A fortune cookie is a crescent-shaped, hollow cookie with a paper inside imprinted with a short saying or "fortune." Fortune cookies are often presented with the bill at the end of a meal in Chinese restaurants. Each diner selects a cookie and breaks it open to read the advice or prediction inside.
The history of the fortune cookie is not entirely known, and there are several competing versions of its origins. Despite its association with Chinese restaurants, the fortune cookie was invented in the United States and may have either Chinese or Japanese roots. Some say the modern fortune cookie has its origins in an ancient Chinese game played by the nobility and members of the upper classes. In the game, the participants were given twisted cakes that contained pieces of paper with subjects written on them. The players opened the cakes and made up wise sayings on the topics specified.
A second story claims that David Tsung, a baker who lived in Califomia's San Joaquin Valley, invented fortune cookies in 1818 or 1819 by wrapping written fortunes in egg roll casings. A Presbyterian minister composed messages of goodwill for Tsung's "fortunes." The baker experimented with different kinds of batter until he created the cookie we know today. A century after his invention, in 1922 or 1923, the fortunes themselves evolved into more whimsical words of wisdom. This story is doubtful because Califomia was a Spanish territory in 1818, and few Americans and no Chinese are known to have lived in the San Joaquin Valley during that period.
In her book Madame Chu's Cooking School, Grace Chu acknowledges the Chinese parlor game as a possible historical predecessor and notes that birth announcements also have been wrapped in sweet dough and sent. She credits the invention of the modern fortune cookie to George Jung, who started the Hong Kong Noodle Company in 1916 after immigrating to Los Angeles in 1911.
Golden Gate Park in San Francisco also stakes its claim to fortune cookies in another version of their history. Makoto Hagiwara was the caretaker of the Japanese Tea Garden in the park around 1900. San Francisco's Mayor James Phelan reputedly disliked Asian persons and fired Hagiwara. In 1907, Hagiwara was restored to his cherished position, and he thanked those who helped him return to his beloved tea garden by giving them fortune cookies he had invented during his absence.
Recipes for fortune cookies appear in many cookbooks, and the basic ingredients are flour, sugar, water, and eggs. Other ingredients may vary depending on the recipe, but may include melted butter, salt, vanilla extract, almond extract, and instant tea powder. Commercial manufacturers may also add baking soda, baking powder, turmeric extract, peanut oil, stabilizing agents, and anticaking agents such as silico aluminate.
The fortunes are printed on paper that is treated to be oil- and moisture-resistant. Many manufacturers acquire preprinted fortunes
As with other food products, exceptional care is taken in meeting government regulations for ingredients and food processing. Ingredients are selected for quality and inspected when they are received. Machines are cleaned regularly, and processes are monitored continuously for product standards and safety. Because the process is
Another aspect of quality control enters into the preparation of the fortunes. Manufacturers of fortune cookies may sell them in bulk to other food product suppliers or distributors. The company marketing the cookies under its name may review the style and text of the fortunes; for example, the legal department of one large distributor has approved the use of approximately 1,000 fortunes that the manufacturer inserts in cookies bearing the distributor's name.
The future for fortune cookies is golden for several reasons. Chinese and other Asian cuisines have grown steadily in popularity because of their healthfulness and appealing taste. Fortune cookies are similarly popular because they are light in texture, lightly sweetened, low in calories, and fat-free. Fortune cookies have also joined the "designer foods" bandwagon. Varieties flavored with almond, chocolate, and lemon have been available for some time; but new flavors and colors like blueberry and coffee are now being marketed. The fortunes themselves have also been revamped, with lottery numbers printed on the backs of some producers' fortune papers, and with specialized and modernized sayings or quotations. Packaging has also been tuned to the upscale market with individually wrapped cookies housed in decorator tins. These gourmet versions can even be purchased from home via the shopping channels on television. Finally, "Chinese" fortune cookies have found a new home; the first fortune-cookie plant in China opened in 1993.
Heatter, Maida. "Bake Your Holiday Gifts." New Choices, December 1994-January 1995, pp. 50-53.
Herman, Jeff. "20 Lucky Hoosier Products Make QVC's Cut." The Indianapolis Star, May 20, 1995, p. B3.
Kaufman, Michael T. "Pursuing a New Market: Fortune Cookies for China." New York Times, November 7, 1992, p. 1.
"Notes from All Over: China." Reader's Digest. June 1993, p. 34.
— Gillian S. Holmes