Fortune cookie

Fortune cookie
An unopened fortune cookie
An opened fortune cookie

A fortune cookie is a crisp cookie usually made from flour, sugar, vanilla, and oil with a "fortune" wrapped inside. A "fortune" is a piece of paper with words of faux wisdom or a vague prophecy. The message inside may also include a Chinese phrase with translation or a list of lucky numbers used by some as lottery numbers, some of which have become actual winner numbers.[1]

Fortune cookies are often served as a dessert in Chinese restaurants in the United States and some other countries, but are absent in China. The exact provenance of fortune cookies is unclear, though various immigrant groups in California claim to have popularized them in the early 20th century, basing their recipe on a traditional Japanese cracker. Fortune cookies have been summarized as being "introduced by the Japanese, popularized by the Chinese, but ultimately ... consumed by Americans."[2]



As far back as the 19th century, a cookie very similar in appearance to the modern Fortune cookie was made in Kyoto, Japan, and there is a Japanese temple tradition of random fortunes, called omikuji. The Japanese version of the cookie differs in several ways: they are a little bit larger; are made of darker dough; and their batter contains sesame and miso rather than vanilla and butter. They contain a fortune; however, the small slip of paper was wedged into the bend of the cookie rather than placed inside the hollow portion. This kind of cookie is called tsujiura senbei (辻占煎餅?) and are still sold in some regions of Japan,[2] notably the neighborhood of Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine in Kyoto.[3]

Most of the people who claim to have introduced the cookie to the United States are Japanese, so the theory is that these bakers were modifying a cookie design which they were aware of from their days in Japan.

Makoto Hagiwara of Golden Gate Park's Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco is reported to have been the first person in the USA to have served the modern version of the cookie when he did so at the tea garden in the 1890s or early 1900s. The fortune cookies were made by a San Francisco bakery, Benkyodo.[4][5][6]

David Jung, founder of the Hong Kong Noodle Company in Los Angeles, has made a competing claim that he invented the cookie in 1918.[7] San Francisco's mock Court of Historical Review attempted to settle the dispute in 1983. During the proceedings, a fortune cookie was introduced as a key piece of evidence with a message reading, "S.F. Judge who rules for L.A. Not Very Smart Cookie". A federal judge of the Court of Historical Review determined that the cookie originated with Hagiwara and the court ruled in favor of San Francisco. Subsequently, the city of Los Angeles condemned the decision.[7]

Seiichi Kito, the founder of Fugetsu-do of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, also claims to have invented the cookie.[8] Kito claims to have gotten the idea of putting a message in a cookie from Omikuji (fortune slip) which are sold at temples and shrines in Japan. According to his story, he sold his cookies to Chinese restaurants where they were greeted with much enthusiasm in both the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. Thus Kito's main claim is that he is responsible for the cookie being so strongly associated with Chinese restaurants.[citation needed]

Up to around World War II, fortune cookies were known as "fortune tea cakes" -- likely reflecting their origins in Japanese tea cakes. It later became known as a "fortune cooky" before settling on the current spelling of "fortune cookie."[2]

Fortune cookies moved from being a confection dominated by Japanese-Americans to one dominated by Chinese-Americans sometime around World War II. One theory for why this occurred is because of the Japanese American internment during World War II, which forcibly put over 100,000 Japanese-Americans in internment camps, including those who had produced fortune cookies. This gave an opportunity for Chinese manufacturers.[2]

Fortune cookies before the early 20th century, however, were all made by hand. The fortune cookie industry changed dramatically after the fortune cookie machine was invented by Shuck Yee from Oakland, California.[9] The machine allowed for mass production of fortune cookies 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.

Chinese legend

Rumors that fortune cookies were invented in China are seen as false.[1] In 1989, fortune cookies were reportedly imported into Hong Kong and sold as "genuine American fortune cookies".[1] Wonton Food attempted to expand its fortune cookie business into China in 1992, but gave up after fortune cookies were considered "too American".[1]


The cookies are generally called by the English term fortune cookies, being American in origin. The food has been translated variously into Chinese as 幸运签饼 xìngyùn qiān bǐng "good luck label cookie", 签语饼 qiān yǔ bǐng "label-words cookie", 幸运饼 xìngyùn bǐng "good luck cookie", 幸运签语饼 xìngyùn qiān yǔ bǐng "lucky label-words cookie", 幸运甜饼 xìngyùn tián bǐng "good luck sweet cookie", 幸福饼干 xìngfú bǐnggān "happiness biscuit", 幸运饼干 xìngyùn bǐnggān "good luck biscuit", 幸运饼 xìngyùn bǐng "good luck cookie", or 占卜饼 zhānbǔ bǐng "divining cookie".

In popular culture

Hot fortune cookies being folded around paper fortunes.

The non-Chinese origin of the fortune cookie is humorously illustrated in Amy Tan's 1989 novel The Joy Luck Club, in which a pair of immigrant women from China find jobs at a fortune cookie factory in America. They are amused by the unfamiliar concept of a fortune cookie but, after several hilarious attempts at translating the fortunes into Chinese, come to the conclusion that the cookies contain not wisdom but "bad instruction."

Fortune cookies have become an iconic symbol in American culture, inspiring many products. There are fortune cookie-shaped jewelry, a fortune cookie-shaped Magic 8 Ball, and silver-plated fortune cookies.

There is a common joke involving fortune cookies that involves appending "between the sheets" or "in bed" to the end of the fortune, usually creating a sexual innuendo or other bizarre messages (e.g., "Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall [in bed]").[10]


There are approximately 3 billion fortune cookies made each year around the world, the vast majority of them used for consumption in the United States.[2] The largest manufacturer of the cookies is Wonton Food Inc., headquartered in Brooklyn, New York. They make over 4.5 million fortune cookies per day. Another large manufacturer is Peking Noodle in the Los Angeles area. There are other smaller, local manufacturers including Tsue Chong Co. in Seattle and Sunrise Fortune Cookie in Philadelphia. Many smaller companies will also sell custom fortunes.

Around the world

Fortune cookies, while largely an American item, are occasionally seen in other countries, most often at Chinese restaurants. Fortune cookies have been distributed in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, India, Brazil, Mexico, France, The Netherlands and Germany.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d Fortune Cookie Fortune
  2. ^ a b c d e f Lee, Jennifer 8. (January 16, 2008). "Solving a Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside a Cookie" The New York Times. Retrieved on January 16, 2008.
  3. ^ 8. Lee, Jennifer (January 16, 2008). "Fortune Cookies are really from Japan.". The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. 
  4. ^ Nagata, Erik. "A Brief History of The Fortune Cookie". 
  5. ^ Ono, Gary (2007-10-31). "Japanese American Fortune Cookie: A Taste of Fame or Fortune -- Part II". 
  6. ^ (Martin 2004)
  7. ^ a b (Brunner 2005).
  8. ^ A History of Fugetsu-Do,
  9. ^ Oaklandish
  10. ^ "Creating a takeout menu for Lunar New Year" by Phil Vettel, Chicago Tribune, January 21, 2005, "Friday" section, page 19. (Describing "the 'in bed' game.") Also, "'To know is nothing; to imagine is everything' - social ritual and meaning in the consumption of fortune cookies," by Ellen R Foxman; Mary Stanfield Bradley. American Marketing Association. Conference Proceedings. 2002; Vol.13; page 98 (at page 101).


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Fortune Cookie — Un fortune cookie (biscuit chinois au Québec) est une confiserie, servie dans les restaurants chinois aux États Unis et au Canada, dans laquelle est insérée un petit morceau de papier où l on peut lire une prédiction ou une maxime, souvent… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • fortune cookie — fortune cookies N COUNT A fortune cookie is a sweet, crisp cake which contains a piece of paper which is supposed to say what will happen to you in the future. Fortune cookies are often served in Chinese restaurants …   English dictionary

  • fortune cookie — fortune ,cookie noun count a hard thin Chinese COOKIE that has a piece of paper inside with a message about your future on it …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • fortune cookie — ☆ fortune cookie n. a hollow Chinese cookie with a slip of paper inside giving a message, advice, a prediction, etc …   English World dictionary

  • fortune cookie — fortune .cookie n a ↑biscuit served in Chinese restaurants, containing a piece of paper that says what is supposed to happen to you in the future …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • fortune cookie — by 1955, said to have been invented in 1918 by David Jung, Chinese immigrant to America who established Hong Kong Noodle Co., who handed out cookies that contained uplifting messages as a promotional gimmick …   Etymology dictionary

  • Fortune cookie — Un fortune cookie ou biscuit chinois (au Canada) est une confiserie, servie dans les restaurants chinois aux États Unis et au Canada, dans laquelle est insérée un petit morceau de papier où l’on peut lire une prédiction ou une maxime, souvent… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • fortune cookie — noun thin folded wafer containing a maxim on a slip of paper • Regions: ↑China, ↑People s Republic of China, ↑mainland China, ↑Communist China, ↑Red China, ↑PRC, ↑Cathay • Hypernyms …   Useful english dictionary

  • fortune cookie — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms fortune cookie : singular fortune cookie plural fortune cookies a hard thin Chinese biscuit that has a piece of paper inside with a message about your future on it …   English dictionary

  • fortune cookie — noun Date: 1962 a thin cookie folded to contain a slip of paper on which is printed a fortune, proverb, or humorous statement …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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