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November 03, 2011

State Fair Food: A Deep-Fried Bounty

by Steve Baragona

Deep-fried bubble gum is the latest dubious deep-fried dish at state fairs across the United States.

State fair season is winding down across the United States. These annual festivals started as a way to celebrate the bounty of the harvest.

But today, they celebrate anything but healthy eating.

Besides the usual must-see sights of the state fair - the blue-ribbon pumpkins, award-winning peppers, and prize pigs and cows; plus the thrills and excitement of the rides and games - no visit would be complete without sampling a little something that has no purpose being deep-fried.

It's a State Fair tradition. Start with something that's already bad for you, like a candy bar, batter it, and deep-fry it.

Three minutes later, the batter is golden brown and the candy is ready for a layer of powdered sugar, then, serve it up hot.

Perennial favorites include the deep-fried Twinkie, a sugary cream-filled sponge cake, and fried Oreo cookies.

And every year there's something new in the fry vats. It's a way to keep people coming back every year, says North Carolina State Fair food stand manager Miller Howerton.

"You want to have the new thing so that people come to the fair to get that new thing," Howerton says.

This year's new thing: deep-fried bubble gum. It's a bit of a misnomer. Howerton adds that it's  "a marshmallow with bubble gum batter... and then top it with bubble gum icing and Chiclets."

OK, maybe fried bubblegum is not for you. Do you like donuts? Do you like cheeseburgers? How about a donut bacon cheeseburger?

"Some people say it's delicious, some people say it's disgusting," one customer explains. "So, it's kinda like you have to try it for yourself to figure it out."

Just don't make a habit of it. That would take the fun out of it, Howerton says.

"You know, if it was in a restaurant, I don't think it would do so well, to be honest with you," Howerton says. "I just think that people wouldn't be so pumped about getting it. They come out here to enjoy the luxury of eating fried food, I guess you'll say."

It's a luxury that only comes around once a year, when the State Fair comes to town.