Fortune cookies are served in Chinese restaurants all over the world. The cookie itself is crisp and thin, with a small slip of paper inside. The paper typically contains a short message or proverb, which is said to be a representation of the cookies’ “fortune”.
The history of fortune cookies is somewhat disputed, but they’re thought to have originated in Asia. There are many different legends and stories about their origins, but the most commonly accepted story is that they were brought to the United States by Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century.
So how is a fortune cookie manufactured? In fact it’s pretty easy. We’ll tell you how it’s done very shortly but first, here’s the very strange history of the fortune cookie.
A Short History of Fortune Cookies
The truth is, no-one knows with any degree of certainty how or when the fortune cookie came to be. One story – from an 1878 wood-block etching – depicts a Japanese street vendor making similar shaped cookies – most likely from sesame or miso paste known as ‘tsujiura senbei’ or ‘fortune cracker’ – and tucking the slip of paper into the fold of the cookie rather than inside.
Another tale is of a Chinese immigrant to Los Angeles named David Jung who supposedly invented the fortune cookie in 1918 after noticing poor and homeless people outside his shop. He made the cookies and asked a local minister to write positive messages from the Scriptures which he put inside the cookies and gave them out for free. Maybe he did know how fortune cookies are made but was he the inventor? Who knows.
Another popular story tells of Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese immigrant and the designer of the famous Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. He was reported to have served fortune cookies at the garden in the very late nineteenth or very early twentieth century made by local San Fran bakery Benkyodo.
It appears the true story has been lost to time, but what we do know is that fortune cookies were originally made by hand until a machine was invented to mass produce them in the early twentieth century. It dropped the unit price dramatically and opened up a huge – and it would seem very lucrative – market for the little brittle crunchy munchies.
How Fortune Cookies are Made
Fortune cookies are very easy to make and only need a handful of ingredients. First, a huge bag of sugar is emptied into an industrial-sized mixer. This is followed by food colouring to give the cookies their distinctive colour.
Next comes starch to thicken the mixture followed by melted vegetable shortening (fat), water and wheat flour to give the fortune cookies their texture. The lid is closed and the mixture is mixed to the consistency of a smooth batter. Finally, vanilla flavouring is added and it’s given a final stir.
Making The Cookies
The next step in the process of how fortune cookies are produced is making the cookies themselves. The smooth mixture is transferred from the mixer into a tank where ejector nozzles squirt a precise amount of the batter onto hot moving trays. Moulds are then pressed onto the cooking cookies to flatten them. They are very thin so need little baking – anywhere from one to four minutes.
The Folding & The Fortune
This is the most important element of the whole process of fortune cookie manufacture. The piping hot and soft cookie discs are laid over a mould along with a paper fortune. Steel prongs push down on the soft biscuit to give it the distinctive shape and enclose the fortune inside.
The complete, crisp cookies are cooled and individually wrapped and sealed. Lastly, they are inspected by hand and any damaged cookies are discarded. They’re then boxed up and ready to be shipped all over the world. And that’s the final step in the process of how fortune cookies are made.
How Many Fortune Cookies are Made Each Year?
What was your guess? A million? Five million? Ten? No. In fact the answer is an eye-watering three billion fortune cookies! The world’s largest manufacturer of fortune cookies is Wonton Food Inc. in New York who make a staggering 4.5 million fortune cookies every day in classic vanilla flavour as well as citrus flavour, chocolate flavour and their famous tri-flavour which is a mix of all three!