June 21, 2007

Banana v. Vanilla: Twinkie Battle Royal

The most difficult thing about the Banana Twinkie is finding one. Yesterday, my friend James and I scoured midtown Manhattan for about an hour, stopping at every deli and grocery store we passed. Twinkies, to start off with, have become a rarity in New York. The Banana Twinkie is an even rarer animal. Luckily for me, I don’t live in Manhattan, and in Brooklyn, there are still delis that have a hostess shelf.

So, this morning, on my way into work, I shelled out two bucks and bought two delightful packages of Hostess products: a package of “NEW!” Banana Twinkies, and for comparison, a normal package of Vanilla Twinkies.

The first thing that you notice is that they actually do look a little different. The regular vanilla Twinkies are a paler shade of yellow, just a couple shades darker than an off white. The Banana Twinkies, on the other hand, are a true gold. They even look a little bit bigger, though this could just be because my banana Twinkies are sitting side by side on their little piece of waxed white cardboard while for some reason, my vanilla Twinkies are askew of each other. Quality Assurance seems to have faded at the Hostess Factory. (I’d show you pictures, but I’m too poor for digital camera ownership.)

The vanilla Twinkie cake is very spongy. It doesn’t taste like “vanilla” so much as like “sugar”, or more accurately, like “corn syrup”. There’s a distinctive after taste, sort of bitter and in the back of my throat. It comes on pretty quickly, I think it’s in the cake. That flavor is in the Banana Twinkie as well, but definitely lessened. Actually, the Banana Twinkie has a surprisingly strong banana flavor on top of the flavor of corn syrup, and frankly, it is not unpleasant. It’s there enough that you can definitely tell that it’s not the normal Twinkie, but light enough that it’s not overpowering. What’s more, although it’s the same cake itself, the proximity to the filling has managed to infuse the Banana Twinkie’s cake with some of its flavor. The cake itself seems moister than the regular Twinkie, but this could simply be that because the Banana Twinkie is so new, there really isn’t as much time for it to sit around in factories (or the deli shelves). The banana flavor is definitely artificial though, which is kind of funny.

See, the Twinkie was originally a banana flavored treat. That’s the reason that it’s tube like and sort of, you know, phallic. It’s supposed to look like a cuter banana. (The shape is actually due to the shortcake tins that they’re baked in, but they chose those shortcake tins for a reason!) Twinkies stayed banana from their inception until World War II, when a national banana shortage forced Hostess to replace their banana filling with Vanilla (no, not a joke). The fact that they’ve been brought back without any real banana in them is a loving testament to our boys fighting Adolf. (The banana Twinkies do contain less than 1% of banana puree, meaning that for every batch of 100,000 Twinkies, there are about three bananas – we can’t give those boys everything or else what’ll they want to come home for?)

For the health conscious out there: though I’ve heard people think that the Banana Twinkies are healthier than the regular, they aren’t by any stretch of the imagination. The Banana Twinkies have another 5 calories per cake, plus another gram of fat and have a small amount of trans-fatty acids, which the Vanilla Twinkies do not. However, the Banana Twinkies do have slightly less sodium (maybe responsible for the fainter aftertaste?), cholesterol, and carbohydrates than the vanilla, and a couple fewer grams of sugar. I know that few people are eating Twinkies for their health anymore, but I still thought you might like to know.

All in all, I’d consider the Banana Twinkies to be a bit better than the regular. The banana flavor really helps you forget that you’re basically eating a stick of sugar and saturated fat, and helps to cover up that horrible aftertaste that you get from the Vanilla Twinkies. Prepare for indigestion and, if you’re like me, a sugar headache. Still, if you’re a dedicated junk foody, the Banana Twinkie will form a nice new addition to your sweet repertoire.

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