The untold truth of Girl Scout cookies

The time the Girl Scouts start peddling their cookies is a special time of the year. You might pick up a few boxes because it's a good cause, or you might need to restock the bottom drawer in your desk… because everyone knows, that's where you keep them for when you need a special treat. No matter how many boxes you've bought, you might be surprised at just how much you don't know about these tasty — albeit expensive — cookies.

How much do the girls selling them actually get?

You might find yourself debating whether or not you want to spend the money to buy a box of your favorite cookies in the grocery store, but you never debate Girl Scout cookies, do you? Even though they're more expensive than most cookies you might find at your local supermarket, it's money for a good cause. But if you've ever wondered just how much of the money actually benefits the girls that are doing all the selling, you're definitely not alone — and the answer is surprisingly hard to pin down.

According to the Girl Scouts' official web site, 100 percent of the profits stay with the local Girl Scout authority and in the troops themselves. How they use it is up to them, but do some more digging and you'll find that's not the end of the story. In 2014, CBS Minnesota broke down the price of a box of cookies, which was then $4. They found that 27 percent of the cost — $1.08 — went into making, packaging, and shipping the cookies, 19 percent (76 cents) went toward the Girl Scouts' volunteer program, 15 percent (61 cents) went toward funding scout camps, 12 percent (49 cents) went into funding leadership programs, and 6 percent (22 cents) went into the coffers of local administration. That leaves only about 21 percent (84 cents) that goes directly to the troop, and it's up to them to decide how they use it. While that can range from funding their own projects to charitable donations, there's been a huge amount of debate on just whether or not that 21 percent is enough.

It wasn't always that high, either. As far back as 1993, Girl Scout troops were boycotting their annual cookie sale to protest how little they actually got at the time. Even though the Girl Scouts as an organization was making somewhere around $3 million a year from cookies alone, troops only got about 10 percent of what their members sold. Considering some Scouts can sell hundreds — and even thousands — of boxes of cookies, the outrage over how little they actually profited was understandable.

It started in 1917 on a small scale

In 2017 — the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts' cookie-selling endeavors — Time talked to some of the country's top sellers, and if you think they're talking about hundreds of boxes of cookies, you're not thinking big enough. Some of the organization's top sellers are pushing thousands of boxes of cookies each year, and that's way beyond the scope of the original idea.

Girl Scouting started in 1912 in Savannah, Georgia, but it was a troop from Muskogee, Oklahoma that came up with the idea of raising money by selling cookies. Their original stomping grounds was the high school cafeteria, and they started their bake sale project in 1917. In 1922, another Girl Scout director helped spread the word even further. Florence E. Neil wrote a piece for the official Girl Scout magazine, The American Girl. It included a recipe designed to be as cost-effective as it was delicious, and she wrote that an investment of around 30 cents would yield seven dozen cookies that could easily be sold for around 30 cents per dozen. The first batches of Girl Scout cookies weren't just sold by the Scouts, they were baked by them, too. It was so successful that it wasn't long before they needed to outsource the baking to a commercial bakery, and the first official licensing agreement was drawn up in 1936.

You can make the original recipe, too

Today, there's a wide variety of Girl Scout cookies to choose from. That wasn't always the case, though, and that first recipe that circulated through America's Girl Scout troops in the 1920s was a pretty simple one. While the Girl Scouts have moved on to bigger and more complicated cookies, you can still give that original recipe a try, and bake up the exact same cookies troops did a century ago.

The original cookie is basically a sugar cookie, and this is the recipe. With only butter, sugar, milk, eggs, vanilla, flour, and a bit of baking powder, it's easy to see why this was such a successful money-maker for them. Bake up a batch when you're waiting for Girl Scout cookie season to roll around, and you might be surprised at just how tasty this is. It could end up your go-to sugar cookie recipe, and the bonus? It has a great story attached to it.

Cookie sales were banned at the Girl Scouts' founder's home

The Girl Scouts were founded in 1912 by Juliette Gordon Low. The first troop had a membership of 18 girls, and Low's idea was to give girls a place where they could get out of the house and home, experience the world, and where she could promote things like sports. It seems like her home in Savannah, Georgia would be a great place to pick up some cookies, but in 2010 there was a pretty shocking amount of outrage over the practice of selling cookies outside of Low's home, which is now considered a National Historic Landmark and one of the city's many tourist destinations. A single complaint put an end to any chance the girls had of selling cookies outside their founder's home, even though city officials were split on just whether or not the activity deemed "public peddling" was acceptable or not.

The debate made international news, but it wasn't until March 2011 that city officials, zoning administrators, Scout leaders, and even activist groups got together to pass another piece of legislation that gave Scouts the right to resume their cookie sales — as long as they kept the sidewalks clear.

They've had serious problems with their use of palm oil

Palm oil is used in a massive number of products, and while Girl Scout cookies are far from the only delightful treat that uses it, they're one of a number of organizations that have been the target of quite a bit of outrage for their continued use of palm oil. Palm oil is basically a hugely versatile type of vegetable oil, and the problem is that production companies in Southeast Asia have destroyed acres and acres of precious rainforest in order to plant palm oil plantations. The deforestation has led to all kinds of consequences, including the destruction of the habitats of endangered animals, like the orangutan. While some companies — like Sainsbury's — have made commitments to substitute other products or use only sustainable palm oil, the bakers behind Girl Scout cookies were still refraining from making any solid commitments even into 2015. When Little Brownie Bakers was asked about whether or not they were going to be turning away from forest-destroying palm oil, they responded, "We will continue to work with our suppliers to increase our use of sustainable palm oil with a goal to get 100 percent segregated sustainable palm oil when it becomes logistically and financially feasible."

By that point, they had already had their fair share of problems, including Girl Scout troops refusing to sell cookies on the grounds that they were destroying the rainforests. Concerned scouts went right to the head of the Girl Scouts and got no response… but did find out that the UK's version of the Scouts, the Girl Guides, have completely gotten rid of palm oil in all the products they sell. As of 2017, the official website of the Girl Scouts still says that they're using palm oil. While they say that they're moving toward sustainability and researching alternate ingredients, they also say they have no choice but to use palm oil to maintain the quality of their cookies, a viewpoint that seems to be at odds with the desires of many of their members.

They were impacted — and replaced — during World War II rationing

World War II was a time of global sacrifice, and the demands placed on countries whose men were fighting on the front lines was nearly crippling. Rationing was put in place to combat shortages at home and make sure there were enough supplies being shipped to the front, and that included limits being placed on some of the key ingredients of the Girl Scout cookie: sugar, chocolate, salt, lards, and dried skim milk. With not enough ingredients, there weren't enough cookies, and in 1943, the Indianapolis area alone was short about a million cookies.

The war might have put a damper on fulfillment of cookies sales, but the Scouts weren't about to give up on the idea of an annual fundraiser. Troops put their cookie sales on hiatus for a variety of other projects, and while the biggest one was selling calendars, other groups sold war bonds while still others collected cooking fat and scrap metal. Cookie sales returned in 1946, and clearly, they had been missed. Demand was so great that 29 commercial bakers were needed to keep up with sales.

Different locations have entirely different version of the same cookie

If you chat with a friend outside of your local area and the subject of Girl Scout cookies comes up, it might interest you to know that you might be talking about two entirely different things… even if you're both talking about Thin Mints.

The Girl Scouts contract with two different bakeries for their cookies: ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers. While consistency and quality control might be some buzz words that seem like they'd be logical to use here, it turns out that putting cookies side by side reveals some pretty shocking differences. S'mores is probably the most dramatically different: if you're in ABC Bakers territory and you order them, you'll get a chocolate-covered graham cracker with a thin vanilla and marshmallow layer. If you're in Little Brownie Bakers territory, though, you'll get a sandwich cookie with frosting and fudge in the middle, no chocolate coating, and a bit of maple flavor. Thin Mints are different, too, with ABC Bakers putting out a crunchier version of the favorite. Which bakery your cookies come from also decides whether you get the peanut butter-heavy Tagalongs or the vanilla-flavored Peanut Butter Patties, whether you get Samoas or Caramel deLites, and whether you get lemon-flavored shortbread Lemonades or sugar-coated Savannah Smiles.

Little Brownie Bakers are in Kentucky and ABC Bakers are in Virginia, but it's impossible to tell just what bakery your local Girl Scout troop is working with just based on geography. When Business Insider asked the Girl Scouts why there was such a difference in cookies with the same name, their rather cryptic reply was, "Having more than one baker allows us to have greater production capacity to support the Girl Scout Cookie Program. During our busiest point in the season, our bakers make about 9 million Thin Mints daily." And no, that really doesn't answer any questions.

How much of a guilty treat are they? (And are some labels not truthful?)

Let's face it: no one buys a box (or seven) of Girl Scout cookies with the belief that they're good for you. But take a look at just how bad for you they are, and you might be a bit shocked.

First, the good news. The healthiest variety is one of the cookies that varies between bakeries, and that's the Shortbread or the Trefoil. Nutritional information varies between the two, but in a serving size of four for the Shortbreads and five for the Trefoils, you're looking at 120 calories and 160 calories, respectively. While Shortbreads have 4.5 grams of fat and Trefoils have 8 grams, that's still not terrible compared to some of the other choices. (Savannah Smiles are close and fairly healthy, but are slightly more sugar-heavy.) Samoas and Caramel deLites are the worst, and with a serving size of only two cookies, you're looking at 140 calories and 7 grams of fat. Read the labels closely and you'll see it's the serving sizes that are key. Most boxes appear to have cookies that are right around the 140 calorie mark per serving, but those servings are different across the board.

The other thing to look for is the 0 grams of trans fat that is listed on the labels, too, and while that might not necessarily be the truth, they're not breaking any laws, either. According to the regulations from the Food and Drug Administration, trans fat doesn't need to be listed on the package unless it's more than .5 grams per serving. Take a peek at the ingredient list if you're really worried about trans fat, and you'll find that partially hydrogenated oils are there for many varieties, just not in an amount that requires them to be listed on the nutritional information.

You can make them at home

No matter how many boxes you get, you'll never have enough to last the year. If you run out well before cookie season starts again, don't fret: you can absolutely make your own version of all your favorite Girl Scout cookies.

Food.com has a whole list of some tried-and-true favorite knock-off recipes, including this one for Thin Mints. It's a massive recipe that makes more than a hundred cookies, but let's be honest here and admit that's exactly how many Thin Mints you really want in a package. For a knock-off of the crunchier variety, In Katrina's Kitchen has this recipe for a dark chocolate and peppermint cookie that's sure to satisfy any craving.

If peanut butter is more your thing, you're probably a fan of the Tagalongs. They're easier to make than you might think, too, and this recipe from A Dash of Sanity only takes about an hour and 15 minutes from start to finish. At the end, you'll have the crunchy, chocolate-covered, shortbread and peanut butter cookies you know and love, and you'll never have to worry about being skipped by the Girl Scouts again.

There are only three varieties you're guaranteed to find every year

The Girl Scouts started with a simple sugar cookie, but over the years, there have been a handful of additions. There are so many, in fact, that choices will actually vary from year to year… and you're forgiven if you didn't notice because you were too busy looking for your favorites. By the 1980s, three cookies had been elevated to permanent places on the Girl Scout cookies' order form: Thin Mints, Peanut Butter Sandwiches (also called Do-si-dos), and the Shortbread (Trefoil) cookies. Literally dozens of new varieties have been added — including some low-fat and sugar-free varieties — but those are the only ones you're guaranteed to have.

It's no wonder Thin Mints are there, either, as they count for somewhere around a third of all cookie sales. Nothing has been able to dethrone the Thin Mints yet, even though some have tried… and failed so miserably they were discontinued.

Do you remember the Kookaburras? They had a brief run in the 1980s, and were basically a chocolate-covered bar of crispy rice and caramel. What about cookies like the Juliette, which was only available in 1984 and 1985, or the reduced fat Ole Oles, or the Cinna-spins, cinnamon swirl cookies sold in 100-calorie packs. Loved and lost, perhaps, but at least the world still has Thin Mints. Those aren't going anywhere.

They're certified kosher

The Girl Scouts have long prided themselves on being all-inclusive, and their cookies are, too. According to both ABC and Little Brownie Bakers, they make sure that all their cookies earn their kosher certification, with a few differences.

ABC's cookies are stamped Circle UD Kosher, which means they've gotten the stamp of approval from the Orthodox Union certification agency. They're one of the largest such organizations in the country, and keep an updated database of around 250,000 kosher products. Little Brownie Bakers are kosher, too, with all their cookies officially designated kosher dairy, except for Thin Mints. Those are kosher pareve, which means that they don't contain dairy or meat products. Their new designation came in 2016, when the recipe was changed to meet all the guidelines and requirements for certification. (Whey was removed, and a dairy-based flavoring was replaced by a non-dairy ingredient that acts in much the same way.)

There's a strain of marijuana named after them

If you've ever wondered about just what kind of cross-section of the population loves their Girl Scout cookies, it might interest you to know that there's actually a strain of marijuana named after them. Not only is the strain called Girl Scout Cookies, but there are a couple varieties out there, and they're named things like Thin Mints.

Gizmodo took a closer look at the oddly named strain, and they found that if Girl Scout cookies have a reputation as being so addicting that you'll devour the entire sleeve before you know what's happening, Girl Scout Cookies marijuana is the pot equivalent. According to them, some dispensaries stopped carrying it because it was too strong to have any real therapeutic value. Enough people were requesting it that they needed to stock the strain again, which might sounds familiar to the world's Thin Mint devotees.