
‘Science is a collaborative game,’ Purrington told NPR. ‘If someone can take this and figure out what was actually growing, I’m all in. I really want to know what species exactly was eating my Twinkies.’
Purrington is no slouch in the science department, either: He got his PhD in evolutionary biology at Brown and taught at Swarthmore College for several years.
Kason and Lovett found spores on both the spotted and shriveled Twinkies, suggesting fungi was the culprit, rather than bacteria.
The wrapping on the desiccated Twinkie was indeed sucked inward, suggesting a fungus had been sealed in during packaging and used up all the air inside, creating a vacuum.
‘That vacuum may have halted the fungus’s ability to continue to grow,’ Lovett said. ‘We just have the snapshot of what we were sent, but who knows if this process occurred five years ago and he just only noticed it now.’
The ‘mummified’ Twinkie Purrington sent to Kasson and Lowell. They’ll keep testing it for an identifiable fungus, and will put it under a scanning electron microscope, which will magnify it more than 100 times
The wrapping on the desiccated Twinkie is sucked inward, suggesting a fungus had been sealed in during packaging, using up all the air inside and creating a vacuum
It took a bone-marrow biopsy drill to crack the tough exterior of the mummified Twinkie, but there was still cream filling inside.
‘It seems that the fungus was more interested in the cake on the outside than the filling on the inside,’ Lovett says.
They put samples of the Twinkies in individual containers with nutrients commonly used to grow fungi.
It took a bone-marrow biopsy drill to crack the tough exterior of the mummified Twinkie, but there was still cream filling inside
Nothing grew from the ‘mummy’ Twinkie but they were able to culture from the Twinkie with the dark circle what they believe is a species of Cladosporium, a common airborne mold found all over the world.
Kasson says they’ll be sequencing the fungus’ genes to conclusively identify it.
They’ll also keep testing the desiccated Twinkie, and will put it under a scanning electron microscope, which will magnify it more than 100 times.
‘Fungi are often portrayed as bad, like fungal infections or the frog-destroying fungus,’ Kasson tells The Daily Mail. ‘But fungi are always there in the background doing their job, breaking down complex substrates for other organisms to use. They’re in the beer we’re drinking, the bread we’re eating—blue cheese, even!’
Whether the Twinkie analysis leads to a scientific breakthrough or not, Kasson said it’s been terrific to see such interest in this saga.
His tweets about it alone have received 325,000 impressions.
‘I’m really big into science education and meeting people where they’re at,’ Kasson said. ‘It’s a relatable concept—we’ve all been there. We’ve all had Twinkies, we’ve all had food spoil on us.’
In urban lore, Twinkies are edible decades after they’re sold, or even after a nuclear holocaust.
A Maine school teacher put a wrapped Twinkie on the chalkboard sill in 1976 and it’s still sitting in the school today.
Purrington said he grabbed the box in 2012 ‘for future giggles.’
‘Plus I spent part of my childhood in Utah, where stockpiling food is a moral duty,’ he added.
Comparing the eight-year-old Twinkie he bit into with a fresh one, Purrington said ‘the biggest difference is that the cream filling has browned and constricted a bit, leaving air gaps.’
Twinkies do last longer than other baked treats, because Hostess avoids using real dairy products and wraps the cakes in airtight cellophane.
A Hostess spokesperson said the current Twinkie has a shelf life of 65 days, though Theresa Cogswell, vice president for research and development, says they’re freshest for about 25 days. ‘You can eat older Twinkies, but they’re just not as good,’ she said
But they’re hardly immortal: Made with real flour, sugar, eggs, and canola oil, a Twinkie will stay fresh for about 25 days, according to Theresa Cogswell, vice president for research and development at Interstate Bakeries, Hostess’ parent company.
‘You can eat older Twinkies, but they’re just not as good as when they’re fresh,’ Cogswell told The Washington Post in 2005. ‘Then they’re awesome.’
A Hostess spokesperson told Reuters the current Twinkie has a shelf life of 65 days.
Kasson likes Twinkies just fine but wouldn’t bite into an eight-year-old snack cake.
‘I have a strong sense of self-preservation,’ he told The Daily Mail. ‘They say there are bold mycologists and there are old mycologists, but there’s no bold, old mycologists.’