6 Fortune Cookie Secrets They Don’t Want You to Know

6 Fortune Cookie Secrets They Don’t Want You to Know_Sidewalk Blog

What's That?  |  Fortune Cookies

Fortune cookies: the folded and bent crispy cookie with insightful prophecies, served at the end of the meal at Chinese restaurants. It is a dessert of Chinese mysticism and intrigue. Except it isn’t. You will have a thrilling discovery in your immediate future [. . . in bed.]

The tsujiura senbei with fortune in the fold.

The tsujiura senbei with fortune in the fold.

1. Fortune cookies are inspired by a Japanese dessert

In the 19th century, a treat very similar in appearance to the modern fortune cookie was created in Kyoto, Japan. The tsujiura senbei (辻占煎餅) cookie is baked with a darker batter and is seasoned with miso and topped with sesame seeds rather than vanilla and sugar found in the stereotypical fortune cookie. Tsujiura senbei contain the trademark fortune written on paper; however, it is wedged into the bend of the cookie rather than sealed inside it.

2. Fortune cookies were invented in the United States

Fortune cookies as we know them today weren’t invented in Asia. Fortune cookies originated in San Francisco in the 1890s.

And despite their association with Chinese restaurants, fortune cookies were created by a Japanese immigrant. The Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park sought a fun treat to provide visitors, so they asked the landscape architect, Makoto Hagiwara, for a suggestion. He worked with a local San Francisco bakery, Benkyodo, to develop the modern day fortune cookie.

3. World War II changed the course of fortune cookies forever

Hagiwara’s fortune cookies and tea garden were beloved until World War II erupted. With Executive Order 9066, 120,000 Japanese-Americans, including Hagiwara, were incarcerated and interned in camps.

The Golden Gate Park authorities hired Chinese immigrants to run the Japanese Tea Garden and produce fortune cookies. It did not take long for the fortune cookie to make its way into Chinese restaurants across the US.

4. Fortune cookies were handmade until 1964

Fortune cookies were originally made by baking circular dollops of batter on a cookie tin for 10 minutes, and then folding in the paper fortunes before the cookie cooled.

It's a laborious and fast-paced process; check out this video on how to do it.

That all changed in 1964 with the invention of the first automated fortune cookie machine. Over the decades, new innovations in fortune cookie machines have resulted in the ability to produce up to 8,000 cookies in an hour. In 2008, it was estimated that 3 billion fortune cookies are consumed worldwide.

5. Zilch for nutrition

You probably weren’t expecting much, but there isn’t any nutritional value in fortune cookies. Each fortune cookie recipe differs, but in general, a cookie has 20-30 calories, 5-7 grams of total carbohydrates and 3 grams of sugar.

Hopefully you will receive the majority of benefit from the fortunes themselves. Speaking of which . . .

6. The most prolific fortune writer quit in 2017

After 30 years on the job, Donald Lau retired from dispensing sage advice and Powerball numbers. The reason? You guessed it: writer’s block.

Now you know: fortune cookies are not a beacon of traditional Chinese culture authenticity. But, that’s where we come in. Below are three Sidewalks that will open your eyes to the wonders of a Chinatown near you. 

Opium, Hidden Temples, Dragons & Fortune Cookies_Sidewalk San Francisco

San Francisco

Sidewalk: A Walking Tour of Chinatown: Opium, Hidden Temples, Dragons & Fortune Cookies

Why? Discover the main highlights of Chinatown and the treasures found in colorful alleys, hidden stairwells and secret temple balconies. You'll also stop for snacks and dim sum, and even visit the iconic Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. After all, (7/20) is National Fortune Cookie Day!

Discover Chinatown - SF ->

The Foodie Walk of Chinatown LA_Sideawalk_Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Sidewalk: The Foodie Walk of Chinatown LA

Why? Stroll through Chinatown on a 5-stop exploration of the best eats of the neighborhood. Discover the tastiest dim sum treats, egg custard tarts, tea and more. 

Discover Chinatown - LA ->

Steamed Dumplings, Gang Wars & the Pursuit of the American Dream_Sidewalk_New York City

New York City

Sidewalk: Walking Tour of Chinatown: Steamed Dumplings, Gang Wars & the Pursuit of the American Dream

Why? Chinatown is practically its own city within Manhattan. Discover the best of the hidden alleys, delicious food, exotic markets, cultural shops and sometimes-violent history that has shaped this ever-changing neighborhood. 

Discover Chinatown - NYC ->

Jason Donahue, Co-Founder & CEO

Jason Donahue, Co-Founder & CEO

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What’s That? is a series that celebrates experiencing the different and familiar, whether it is an object, food, custom, artistic style or type of architecture. In each edition, we introduce an item and explain how to appreciate it and why it’s important. Why? Because, being cultured is cool. Ideas or requests? Let us know on our Facebook Page or in the comments section below.