Keepers of the Oil: The Science of Fried

Freeze a Twinkie. Skewer it, batter it, and dip it in the fryer. Instantly, hot oil performs its chemical baptism. Water vaporizes. Starch gelatinizes. Crust caramelizes. Spongecake puffs into an airy pillow; cream filling melts to vanilla ooze.

The fried Twinkie, an ode to oily excess. (Photo by Rachel E. Gross)

The glory that is the fried Twinkie. (Photo by Rachel E. Gross)

Larry Fyfe will not wait in line. But for 45 years, he’s made his living off people willing to wait in his lines. Fyfe runs four concession stands at the Iowa State Fair, most of which specialize in deep-fried foods on sticks. In 1999, Fyfe introduced the hordes to fried Twinkies. This year he served up nearly 10,000 fried Oreos. “I’m glad people aren’t like me,” Fyfe says. “I won’t stand in line for anything.”

This August, more than a million Americans descended upon the fair. From 9 a.m. until midnight, they endured blazing Midwestern sun, barnyard smells, and Rihanna playing on a loop in order to obtain their prize: snack foods cloaked in greasy golden robes, held aloft for all to see. For a vendor as popular as Fyfe, such a situation demands complete efficiency. Deep-frying is “quick and quality, the most important things in this business,” Fyfe says. The reason? Science. Read the rest of this entry »