Fortune cookies have always been a delicious, fun snack to crack open and enjoy, but have you ever wondered how it all started?
The undeniable charm of these cookies lies in its simplicity and mystery that delivers a sweet, positive or funny little message when you crack them open.
Fortune cookies are unique in that they have a quirky mix of food and craft in perfect balance. It lifts your spirits and satisfies that sweet tooth at the same time.
These cookies have undergone massive changes over the years but have also retained their essence of mystical fortune-telling.
However, for those of you who don’t know, the origins of the fortune cookie are as intriguing as the message it could carry in itself.
In this guide, we’ll be exploring the complete history of fortune cookies.
Let the journey begin.
What are fortune cookies exactly?
The fortune cookie is almost like the standard cookie, made from sugar, vanilla, flour, and sesame seed oil. But the obvious fun factor that sets these crisp cookies apart from all the other ones, is a piece of paper or “fortune” it carries within itself.
The fortune cookie message could be a vague prophecy or riddle that you interpret in your own way, but it could also be a translation of a Chinese phrase. More often than not, fortune cookies also come with some sort of list containing lucky numbers that are often used as lottery numbers.
There have also been numerous recorded cases of lotteries having an unexpectedly high number of winners for the prize in which the winning numbers had been printed on a fortune.
Fun Fact: A North Carolina man by the name of Charles Jackson Jr. won the Powerball Jackpot taking home a modest $344.6M by playing lucky numbers in his fortune cookie.
Although fortune cookies are usually served as a dessert in Chinese restaurants in the US or other Western countries, they aren’t a tradition in China. Who would’ve guessed?
Fortune Cookie Origin
In the late 19th to early 20th century, a kind of cookie that was pretty similar to the modern fortune cookie was made in Kyoto, Japan. However, the Japanese variant of it didn’t contain the Chinese lucky numbers printed on the fortunes.
Fortune cookies were known to have been turned into a popular food by the different immigrant groups in California during the early 20th century.
Particular historical evidence of the fortune cookies tells us of a Chinese immigrant named David Chung who lived in Los Angeles, CA was the founder of the Hong Kong Noodle Company and presumably, the inventor of fortune cookies in 1918.
Allegedly, he used to give these cookies free of charge to the poor he saw wandering near his shop. Each of these cookies contained a piece of paper that had an inspirational quote from the Bible on it. A Presbyterian minister originally wrote these quotes for Chung.
Another account in history speaks of another Japanese immigrant, Makoto Hagiwara, a gardener at the Japanese Tea Garden inside of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, CA.
It is said that he was fired from his job by a racist mayor, but later was reinstated by the new mayor. As a token of his gratitude to the new mayor, Hagiwara made a fortune cookie for the mayor inside which he put a thank you note. He also handed these cookies out to everyone at the Tea Garden and began serving them there regularly, in the year 1914.
In 1915, these cookies were displayed at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, San Francisco’s world fair.
After numerous events that spiked its popularity, the Benkyodo Bakery started making the fortune cookies in San Francisco, CA.
So even though fortune cookies are taken to be a Chinese invention, the traditional fortune cookie that we know of today is associated mainly with the United States, dating around the late 19th century.
Fortune Cookie Messages
Let’s be honest, the fortune cookie messages contained in the cookies are probably the only reason people want this treat to begin with.
Although the earlier versions of the fortune cookies mostly contained words of wisdom or positive messages, nowadays they could be anything. They are even used as birthday gifts, company parties, social media posts, etc. These could include funny, quirky, sarcastic or even offensive messages.
As to who wrote the very first fortune cookie saying, we don’t know, but the internet has no lack of unique fortunes you’d find in a fortune cookie.
Want to know how to make your own fortune cookies? Check out our article Best Fortune Cookie Recipe 2019
Legend of the Fortune Cookies: Tales, rumors and conspiracies
The stories surrounding the origins of the fortune cookie are as mysterious as the invention itself. It’s almost as if the cookies magically appeared out of nowhere and with them came all sorts of fantastic tales, rumors, and conspiracies.
One of the rumors was that the fortune cookies that originated in China are considered to be fake ones. Fortune cookies were allegedly imported into Hong Kong in the year 1989, and were sold as “genuine American fortune cookies”.
In 1992, Wonton Food tried to expand its business of selling fortune cookies in China. However, they had to give it up after the fortune cookies were labeled as being “too American”.
One of the most interesting conspiracies regarding fortune cookies tells us of the time when Mongols occupied China around the 13th or 14th century. The story goes that the Mongols didn’t like lotus nut paste in their mooncakes, so the Chinese people sneaked in sayings in the cakes along with the date of their revolution inscribed where the “yolk” was supposed to be.
Chu Yuan Chang, a patriotic revolutionary, entered the occupied walled cities of China, disguised as a Taoist priest. He handed these mooncakes which contained the dates of the revolt to other revolutionaries. These instructions orchestrated the Chinese uprising that eventually founded the basis of the Ming Dynasty.
Fun Fact: The Chinese Moon Festival is traditionally celebrated, and mooncakes are distributed with messages inside them.
It is also thought that this legend inspired the Chinese workers of the American Railway constructions, to improvise traditional mooncakes, which they didn’t have, with hard biscuits which eventually evolved to the fortune cookie we have today.
Whether true or not, these legends sure are interesting and fun to learn about.
Fortune Cookie Manufacturers
Approximately 3 billion fortune cookies are made each year across the globe. The majority of cookies are made and used for consumption in the United States itself. Headquartered in Brooklyn, NY, Wonton Food Inc. is still the largest manufacturer of fortune cookies in the United States. They alone make more than 4.5 million fortune cookies each day!
Fun fact: Authorities in the United States had executed a brief investigation of Wonton Food Inc. in 2005 after 110 Powerball lottery players went home with approximately $19 million. They had reportedly used the “lucky numbers” printed on the back of the fortunes.
A few other giant manufacturers of fortune cookies in the US are Baily International located in the state of Georgia and Peking Noodle situated in Los Angeles, CA.
There are also several smaller and local manufacturers of fortune cookies in the US as well, some of which include Keefer Court Food in Minneapolis, MN, Sunrise Fortune Cookie in Philadelphia, PA and Tsue Chong Co. in Seattle, WA.
Many of these manufacturers offer to make custom fortune cookies for you and are in high demand.
P.S. If you wanted to get your hands on some custom fortune cookies, check out our Custom Fortune Cookie Bag! You can write your own messages and hand them out to friends or family! Great gift idea for any occasion!
How are the fortune cookies manufactured on a large scale?
The manufacturing procedures for fortune cookies on a large scale significantly vary from one manufacturing plant to the other. However, every manufacturing plant more or less follows the same methods for making fortune cookies.
The ingredient list typically consists of a base of flour, vanilla, sesame seed oil, and sugar. These are then mixed well in a large tank and squirted on swiftly moving trays.
This acts like a conveyor belt which is heated and that which cooks the dough. The cookies are flattened using round hot plates that shape and cooks them.
These are then baked for about a minute and are reshaped thereafter. The cookies are either mechanically shaped or folded by hand. When done so with a machine, it is controlled accordingly to fold the cookies in an ideal way with the fortune inside.
The cookies are then cooled, and when they harden up, they’re sealed in plastic wrappers. Each pack is subjected to several rounds of inspection before being dispatched out into the market.
The nutritional content of fortune cookies will vary depending on the manufacturers who make them. However, usually a single cookie will contain the following:
- 20-30 calories
- 5-7 grams of total carbohydrates.
- 3 grams of sugar (some brands also offer sugar-free cookies, however, those might contain other natural or artificial sugars)
- 2-8 milligram of sodium
They also have a significant amount of iron and protein which will depend on their size of course. Please note, these are all estimates and will vary widely depending on the manufacturer. Contact each respective manufacturer for exact nutritional information.
Fun Fact: Kung Fu Panda 3 was one movie that was promoted by showing quotes from the film’s protagonist on fortune cookie slips.
Fortune Cookies Around the Globe
The fortune cookie is a largely American food item, but it is a popular dessert that is served worldwide. A lot of countries have taken the fortune cookie and added their own cultural twist to this wonderful snack. The multi-cultural variations of fortune cookies in the world are pretty fascinating. Below are some examples,
They are served in the chifa* at Chinese-Peruvian fusion food eateries.
*Chifa is a Peruvian dish that infuses Peruvian and Chinese cuisine which originated around the 19th and early 20th centuries when East Asian immigrants made their way into Peru.
The “Lucky Taco” which is a red, taco-shaped fortune cookie is the Mexican version.
The Italian cannoli-inspired “Lucky Cannoli” made by the same company that makes the “Lucky Taco” which is sweeter.
The Japanese fortune cookie is made with a darker batter and is usually seasoned with miso and sesame seeds.
Fortune Cookies Today!
As you can see, fortune cookies have spanned quite a few decades, evolving into the enjoyable treat that it is today.
Not only has the cookie significantly changed in design and composition, but more so in its size and flavors. Unlike what they used to be, fortune cookies are now available in numerous different flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.
One of the most brilliant things that have come to pass in recent years is that now you can get custom-made fortune cookies. You can put in whatever message you want in them for whoever you want and pick unique flavors!
The cookie-messages have also undergone significant changes. Ranging from wise sayings to funny and even offensive messages, the fortunes have matured up from their previous predictable messages. But don’t you just love it, anyway?
Fortune-cookies, today, are also available in many different sizes. You can even get yourself a Giant Cookie, for that matter! Huge fortune cookies are often used for business events such as company parties, trade shows, and custom promotional gifts.
Fortune cookies have become an iconic food in American culture. It has inspired many products of today. From fortune cookie-shaped jewelry to Magic 8 Balls, the influence of these sweet delectables has taken the world by storm.
Overall a fortune cookie will always be that one thing that puts a smile on your face for a different reason other than just taste.
I hope you enjoyed our tour of the origin of fortune cookies.
We wish you the best of luck and good fortune!