The untold truth of Oreos

There's nothing like sitting down with an ice-cold glass of milk and helping yourself to an Oreo or two. Oh, who are we kidding? You're a fortress of willpower if you manage to put the cookies away before polishing off an entire sleeve. But whether you have a little or you have a lot, one thing remains the same — Oreos are a truly delightful sweet treat.

It's a funny thing, though, our relationship with the food that we eat. While we can all agree Oreos are like manna from heaven, who among us has given any thought to their history? All you know about them is that you've been enjoying them for as long as you can remember. And, chances are, they were introduced to you by a parent or grandparent, who'd also been enjoying them for as long as they could remember. It goes without saying that you know they're gosh darn delicious, too.

But hey, Oreos have been around since 1912, are sold in over 100 countries, and are the best-selling cookies in the world. There is more to these treats than meets the eye. So, sit down, pour yourself that glass of milk, grab a sleeve (or two — no judgment) of Oreos, and get to know a few little-known facts about everyone's favorite sandwich cookie. 

Where did that name come from?

The Oreo cookie has gone through some name changes over the past 105 years. When they were first introduced in 1912, they were known simply as the Oreo Biscuit (we'll get to why a bit later). Then in 1921, the cookie embraced its shape and was renamed the Oreo Sandwich. In 1937, the name was changed again. This time they took a high-brow turn and assumed the name, Oreo Crème Sandwich. Well, they certainly sound fancier, right? The final name change (for now) came in 1974 when the cookie became known as the Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookie, Oreo for short.  

The scattering of name changes isn't the only inconsistency with the iconic brand. The rumors surrounding the actual name are also a jumble. According to a Time article, it's possible the name Oreo came from "or" the French word for gold, and coincidentally the original package color. Thought Co also sheds some light on the naming process. They say "Oreo" is Greek for mountain, the original shape of the cookie, or that it's as simple as combining "re" from cream and the two "os" in chocolate.

They're a knock-off

While Oreo cookies may have been the inspiration of other well-known sandwich cookies, like Joe Joe's and Newman-O's, the Oreo was actually not an original concept. In 1908, four years prior to the launch of Oreos, Sunshine Biscuits released a sandwich cookie called Hydrox. Unfortunately for Hydrox cookies, it got lost among the buying and selling of its parent companies, and the marketing genius of Oreos, leading them to disappear from store shelves. Now thanks to Leaf Brands, LLC, the Hydrox is back and are ready to defend their "America's Original" title.

There was a Mr. Oreo

Double Stuf, Thins, or Original, an Oreo wouldn't be an Oreo if it wasn't for the middle, right? But, when something like the Oreo has been around for so long, you forget there are actual people behind the concepts. That's where food scientist Sam J. Porcello, aka "Mr. Oreo," comes in. 

Porcello invented the newer version of the delicious "creamy, pasty, stick-together filling" we can't get enough of to this day. But that's not all he did. According to a New York Daily News article, Porcello was not only one of the world's foremost experts on cocoa, he also developed the extra indulgent chocolate and white chocolate-covered Oreo. Take a moment and give a thank you to "Mr. Oreo" for using his chocolaty powers for good.

Oreo was part of a trio of "high-class biscuits"

In 1912, alongside Mother Goose Biscuits and Veronese Biscuits, Oreo Biscuits made up the Biscuit Trio. The Trio was a variety of the highest-class biscuits available to consumers, a nod to the English biscuits served at teatime. The cookies were seen as an exciting innovation, and the executives at Nabisco were sure they had three surefire hits. They were one-third right. Oreos were the only cookie of the trio to survive. And with a description like this, "two beautifully embossed chocolate-flavored wafers with a rich cream filling," how could they fail?

Double Stuf isn't double

As with all mass-produced food, the perfect ratio of an Oreo cookie is down to an exact science. So, what about the Double Stuf Oreo? Double the filling? Not quite. According to calculations done by Dave Anderson, a math teacher who runs a blog called A Recursive Process, the Double Stuf is actually closer to 1.86x "stuf." If you want to really eat a Double Stuf, just stack the creme side of two regular-sized Oreo together — and who hasn't done that?

Are they or aren't they (vegan, that is)?

The original recipe for Oreo cookies contained lard (pork fat) which made them unsuitable for vegans — and they were most definitely not kosher. But, with the changing climate of the low-fat 1990s, Nabisco decided it was finally time to get rid of the lard and become kosher. It took more than three years to convert their equipment, and with the change brought an unexpected, yet welcoming, side effect — Oreo cookies were now vegan. Or are they? Spoon University initially claimed the cookie was vegan, but a deeper dive, as reported in this December 2016 article, shows that according to the Oreo UK website, there is the possibility of cross-contamination with milk. Milk aside, there's another vegan debate brewing. A blog that focuses on abolitionist vegan education showed an email snippet from the company that the sugar in a batch of Oreo cookies may be refined with "bone char," an animal-derived natural charcoal.

What does PETA have to say about the Oreo debate? According to their site of the Top 20 Accidentally Vegan Foods, Oreo ice cream cones and 100 Calorie Thin Crisps are listed, but the original cookie (and any varieties) are nowhere to be found.

Birthday Cake Oreo

It's hard to resist limited time food offerings. And back in 2012 when Oreo came out with Birthday Cake cookies, in original and golden, most of us were determined to try them before they vanished. Though the sprinkle-laden cookies were intended to be a limited edition offering for the brand's 100th birthday, you can still find them easily at most stores (as of June 2019). We're definitely not complaining — it's like the cookie gods granted one big birthday wish for us all. 

Giant Oreo

How many Oreo cookies are too many? In the middle of the 1980s, the answer was simple — just one Oreo. In 1984, Nabisco launched the Oreo Big Stuf. Individually wrapped, the "snack" was a whopping 316 calories and reviewers reportedly claimed it took around 20 minutes to eat.  For comparison, a single Oreo contains roughly 53 calories. The cookie was eventually phased out, but if you're compelled to relive the devil-may-care attitude of the 1980s, with no chocolate-stained teeth to be found anywhere, you must watch the commercial. And yes, the music is a riff on Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff."

The Oreo personality test

How you eat an Oreo can say a lot about you. Do you twist and lick? Dunk and slurp? Spread a little peanut butter on them? A 2004 survey of over 2,000 Oreo eaters found that more men bit into their cookies while women were more likely to dunk. Want to know what your Oreo eating habits say about you? Randall Sleeth, a now retired associate professor of management from Virginia Commonwealth University created a tongue-in-cheek personality test based on your eating preference.  

Oreo beer

Oreo cookies have infiltrated the likes of pie crust, churros, and ice cream cones, not to mention the creation of an onslaught of "cookies and cream" products. Is it any wonder that the classic flavor has finally made its way into the beer aisle as well? 

In January 2017, Virginia-based The Veil Brewing Company released a version of their chocolate milk stout, called Hornswoggler, that was infused with actual Oreo cookies. A photo from the Beer Street Journal Twitter page even shows the bits of filling in the stout. Unfortunately for all, this beer was sold out within a week. Fingers-crossed that next they'll release a nice blonde ale using Golden Oreos but for now, one can only dream.

There's a method to their many-flavored madness

Banana Split, Watermelon, Cookie Dough, Peanut Butter, Lemon, Brownie Batter, Red Velvet — there have been many, many Oreo flavors through the years. It seems like every time you turn around, the brand is announcing a new season of increasingly wilder flavors. Firework flavor? Okay, then. 

What's really up with the company cranking out so many non-traditional flavors these days? To get to the bottom of this ever-expanding mystery, GQ tapped Cornell University behavioral economist David Just to weigh in on the trend. "The key is they're not trying to introduce the flavors for long-term consumption. You build in this idea of really tacky flavors, and that sort of builds this relationship to the consumer who likes to sort of check out these kitschy Oreos," explained Just. As an added bonus, many younger consumers basically give the company free PR by posting new flavor reviews on social media. Just describes this approach by Oreos as "building this personality behind its brand."

So, it might seem like Oreo is coming up with wackadoodle flavors out of left field but, in reality, they're counting on the novelty of these flavors to solidify their fan base. 

They sometimes get political

For such a seemingly innocuous cookie, Oreos can have a little bite, too. Take an incident that unfolded in May 2019 during a House Financial Services Committee hearing (admittedly, an odd place for Oreos to end up). Per Newsweek, Democratic Rep. Katie Porter posed a question during the meeting to Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, asking him to "explain the disparity in REO rates." When asked if he knew what an REO was, Carson replied, "An Oreo?" Of course, while Oreos are generally always the right answer to life's quandaries, they weren't the answer in this case — REO stands for "real estate owned."

But, seeing an opportunity to capitalize on the gaffe, Oreo sent out a cheeky tweet to its nearly 1 million followers. "REO stands for 'Really Excellent OREO (cookie).' Everyone knows that," the cookie company wrote in a since-deleted tweet. Don't worry, though; this story has a sweet ending. After the hearing, Carson took to Twitter to post a photo of himself along with a package of Double Stuf Oreos (via ABC). "OH, REO! Thanks, @RepKatiePorter. Enjoying a few post-hearing snacks. Sending some your way!" Carson captioned the photos.

All's well that ends with Oreos, right? 

The design might have been inspired by monks

Have you ever taken the time to truly appreciate what a beautiful thing an Oreo cookie is? That delicate design stamped onto each side of the dessert sandwich makes it stand out from a sea of basic, unadorned cookies. And it would be a shame if you never learned the backstory behind that design.

Per Mental Floss, the company looked in an unlikely place when they wanted to give the cookie's design a face-lift. Where? None other than the company mail room. Well, sort of. That's where William Turnier, the man tasked with building this new and improved cookie, first began when he was hired. However, by shadowing creative employees within the company, Turnier learned industrial engineering. Smart and hardworking, he was asked to update Oreo's design, and what he landed on was apparently downright inspired. "That design goes back to monks who used it on the bottom of manuscripts they copied in Medieval times," Bill Turnier, a law professor at the University of North Carolina (not to mention Turnier's son) told Mental Floss. "It was a sign of craft — saying they did the best they could."

The company liked both the look and the meaning behind it, so it stuck. 

If you're going to freeze them, you gotta do this

Oh, my. If you thought your Oreo addiction was out of control before, you may need family to stage an Oreo intervention after you learn this hack. So, you know how amazing cookies and cream ice cream is, and it goes without saying you already know how amazing Oreos are. Listen to this: Per one genius Redditor, if you dip Oreos in milk until soft and then freeze them, "they are delicious with the consistency of Oreos in cookies n cream ice cream."

In defense of the friends and family who failed to inform you of this, perhaps they stayed silent because the cookie company doesn't actually condone this kind of behavior. On their FAQ page, they address the best way to store cookies once the package has been opened, saying, "After opening the package, the product shelf life can be extended if the packaging is kept well sealed. It is also best to store the cookies in a cool, dry place."

To clarify, they do not consider the freezer a cool, dry place. "We do not recommend that you freeze our products as it can affect their quality," the company writes. If you're going to anyway, Oreo suggests "placing the product in the refrigerator for a few hours after removing it from the freezer, then moving it to the counter top to reach room temperature for best results."

That Game of Thrones sequence took a ton of Oreos

Calling all Game of Thrones fans. Winter came, and with it, special edition Oreos embossed with the crests of the four remaining (at the time) houses. If you're a fan, you undoubtedly went out and bought a bag before the series finale — especially after you saw the epic promo for the cookies, which featured the iconic GoT landscape made entirely of cookies.

To realize this extraordinary cookie-filled sequence, the cookie company went to the production company that made the main titles for GoT: Elastic. "We wanted to make sure that we built a world of Oreos first and established this language of Oreo," Elastic's Head of 3D Kirk Shintani told IndieWire. "And then we'd add our Game of Thrones influences into that. The thing that we wanted to avoid is just taking Oreos and creme and then stuffing them into our existing main title."

Shintani and his team used Oreo's vegan creme for the Oreo world's geographic elements (think the earth, mountains, and snow). All of the edifices and "mechanical doodads" were constructed using Oreo's signature chocolate cookie. Per Stash, when all was said and done, the amazing Oreo-meets-GoT universe took about 2,750 computer-generated Oreos with 20 million crumbs scattered throughout the Oreo-scape.

They've got their own rap song

Oreos and rap music may seem like an odd couple, but as one of their early 2019 marketing campaigns proved, the two are actually a killer pairing. In February, rapper Wiz Khalifa stepped in as a spokesperson for the cookie company, becoming the face of their "Stay Playful" campaign. Even better? It wasn't just Khalifa hawking the cookies — his adorable 5-year-old son Sebastian starred with him in TV ads underscoring the importance of being playful together.

The sweet interaction between Khalifa and his son seen in the video was a refreshing flip of gender stereotypes and rewrite of the toxic masculinity so endemic in both the rap culture and society in general. The TV spot featured a distinctive song, titled "Playful 4 Life," which was recorded by none other than Khalifa himself. And that's not even the most interesting part of this fresh partnership. Are you ready to have your mind blown? The full-length song was released via the Oreo x Wiz Khalifa Limited-Edition Music Box — a miniature record player literally powered by Oreo cookies.

To cue up this cookie-powered turntable, one would simply place an Oreo on it, like a record, and move the record arm into place. Wild, no? 

Sometimes, they're the "butt" of the joke

Well, this is awkward. In October 2018, Oreos made headlines for a less-than-desirable reason — one that became the, ahem, butt of many jokes. A high school in Illinois was forced to suspend 10 football players for taking part in a naked "Oreo run" on the school's football field, according to the Registrar Star. What in the fresh heck is an Oreo run, you ask? It entailed running across the school's football field naked… with an Oreo wedged between their butt cheeks. When the situation first came to light, it drew major scrutiny for potentially being a hazing incident.

But when it was determined the boys did so voluntarily, the news went national. The story even made its way to Late Night with Seth Meyers, where host Seth Meyers joked about what it would be like for a teacher to find the, uh, recycled Oreos in the school break room (ewwww).

Becoming late night talk show fodder might have been the harshest punishment the boys were handed. Although a letter sent home to parents after the incident insisted the boys would have to sit out three games, the Registrar Star found that the team's best players did not miss the playoff games mentioned in the letter.

Punitive measures aside, though, it's safe to say the footballers learned a very important lesson: Oreos go in your mouth, not… anywhere else. 

The birthplace of Oreo is now owned by Google

While it would be easy to believe a treat as divine as Oreos materialized from heaven, their reality is a bit more pedestrian, and yet, still quite interesting. The sandwich cookie was originally created out of a New York City biscuit plant that can be traced back to 1890, according to Smithsonian.com, to which Nabisco eventually added several baking facilities as well as four fireproof structures designed by staff architect Albert G. Zimmerman. Over time, as the company and its needs grew, they would expand the complex until it covered an entire New York City block.

So, what's the status of the former cookie plant today? Valuable, that's what. However, that wasn't always the case. At one point in its history, per the New York Post, the former factory was half-empty, bullet-riddled and sold for less than $10 million (a pittance for a structure of that size in the Big Apple). Then, Google happened. In 2018, Alphabet — Google's parent company — bought the building for a whopping $2.4 billion. The spike in price an be largely credited to former owner Irwin Cohen, a developer who turned the then-dubious space into the "Chelsea Market" food hall. With it, the neighborhood transformed and, when the property came back onto the market, Google seized the opportunity.

Mindy Kaling might be Oreo's biggest celebrity fan

You might fancy yourself Oreo's biggest fan, but there's at least one person in Hollywood who could probably give you a run for your money. In March 2019, Mindy Kaling took to social media to celebrate one of the best days of the year: National Oreo Day. "Hey guys, it's National Oreo Day, which you may or may not have heard about," The Mindy Project creator said as her daughter squealed happily off-camera. "My daughter is very excited about it… I'm not sponsored by Oreos, but I love them, and I thought I would do a taste test because there are so many different kinds."

With an assist from her very special Cookie Monster mug, the self-professed "cookie head" taste-tested and rated several types of Oreos. Birthday Cake Oreos? Not her favorite and had a "pungent smell." Mint Oreos? Pleasant, despite the fact she doesn't love mint. But Most Stuf Oreos? Hands down, Kaling found a favorite. "Oh, my God. This is so good," she gushed. "It's like creme with a hint of cookie, which is exactly how I like my cookies."

Kaling gave the Most Stufs her highest ranking, a 10/10. Which, coincidentally, is the score she should earn for her super-cute Oreo taste test

Arrests have been made over inhumane Oreo pranks

There are some lines you just don't cross but, sadly, Oreo got looped into crossing such a moral boundary in 2017. To be clear, the cookie company wasn't involved in any wrongdoing. Rather, a popular YouTuber by the name of Kanghua Ren filmed himself swapping out Oreo cookies' creme with toothpaste. He then shared a video with his more than 1 million followers of himself giving the cookies, along with 20 euros, to a middle-aged homeless man. Per the Spanish newspaper El País, the man threw up after eating the prank Oreos (via HuffPost).

Not surprisingly, people were outraged by the demoralizing act. Although Ren insisted it was just a bad joke, the authorities failed to find any humor in it. In June 2019, a Barcelona court sentenced Ren to 15 months in prison and a $22,300 fine for the transgression. And while Spanish law likely means Ren's sentence will be suspended and he won't serve time behind bars, he is facing a punishment he probably finds just as severe — the court ordered Ren to shut down his YouTube and social media channels for five years.

The moral of the story? Don't bring Oreos into your bad behavior. But mainly (and the cookie company would surely agree), don't be a jerk.