Crispy, small and smart: The fortune cookie

General September 13, 2019 7:35 am

"Not the wind, but the sail determines the direction" – "If you only walk on sunny days you’ll never reach your destination." – "Grass doesn’t grow faster when you pull it."

Such wise wisdoms for life, sometimes also auspicious prophecies, are taught to us by the small and sugary fortune cookies we receive in almost every Chinese restaurant when we pay the bill. But the world famous biscuit doesn’t actually come from China.
More about the history, distribution and production of the fortune cookie in this blog article.

The invention of the fortune cookie

As already mentioned, the fortune cookie was not created in China. Of course there is an old Chinese legend about a desperate couple, who only found their happiness due to hidden messages inside small moon cakes – a culinary speciality from China. But that is more a fairy tale than a historical fact.

Today it is assumed that the history of the present-day fortune cookie began about 100 years ago in San Francisco. At that time, a Japanese immigrant was said to be giving the little sweets away in his tea garden. The predecessors of today’s variant existed in Japan already since the 19th century.
Some, however, claim that the Chinese entrepreneur David Jung was the first to produce the modern luck cookie in 1918 in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the person who actually invented the famous Americanised version will probably forever remain unknown. In any case, there is at least agreement that the fortune cookie was brought to the American West Coast by Asian immigrants. There, it slowly became a popular goodbye gift of gastronomy.

From the USA to the whole world: the spread of fortune cookies

The fortune cookie became really popular in the USA in the 1920s and 30s. The false belief that fortune cookies are an invention from China is probably based primarily on the fact that they were mainly distributed in Chinese restaurants. This is why the Americans naturally associated the cookies directly with those restaurants. An engineer eventually brought the biscuits from the West Coast to Europe. In China, on the other hand, fortune cookies actually did not become popular until the nineties.Today, they are not only used in restaurants, but also as popular promotional gifts in many industries. The fascination of the fortune cookie lies obviously not in its edible part, but rather in the curiosity about its written content.

How are fortune cookies made?

Most people do not even eat their fortune cookie after they break it up. Often, the mass-produced machine-made biscuits made out of wafer dough do not taste exceptionally fancy. However, some manufacturers take great efforts to make the biscuits tasty as well, for example with a pinch of vanilla or cinnamon. If you’ve always wanted to know how the piece of paper finds its way into the fortune cookie, here’s the answer. Before the cookie is baked, its dough is round and flat, so it’s easy to put a piece of paper on it. Once the paper is on it, machines turn the biscuit into its typical crescent-ish shape. Then baked, becoming crispy just like we like it to be.

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