Another Pittsburgh love affair: Ho Hos

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Nutritionists say that snack cakes, loaded with their hydrogenated fats, polysorbate 60 and sweet dairy whey, have a shelf life of a century.

Not in Pittsburgh. In our town, these things -- particularly Hostess Ho Hos -- are lucky if they last a week in the cupboard.

Hostess, the Kansas City-based sweet snack maker, yesterday announced that Pittsburgh leads the nation in per capita consumption of Ho Hos, the Swiss-rolled cakes with the spiral of creamy filling, coated in icing.

The chocolatey achievement was publicized as part of the company's 40th celebration of the tubular treat.

  
Hostess Ho-Ho's

According to Hostess' data, the company produces 100 million Ho Hos a year. Pittsburghers pound 1.51 Ho Hos per person per year.

The only cities that come close are Buffalo/Rochester (1.39), Cincinnati (1.37), and Cleveland (1.15).

The announcement came as no surprise to Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at UPMC at the Center for Sports Medicine on the South Side.

"I guess we just really like our snack stuff here because it's tasty, it's easy to get, and they can be fairly economical, especially if you buy them in bulk," Ms. Bonci said. "We like that taste, and our lifestyle is grab-gulp-go. The Ho Ho just fits right in with that."

Ho Hos also fit neatly into lunch bags and into the tiny hands of after-school snackers. An adult can easily palm one past a spouse without being caught.

But nobody believes that these things are any part of a healthy diet. Sure, there are "Nutrition Facts" and a list of ingredients on the back of the box, but if you're standing in the aisle reading those, who are you kidding?

Calories per cake: 130. Calories from fat: 50. Saturated fat: 4 grams. Vitamins and calcium are dutifully recorded at 0 percent.

"Another of the things about many of the snack cakes is the hydrogenated fats that are in them," Ms. Bonci said. "From a health concern, that is not quite so fabulous. It's because of the cream. It's not really the cakey part, it's the creamy thing that does people in.

"Nobody is thinking while eating a Ho Ho, 'Hey, this is like eating fat on a steak.' But it's really the same thing. The arteries aren't discriminating."

But they're so good. The grocers are only giving us what we want.

"Those products move for them, and as long as the demand is there, they're going to flying off the shelves and into our bodies and onto our hips and thighs," Ms. Bonci said.

Karen Phillips, front end manager of the Shop 'N Save in Lawrenceville, said all the Hostess products are hits with the customers. That's why the store has them shelved at the end of an aisle near the cash registers.

"Now, whenever the customers come in the store, they can see them right there, they don't have to go up and down the aisles looking for them," she said.

The Ho Hos, however, are on the bottom shelf. The Mini Muffins are way up on top. But you can see the logic when you consider where the kids' eyes are and where the adults' eyes are.

Besides, Ms. Phillips said, "If people want the Ho Hos, they're going to find them."

Ms. Phillips said she likes the occasional Ho Ho, but she doesn't come close to eating a Ho Ho and a half a day. And when she does indulge, "I like them frozen," she said.

Ms. Bonci, on the other hand, said she's never actually had a Ho Ho. (Believe her if you want.)

"I'd rather have my chocolate in the form of a good piece of Godiva," she said. "It's just more appealing to me."

The problem, she said, isn't with eating the Ho Ho. It's that if you're having Ho Hos, the rest of your daily diet probably contains a few other fatty blemishes.

As far as why Ho Hos might be more popular here than in other parts of the country, Ms. Bonci couldn't guess.

"Maybe if we lived in San Diego, we wouldn't be so inclined to be eating so many of these things," she said. "I love Pittsburgh, I am from Pittsburgh, and this is just fun food and most people want it. Darn it, it tastes good, so bring it on."


Correction/Clarification: (Published April 20, 2007) Pittsburghers lead the nation in Ho Ho consumption, eating an average 1.51 of the chocolate snack cakes per person per year, according to Hostess, the company that makes Ho Hos. This story as originally published April 19, 2007 incorrectly said Pittsburghers eat an average of 1.51 a day.

Dan Majors can be reached at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456.


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