"When there's no desserts in the house, you get desperate"
October 16, 2020 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Colin Purrington broke into his snack cake stash from 2012, and it turns out Twinkies aren't immortal. He sent his findings to some scientists, and learning ensued!
posted by thoughtful_ravioli (29 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Colin Purrington

That is a cat
posted by Going To Maine at 3:17 PM on October 16 [55 favorites]

See also: threads from Colin and the mycologists
posted by thoughtful_ravioli at 3:22 PM on October 16

Absolutely a cat.
posted by darkstar at 3:29 PM on October 16

“Colin and the Mycologists”...excellent band name.

Also, documenting for posterity the following phrases from the article:

“Disturbing Twinkie”

“Mummified Twinkie”

“Dead Twinkie”

“Marrow of the Twinkie”


“Venerable Twinkie”
posted by darkstar at 3:39 PM on October 16 [6 favorites]

That's a nice collection of socknames there, darkstar.

I had to nope out at the word "retched", unfortunately. Damned emetophobia.
posted by hanov3r at 3:41 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]

I had surgery awhile before Hostess went out of business and because of it I couldn't indulge in a last binge genuine Twinkies and Cup Cakes. I was able to try some creamy filling after Hostess was saved, but we all agreed here they were a bit greasy compared to the originals.

Now that this has proved Twinkies don't last forever, those delicious cakes are truly gone forever... Woe.
posted by Fukiyama at 3:50 PM on October 16

Absolutely a cat.

Well, he *has* had all his shots.
posted by cnidaria at 3:57 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]

Do not ask for whom the Twinkie tolls; it tolls for thee.

"Perhaps that's why folks are so fascinated with the shriveled, mummified Twinkie, which offers such a harsh contrast to the golden sponge cake icon that lives in their memories.

" 'When those memories are tainted by a visual reality like the Twinkie experiment, we are kind of caught off guard,' Kasson says. 'We're like, no, that's a symbol of my childhood! You can't take that from me, too.'

"Lovett agrees. 'We're living in a time where we're all really grappling with our mortality,' he says. 'Eventually, all of us are food for fungi. Seeing that is sort of facing the reality of our mortality and our destination.' "
posted by cnidaria at 4:03 PM on October 16 [2 favorites]

Hmmmm...Makes me wonder what that unopened Stuckey’s pecan log I bought sometime back in the 80s looks like now? Not sure I want to see.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:38 PM on October 16 [2 favorites]

I thought everyone knew twinkies aren't eternal. Hasn't anyone else here watched Zombieland?
posted by happyroach at 4:50 PM on October 16 [4 favorites]

I find it very interesting to confirm that yes, even Twinkies will eventually succumb, just very slowly.

The contrast with the much older famously unchanged Twinkie makes one wonder if the sanitation practices in the factory became less stringent near the end, whether due to financial pressure leading to cost cutting or due to the decrease in oversight from the health inspector.

Less stringent process control could also have led to variations in moisture content, which would explain why some cakes in the same box were more afflicted by the fungus. There's always going to be some level of contamination, after all. I doubt that even semiconductor clean rooms have exactly zero bacteria, mold, or fungal spores floating around, and definitely would have more if they had literally tons of food ingredients passing through on a daily basis.

NB: Even if it were possible to create such an environment and I trusted that Twinkies were produced in such a place, I still wouldn't eat a years-old Twinkie. There are a lot of non-biological processes that can alter the composition of the item over that long a period.
posted by wierdo at 5:01 PM on October 16 [5 favorites]

Hasn't anyone else here watched Zombieland?

I too was thinking of Zombieland.

Perhaps the start of the Zombie plague is the fungal growth on Twinkies...
posted by nubs at 5:07 PM on October 16 [4 favorites]

That got unexpectedly deep at the end.
posted by Carouselle at 5:25 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]

I saw this story as it emerged a week or two ago. One look at that disgusting brown stripe on a Twinkie and it became obvious that this was not information I needed or wanted in my life. My brain just starts coming up with smells and inspirations to retch all by itself.
posted by rhizome at 6:19 PM on October 16

Warning: Do not read while eating pizza.

That is all.
posted by lhauser at 6:39 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]

And I thought I was bad for trying to eat old nuts in quarantine.

Seriously, so far only the nuts have actually hit an expiration date of tasting bad of all the shit I've tried eating around the house so far.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:51 PM on October 16

Twinky, Twinky in your wrap
How I wonder if you're crap
In a cupboard deep and dark
Did a decade leave its mark?

Could your sugar and your fat
Thumb its nose at all of that?
Tho' I know not if you're crap
Twinky, Twinky in your wrap
posted by jamjam at 6:56 PM on October 16 [15 favorites]

I find it very interesting to confirm that yes, even Twinkies will eventually succumb, just very slowly.

As for myself, I could take or leave Twinkies. Despite being a portly fellow who eats more junk food than he really should, I have probably eaten maybe half a dozen at most in my life. They weren’t disgusting or anything, but I didn’t see much to keep me coming back. I know them mostly by reputation.

In university I knew some people who moved into a house with lots of exposed wood beams. At the beginning of the school year, one resident nailed a Twinkie to a beam. Eight months later, as they were preparing to move out, my recollection is that it was not only not moldy, it was still reasonably soft.

Wait, perhaps that is why I have never been too eager to eat them.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:37 PM on October 16

I always preferred Raspberry Zingers.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:56 PM on October 16 [2 favorites]

Laughed out loud at "asymptomatic Twinkie"
posted by Mallenroh at 8:48 PM on October 16 [4 favorites]

Where's Steve1989MREInfo when you need him?
posted by SansPoint at 9:19 PM on October 16 [2 favorites]

I doubt that even semiconductor clean rooms have exactly zero bacteria, mold, or fungal spores floating around

Maybe not, but pharma cleanrooms do, between the gowning, cleaning, filtration, laminar flow, and positive pressure gradients...
posted by notsnot at 9:33 PM on October 16

A fascinating, almost unbelievable thread from Derek Lowe's In the Pipeline might give you a doubt or two about that, notsnot:
I mentioned polymorphs the other day, and no mention of those should go by without a reference to the classic 1995 article on “disappearing polymorphs” and its 2015 follow-up. This is a controversial area, but what everyone can agree on is that there are numerous cases where some particular crystal form of a compound has been prepared and characterized, but later on becomes far more difficult to obtain at all. There are various values for the terms in that statement, but as the case of ritonavir shows, you can have a compound that has been worked on for years and produced commercially in bulk that hits upon a more stable solid phase. And since these more stable crystal forms tend to have very different solubilities, the effect on a drug development program (or in ritonavir’s case, a drug that is already rolling off the manufacturing line!) can be extremely unwelcome.

When this happens, it can seem as if the original crystal form is going extinct and never to be seen again, an effect that seems almost supernatural. But as these papers note, the “unintentional crystalline seed” hypothesis is surely the explanation.
It’s also not true that polymorphs can truly go extinct, either, although it’s understandable that it might appear that way. There are always conditions out there to obtain the old crystalline form, although there is no requirement that these be easy to find (!) Indeed, the original form of ritonavir was recovered and brought back into production after a great deal of effort, although not before HIV-positive patients had seen their medicine disappear from the shelves for months (and not before Abbott had lost a quarter of a billion dollars along the way). But as the authors point out, every one of these situations really is unique; that adjective is used here in its exact sense. There are compounds for which only one crystalline form has ever been reported, and there are others with two dozen polymorphs (and when that’s happening, you can be pretty sure that there are some others that haven’t shown up yet). Only one polymorph of aspirin was known until 2005, when another turned up.
One of Derek's commenters adds some startling details to the ritonavir story:
From “Public relations footnote” in the “2015 followup” paper:

“There was no gradual trend. Something occurred that caused the new form to occur…There was no early warning.”

“We, quite honestly, have not been able to pinpoint the precise conditions which led to the appearance of the new crystal form. We now know that the new form is, in fact, more stable than the earlier form, so nature would appear to favor it…Form II is new.”

“We did not know how to detect the new form. We did not know how to test for it. We did not know what caused it. We didn’t know how to prevent it. And we kept asking the question, why now?…We did not know the physical properties
of the new form…We did not know how to clean it, and we did not know how to get rid of it.”

“…our initial activities were directed toward eliminating Form II from our environment. Then we finally accepted that we could not get rid of Form II. Then our subsequent activities were directed to figuring out how to live in a Form II world.”

“This is why all of us at Abbott have been working extremely hard throughout the summer [of 1998], often around the clock, and sometimes never going home at night. We have been here seven days a week and we will continue to do so. We have cancelled vacations and asked our families for their understanding and support. This is not an issue that we take lightly.”

“There were several sub-teams of three to 600 people per team working full time in different areas. We also called on as many resources as we could.”

“We tried everything. We conducted countless experiments. We reconditioned our facilities. We rebuilt facilities and new lines. We looked at alternative sites. We visited a number of [other] organizations around the world…to see if we could start clean in a new environment free of Form II.”

“In a matter of weeks—maybe five or six weeks, every place the product was became contaminated with Form II crystals.”

Question: “You are a large multinational company. Your scientists are obviously smart. How could this happen?”

Answer: “A company’s size and the collective IQs of their scientists have no relationship to this problem…This obviously has not happened to every drug. But it has happened to other drugs.”
And Derek himself adds an anecdote that completely floored me:
For many years, fructose was known as the “uncrystallizable sugar”. Finally, a seed-with-everything effort gave some; as I recall, the vial that was nucleated with pentaerithritol crystallized, so all the crystalline fructose in the world is presumably derived from that!
posted by jamjam at 1:44 AM on October 17 [7 favorites]

What I would like to know is whether honey, which is primarily a mixture of fructose and glucose in concentrated solution, became more prone to crystallization after crystallized fructose was finally invented — and a similar question could be asked about the flower nectars from which honey is derived.

It would be so like us if plants had invented this amazing sugar which could not be crystallized no matter how concentrated or cold a solution got ... and then after hundreds of millions of years of liquid bliss, we came along and turned everything to sludge.

Funny how much more credible Vonnegut's Cats Cradle feels to me right at the moment!
posted by jamjam at 2:01 AM on October 17 [8 favorites]

They noticed that the wrapping on the mummified Twinkie seemed to be sucked inward, suggesting ... it was using up more air or oxygen than it was putting out. "You end up with a vacuum," Lovett says. "And very well that vacuum may have halted the fungus's ability to continue to grow.."

Reminds me of mossariums where the moss manages to stay alive in a sealed container for years, balancing the O2 / CO2 balance.
posted by exogenous at 5:26 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]

Hmmmm...Makes me wonder what that unopened Stuckey’s pecan log I bought sometime back in the 80s looks like now? Not sure I want to see.

Forgotten or lost candy is a thing to be vaguely concerned about for a number of different reasons, and not all of them obvious.

People in my family tend to be packrats, and I remember one time when I was helping my elderly grandma try to declutter a 30 year old home office and desk that was piles and piles of books, magazines, mail, greetings or birthday cards and so on.

And every so often there would be some dutifully saved and cherished artifact or card or gift that had a small piece of candy or a lollipop or something taped or tied into a card or stuck to an opened envelope, something that had been sitting there and saved for who knows how many years.

I can practically feel my grandma think or say to herself "Aww, that's so sweet. I don't really want to eat the candy but I'll save the candy with the card..." and put it away with the rest of them, perhaps after displaying it on her desk for a while or something, or pinned to the fridge with a magnet.

Well, cheap boiled hard candy like that tends to absorb water from the atmosphere, so eventually it reverts to a liquid and will spill out and soak into whatever other papers or cards that were pressed against it in these piles of mail or files of saved cards and notes from family and friends.

It's not like a huge life or death issue, and it didn't happen very often but it happened often enough that it would spoil things like family photographs or the odd book or something. Which, really, we're trying to declutter anyway so it just made it easier to toss some things in the bin.

I've also had this happen when storing things like camping gear or even the odd bin of electronic gear or something, where a forgotten piece of candy was put away with a winter jacket or in a mess kit or food storage bag or something. I've even forgotten about some free restuarant mints in one of my bike bags more than once and found them making a mess some months later.
posted by loquacious at 10:59 AM on October 17 [1 favorite]

So when I was 13, my siblings' elementary school had a fair, and the fair included a cakewalk (consisting of a big circle with numbers, where you walked around and waited for the music to stop and them to pick a number). But instead of winning a cake, you'd win Twinkies.

I kept winning. And winning. And ended up with like 20 Twinkies. I carefully hid them away in my bedroom closet so that no one else in the family would eat them.

Unfortunately, I also have this habit of where if I don't regularly see the food, I forget it's there. And yep, Twinkies go off. Boo.
posted by Katemonkey at 1:02 PM on October 17

I was going through some boxes my mother in law had saved from my husband’s childhood home. I uncovered a box of thin mints from the 90s. They looked unchanged, except a bit of bloom on the chocolate. I did not, however, have an adventurous enough spirit to open them and try them. I think that’s probably for the best.
posted by Night_owl at 9:11 AM on October 18

I don't know if the mint would still be ok, but in sealed packaging milk chocolate won't go off for over a decade. Decade-old MRE M&Ms are crumbly, but taste fine and don't kill you. Or at least they didn't kill me. I was more surprised that the entrees were all fine, too, even in the pack where the crackers had gone soft and the "cheese" spread had separated.
posted by wierdo at 3:18 AM on October 19

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