Hi Joe, welcome back to our show! Approximately 3 billion fortune cookies are made each year around the world and the vast majority of them are consumed in the United States. So tell us what fortune cookies are and why they are so popular in the US?
A fortune cookie is a crisp and sugary cookie usually made from flour, sugar, vanilla, and sesame seed oil. Inside is a “fortune,” a message on a piece of paper that is usually about something positive that will happen in the future, but it is often a simple quote or saying. It may also include a Chinese phrase with translation and/or a list of lucky numbers used by some to play the lottery. Fortune cookies are often served as a dessert in Chinese restaurants in the United States and other Western countries, but are not a tradition in China.
It’s strange that the cookies served exclusively at Chinese restaurants are not of Chinese origin. So, where did the fortune cookie originally come from?
The exact origin of fortune cookies is unclear, though various immigrant groups in California claim to have popularized them in the early 20th century. Though commonly thought to originate in China, the cookies actually come from the Japanese tsujura senbei treat. It’s said that the first fortune cookie was consumed in the US around the 1890s.
|Joe Fitzsimmons (Photo courtesy of Joe Fitzsimmons)
How fortune cookies are made?
Fortune cookies before the early 20th century were all made by hand. However, the industry changed dramatically after the fortune cookie machine was invented by Shuck Yee from Oakland, California. The machine allowed for mass production, which subsequently allowed the cookies to drop in price to become the novelty and courtesy dessert many Americans are familiar with after their meals at most Chinese restaurants today. The manufacturing process varies between plants but it generally follows the same procedure. Cookies are compressed with round hot plates to shape and cook them. The cookies bake for approximately one minute and are reshaped. They can be mechanically shaped or folded by hand. When automated, a machine folds the cookie into the right shape with the fortune inside.
People can’t wait to crack these sweet wontons open so they can read the fortune inside. While these messages are usually far from prophetic, they can sometimes be very funny, right?
Fortune cookies have become somewhat iconic in American culture, inspiring many products. There is fortune cookie-shaped jewelry, a fortune cookie-shaped Magic 8 Ball, and silver-plated fortune cookies. Fortune cookie toilet paper, with words of wisdom that appear when the paper is moistened, has become popular among university students in Italy and Greece. Here are some interesting and amusing fortune cookie messages:
The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.
Be on the alert to recognize your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur.
Your road to glory will be rocky, but fulfilling.
Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.
Patience is your ally in the moment. Don’t worry!
Don’t worry about money. The best things in life are free.
Don’t pursue happiness – create it.
Thank you very much, Joefor talking to us today about fortune cookies. We’ll be sharing more interesting facts about American culture in coming shows. For VOV24/7’s Culture Rendezvous, I’m Minh My saying: Goodbye!