The Surprising Origins of the Fortune Cookie

The Surprising Origins of the Fortune Cookie

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Where did fortune cookies come from—and how did they become so ubiquitous?

It’s customary in many restaurants for diners to receive a small treat with their check: mints, hard candy, sometimes even chocolate. But at many Chinese restaurants around the United States, patrons get something a little different: a Pac-Man shaped, vanilla-flavored cookie containing a finger-sized slip of paper printed with a pithy fortune or aphorism.

While many Americans associate these fortune cookies with Chinese restaurants—and by extension, Chinese culture—they are actually more readily traceable to 19th-century Japan and 20th-century America.

From Kyoto to California

As far back as the 1870s, some confectionary shops near Kyoto, Japan carried a cracker with the same folded shape and a fortune tucked into the bend, instead of its hollow inside. It’s called the “tsujiura senbei,” or “fortune cracker,” according to Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, which recounts the history of the cookie.

The Japanese cracker, Lee wrote, was larger and darker, made with sesame and miso instead of the vanilla and butter used to flavor fortune cookies found in modern Chinese restaurants in America. Lee cited Japanese researcher Yasuko Nakamachi, who said she found these cookies at a generations-old family bakery near a popular Shinto shrine just outside of Kyoto in the late 1990s. Nakamachi also uncovered storybooks from 1878 with illustrations of an apprentice who worked in a senbei store making the tsujiura senbei, along with other kinds of crackers.

Lee says the fortune cookie likely arrived in the United States along with Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaii and California between the 1880s and early 1900s, after the Chinese Exclusion Act’s expulsion of Chinese workers left a demand for cheap labor. Japanese bakers set up shop in places such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, making miso and sesame-flavored “fortune cookie-ish” crackers, among other treats.

One of the most oft-repeated origin stories of the American fortune cookie cites the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park as the first known U.S. restaurant to serve the treat. The Tea Garden sourced their cookies from a local bakery called Benkyodo, which claims to have pioneered the vanilla and butter flavoring, and to have invented a machine sometime around 1911 to mass produce the cookies. But, says Lee, several other sources have also claimed to invent the cookie around the same time, including three Los Angeles-based immigrant-run businesses: Fugetsu-Do confectionary in the city’s Little Tokyo, Japanese snack manufacturer Umeya and the Hong Kong Noodle Company.

READ MORE: History of San Francisco's Chinatown

Japanese Internment Causes a Shift

WATCH: How Japanese Americans Were Forced Into Concentration Camps During WWII

How did fortune cookies migrate from Japanese bakeries to Chinese restaurants? American food preferences likely played a part.

Japanese emigres to the U.S. around the turn of the 20th century couldn’t open Japanese restaurants, says Lee, because Americans didn’t want to eat raw fish. “So in many cases, they actually opened Chinese restaurants because they were kind of going through a big renaissance with chop suey, chow mein, egg foo young.” And Americans' expectation for dessert at the end of meals, says Lee, may explain why many of these restaurants began to offer fortune cookies with the check.

But the fortune cookie, once produced by Japanese Americans, eventually wound up in the hands of Chinese American manufacturers during World War II. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 and President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the relocation and internment of Japanese Americans through his Executive Order 9066, Japanese American businesses began to close, including the bakeries that once made fortune cookies. That gave Chinese American entrepreneurs an opening to produce and sell them.

More than 100 years later, fortune cookies remain a massive business. New York-based Wonton Food, the largest fortune-cookie producer, manufactures more than 4 million of them daily, with an estimated 3 billion cookies produced annually, wrote Lee.

READ MORE: Building the Transcontinental Railroad: How 20,000 Chinese Americans Made it Happen

Fortune Cookie Controversy

As fortune cookies became a staple in Chinese restaurants, they also became fodder for ethnic stereotyping.

Despite having historic roots in Japan and growing into a uniquely American business success story, the cookies became an easy shorthand for all things Chinese—along with other reductive and sometimes disparaging pop-culture stereotypes like squinty eyes, heavy accents and being good at math. In 2012 for example, MSG Network aired a fan sign of the New York Knick’s Taiwanese American basketball sensation Jeremy Lin, overlaying his face above a broken fortune cookie. The same year, ice cream makers Ben & Jerry’s briefly offered a “Taste the Lin-sanity”-themed frozen yogurt, complete with broken fortune cookies, before an outcry forced them to publicly apologize and remove the cookies from the recipe.

Using things like fortune cookies and takeout boxes as shorthands for Chinese culture is misleading, says Lee, given that they’re distinctly American inventions—and the global reach of American culture helps to perpetuate those stereotypes around the world. But despite misconceptions about its true origins and its misuse as a symbol of Chinese heritage, the fortune cookie still carries powerful resonance throughout American culture.

“You have the number of people who have been engaged through fortune cookies, you have fortune cookie little baby booties, fortune cookie jewelry,” says Lee. “It really speaks to Americans in a very profound way.”

READ MORE: The 8-Year-Old Chinese American Girl Who Helped Desegregate Schools—in 1885

The intriguing history of the fortune cookie

Perhaps one of the most important, if not the most fun part of a meal at a Chinese restaurant is the fortune cookie at the end. Open it up, and you get to see whether or not great things are coming your way or what types of things you should refrain from doing. There is even the story of someone winning the lottery by using a fortune cookie’s lucky numbers. And of course, who can forget the awesome “learn Chinese” cookies which have interesting and useful Chinese words and phrases on them.

But where do they come from? And why do we eat them? Well, then answer may shock you.

The Snack That’s All Over the Map!

Few people question the origin of fortune cookies – after all, they’re omnipresent in Chinese restaurants the world over – or almost. One Japanese researcher began questioning the origin of the curious cookie that she’d sampled in Chinese restaurants all over New York, but had never come across in China. However, it was only back in Japan when she found a snack with an identical shape and paper insert at a restaurant in Kyoto that she really started digging. Yasuko Nakamachi’s subsequent research turned up solid evidence that the fortune cookie is actually a Japanese creation.

The Japanese snack is more of a cracker than a cookie, flavored with sesame and miso, and has remained a bit of a niche item in Japan. Its closest relative, however, exploded in popularity and became widely associated with Chinese-American culture. This began when Japanese immigrants in California started opening restaurants serving Americanized Chinese food, as they deemed it an easier sell than traditional Japanese cuisine. It seems it was there that the fortune cookie crossed over to the Chinese menu. After World War II, soldiers returning home from fighting in the Pacific would request fortune cookies at their local Chinese restaurant, and the restaurant owners were happy to oblige. The rest, as they say, is history. You can read the whole story here.

Unwrapping the California Origins of the Fortune Cookie

What comes with the check at almost every Chinese restaurant? Fortune cookies. Like orange slices after a blood draw or apples at San Francisco's Fillmore, they're a given. But how did they come to be? Are they really Chinese? And if so, why do they serve them at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park?

Tea cookies and green tea served at the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. (Suzie Racho/KQED)

On a chilly morning, I meet Steven Pitsenbarger at the front gate of the Tea Garden. He's a gardener here and a bit of a historian.

"I think a lot of people put the Japanese Tea Garden in the same box as Alcatraz or Fisherman's Wharf," Pitsenbarger says. "But we are really a gem that's for San Francisco &mdash just as much as it's for the tourists."

He tells me the garden was originally an exhibit in the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894, then tended by a landscape architect named Makoto Hagiwara.

"He was an early immigrant from Japan," says Pitsenbarger. "He came a decade before most Japanese immigrants came. A lot of folks came in the late 1880s and 1890s. But he came in 1878."

Hagiwara started serving visitors fortune cookies along with green tea in the garden&rsquos tea house.

Makoto Hagiwara and his daughter in 1924. (San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)

"The story that I understand is he took a Japanese cookie, senbei, and he got the idea to put a little note in it, and originally started making the cookies by hand here with just a little flat press," says Pitsenbarger. "They would fold the cookies while they were still fresh.&rdquo

Wow. So this could be the birthplace of the fortune cookie?

I didn't see anything that marked this historical culinary invention until we went to the gift shop. Mounted to the top of a display case are two small black iron presses with long, thin handles.

They're called kata, and are used to make senbei or Japanese crackers. Inside they're engraved with an H and an M &mdash inverted they would appear on the cookies as MH for Makoto Hagiwara.

"If you came to the garden while he was managing it, everything had his name on it. Napkins would say M. Hagiwara. There would be pots in the garden with M. Hagiwara . tea pots, tea cups. His name was everywhere, and the fortune cookie is one of those things that helped to spread his popularity," Pitsenbarger says.

And make the cookies popular, too. But since each fortune cookie was being made by hand, demand became too much for the Hagiwara family. Makoto asked a local confectionary shop, Benkyodo, to take over making the cookies.

Benkyodo on San Francisco's Geary Boulevard in 1906. (Photo Courtesy: Gary T. Ono)

Suyeichi Okamura opened Benkyodo in 1906 and after a few moves, it's located today at Sutter and Buchanan in San Francisco's Japantown. His grandson, Gary T. Ono, is the family's historian and has written articles about his family's connection to the fortune cookie.

Gary T. Ono's grandfather, Suyeichi Okamura, opened Benkyodo in 1906. (Photo Courtesy: Gary T. Ono)

I went to visit Ono in Los Angeles, in his apartment in Little Tokyo. A giant foam fortune cookie hangs in the living room, and the fortune poking out of it reads: &ldquoMade In Japan.&rdquo

Ono drags out a heavy suitcase from a closet and pulls out several kata wrapped in newspaper. They sport the familiar initials: MH.

"My grandfather was a service person to Makoto Hagiwara," Ono says. "And advised Hagiwara in converting the taste (of the fortune cookie) to something more palatable to American tastes. So they came up with a vanilla extract flavor that we know today."

This flat-iron press, called a kata, was originally used to make fortune cookies for the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. The initials MH stand for creator Makoto Hagiwara. (Suzie Racho/KQED)

He says Benkyodo helped develop a machine to mass produce the cookies for the garden, sometime around 1911.

Gary T. Ono holds two kata from his grandfather's bakery, Benkyodo. (Suzie Racho/KQED)

But Ono isn&rsquot the only one to make family claims to the origins of the fortune cookie: A few Chinese companies have also claimed the invention, as has another Japanese sweet-maker in Los Angeles called Fugetsu-Do.

Brian Kito owns Fugetsu-Do, just down the street from Gary Ono in Los Angeles. Brian&rsquos grandfather opened Fugetsu-Do in 1903, three years before Benkyodo opened in San Francisco. And Gary says Brian heard similar stories about his grandfather creating the fortune cookie.

"We were never confrontational about it or argumentative. We didn't know precisely that our grandparents did this or did that," Ono says. "[Brian] even said, 'Well, if it wasn't my grandfather, I hope it's your grandfather.'"

Author Jennifer 8. Lee says you can probably trace the history of fortune cookies in America back to L.A. and San Francisco. But as a concept, they go back to Japan.

"And in Japan they're called tsujiura senbei or bell crackers," says Lee, who traced the history of the American fortune cookie in her book, &ldquoThe Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures In the World of Chinese Food.&rdquo

Lee writes about Yasuko Nakamachi, a Japanese researcher whom she met through Gary Ono. Nakamachi was investigating the connection between the fortune cookies she saw in New York with a cracker made in Kyoto. She unearthed a copy of a woodblock print from 1878 of a Japanese man grilling fortune cookies.

This Japanese woodblock print showing fortune cookies being grilled dates back to 1878. (Photo Courtesy Gary Ono)

"Around the shrine in downtown Kyoto, there are actually a bunch of families that still make 'fortune cookies' in the Japanese tradition," says Lee.

"But they're actually bigger and browner. They're made with miso paste and sesame, so much nuttier than the American versions, which tend to be yellow and buttery, reflecting the American palate," she adds.

Those cookies also have fortunes, but not inside. Instead they&rsquore pinched in the fold. They look almost exactly the same.

But how did this American adaptation of a Japanese cracker become so associated with Chinese restaurants?

"When the Japanese first came to the U.S., a lot of them actually ran Chinese restaurants, because back in the 1910s and 1920s Americans were not eating sushi," says Lee. "You had Japanese opening Chinese restaurants because that was familiar, with chop suey and chow mein and egg fu yung."

In this mix of Japanese families opening Chinese restaurants, they began serving fortune cookies as a form of dessert.

"Back then, they were not called fortune cookies, they were called fortune tea cakes, which is actually a better reflection of their name in Japanese," she says.

Bakeries like Benkyodo and Fugetso-Do manufactured fortune cookies for decades until 1942, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, ordering people of Japanese descent into internment camps.

Fortune cookie makers were among those interned. During World War II, Chinese restaurants surged in popularity and began manufacturing cookies "en masse," Lee says.

"I like to say that the Japanese invented them, the Chinese popularized them, but the Americans ultimately consume them," she says.

Gary Ono&rsquos family was lucky. After being released from the camps, they resumed their business in San Francisco and reclaimed their property. But others weren&rsquot: Many Japanese confectionaries stopped making the cookies after the war.

Gary Ono&rsquos family connection to the fortune cookie lives on at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, where three of Benkyodo&rsquos katas now reside.

As for the fortune cookies served at the Japanese Tea Garden? They now come from Mee Mee Bakery in San Francisco's Chinatown.

The History of the Fortune Cookie

By Borgna Brunner

Related Links

Like chop suey, fortune cookies are an American invention. They originated in California, but who the actual inventor was, and which city in California is the true home of the fortune cookie, has continued to be a matter of debate. Unequivocally not Chinese, the fortune cookie may in fact not even be Chinese American.

Chinese or Japanese, Angelino or San Franciscan?

One history of the fortune cookie claims that David Jung, a Chinese immigrant living in Los Angeles and founder of the Hong Kong Noodle Company, invented the cookie in 1918. Concerned about the poor he saw wandering near his shop, he created the cookie and passed them out free on the streets. Each cookie contained a strip of paper with an inspirational Bible scripture on it, written for Jung by a Presbyterian minister.

Another history claims that the fortune cookie was invented in San Francisco by a Japanese immigrant named Makoto Hagiwara. Hagiwara was a gardener who designed the famous Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. An anti-Japanese mayor fired him from his job around the turn of the century, but later a new mayor reinstated him. Grateful to those who had stood by him during his period of hardship, Hagiwara created a cookie in 1914 that included a thank you note inside. He passed them out at the Japanese Tea Garden, and began serving them there regularly. In 1915, they were displayed at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, San Francisco's world fair.

Judicial Activism

In 1983, San Francisco's pseudo-legal Court of Historical Review held a mock trial to determine the origins of the fortune cookie. (In the past, the Court had ruled on such pressing topics as the veracity of Mark Twain's quote, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco" and the origins of the Martini. *) To no one's surprise, the judge (a real-life federal judge from San Francisco) ruled in favor of San Francisco. Included among the evidence was a fortune cookie whose message read: "S.F. Judge who rules for L.A. Not Very Smart Cookie." Equally unsurprising, Los Angeles has denounced the ruling.

From Confucius to Smiley Faces

Fortune cookies became common in Chinese restaurants after World War II. Desserts were not traditionally part of Chinese cuisine, and the cookies thus offered Americans something familiar with an exotic flair.

Although there have been a few cases reported of individuals actually liking the texture and flavor of fortune cookies, most consider the fortune to be the essence of the cookie. Early fortunes featured Biblical sayings, or aphorisms from Confucius, Aesop, or Ben Franklin. Later, fortunes included recommended lottery numbers, smiley faces, jokes, and sage, if hackneyed, advice. Politicians have used them in campaigns, and fortunes have been customized for weddings and birthday parties. Today messages are variously cryptic, nonsensical, feel-good, hectoring, bland, or mystifying.

From Chopsticks to High Tech

Fortune cookies were originally made by hand using chopsticks. In 1964, Edward Louie of San Francisco's Lotus Fortune Cookie Company, automated the process by creating a machine that folds the dough and slips in the fortune. Today, the world's largest fortune cookie manufacturer, Wonton Food Inc. of Long Island CIty, Queens ships out 60 million cookies a month.

*After being served a Martini on the bench, the judge enthusiastically ruled that San Francisco was the home of the famous cocktail. The city of Martinez, California, appealed the ruling.

Origin of Fortune Cookies

Origins: Most folks know the game of adding “in bed” to the reading of slips retrieved from their fortune cookies (e.g., “An interesting business opportunity will soon present bed”), and some even know fortune cookies have provided winning lottery numbers (such as when a husband and wife both won a lottery by playing the numbers found in a fortune cookie, or even more remarkably

when won the second prize in a Powerball drawing thanks to a fortune cookie slip), but few know that these wafer prognosticators aren’t authentic Chinese fare. The fortune staple of Chinese cuisine in not from China, but from California.

Many different people have been asserted as the true inventor of the fortune cookie. In 1983 a mock court battle was held between the two primary claimants of this honor, one from the other from Held in a courtroom on the fourth floor of a courthouse before a federal judge, the “case” ultimately turned on one of the claimants’ producing an aged set of round black iron grills said to have been used by the family in the making of the cookies.

Fortune cookies might not even have been invented by someone Chinese: the denizen proclaimed in that 1983 mock trial as the inventor of the confection was Japanese. Makoto Hagiwara hailed from the Yamanashi region of central Honshu, and his family asserts that today’s fortune cookie is a descendent of yesterday’s senbei, a Japanese cracker that contains a slip of paper. (The other claimant in that long-ago case, David Jung, founder of the Hong Kong Noodle Company, came from Canton,

Mock trial result or not, it’s impossible to authoritatively state precisely where, when, or by whom the fortune cookie was invented. Certainly by World these predictive desserts were commonplace offerings in Chinese restaurants in and from there they fanned out to the rest of the country. Yet the details of how they came to be a staple in are still murky. Many fortune cookie origin tales are told as part of particular families’ histories, most involving an Asian immigrant introducing the cookie somewhere in California prior to World

However, what cannot be denied is fortune cookies didn’t originally come from China. Prior to the late-1980s, visitors to that land intent upon finding “real” Chinese fortune cookies came away sadly disappointed, as the confections were virtually unknown there. In 1989 an entrepreneur in Hong Kong began importing fortune cookies and selling them as luxury items in a chain of fancy delicatessens, advertising them as “Genuine American Fortune Cookies.” In 1992 Brooklyn-based Wonton Food expanded its existing fortune cookie business into China, building the very first fortune cookie factory in that land, but that project was short-lived. Said Richard Leung, the company’s vice-president: “It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it just didn’t pan out. Fortune cookies are too American.”

The Unlikely History of Fortune Cookies

It’s hard to imagine a meal at a Chinese restaurant without fortune cookies. Even though most people crack them open, yank out the fortune, and toss the cookie part back onto the table with nary a nibble, Chinese food still would not be the same without them.

I remember early on in my career, when I used to write a column about food factories in New York City, I visited Wonton Food Inc. in Long Island City, Queens, makers of Golden Bowl brand fortune cookies. I knew that they were a producer of fortune cookies, but I didn’t realize that they were the producer.

It turns out that Wonton Food is still the world’s largest manufacturer of fortune cookies. I remember being astounded by the stacks upon stacks of boxes filled with cookies, in which the fates of their future owners were sealed. Something about the randomness of the distribution of all of those messages seemed cosmic and existential. I also remember thinking, that’s a lot of cookies!

Wonton Food Corp. sells tens of millions of cookies each year all over the world, with one notable exception: When they tried to sell their fortune cookies in China in the 󈨞s, they failed. That’s because, according to Wonton Food Corp’s Richard Leung, “people in China never even heard of fortune cookies.”

Where do they come from?

That’s right — fortune cookies are not Chinese. In the book Fortune Cookie Chronicles, former New York Times journalist Jennifer 8. Lee writes an exhaustive account of her quest to pin down the true origins of the beloved fortune cookie. The soothsaying sweet has traveled a somewhat convoluted path, but she discovered that the novelty food’s origins are in … Japan.

Lee located a like-minded scholar, Yasuko Nakamachi, who had traced the predecessors of Chinese-American fortune cookies to a few bakeries outside of Kyoto, which make a type of senbei (the Japanese word for “cracker”) that look like darker, bigger fortune cookies and contain messages, too.

Those senbei have been around since at least the late 19th century and are still sold today, forged by hand using little irons. The Japanese version, which gets flavored with white miso and sesame, is on the savory side, and the message is tucked in the crease of the cookie, rather than inside of it, to prevent people from accidentally swallowing their fortunes.

How’d they get to America?

How did we get from artisan bakeries outside of Kyoto to seemingly every Chinese restaurant in the United States? There are records of Japanese bakeries in San Francisco and Los Angeles making the cookies in the early 1900s.

Some Chinese restaurateurs, who didn’t have much of a dessert menu, took a shine to them as an entertaining solution and sourced them for their restaurants. According to Lee, what started out as a regional specialty likely spread to the rest of the country when WWII veterans returning from service in the Pacific experienced fortune cookies when they touched down in California, then requested them at their local Chinese restaurants once they were back home.

How did the war change the cookie?

Amazingly, a few of the bakeries that produced some of those first American fortune cookies are still in business. Benkyodo Company, located in San Francisco’s Japantown, turns 111 this year. The confectionary was commissioned to make fortune-filled senbei, as well as other traditional snacks and sweets, for the tea house at the Japanese Tea Garden in the early 1900s. The garden, located in Golden Gate Park, was designed by Makoto Hagiwara for the 1894 World’s Fair. When the fair ended, the garden remained and Hagiwara lived there with his family and maintained the grounds, which included a tea house. They welcomed visitors with some of the first fortune cookies ever documented in this country.

It all came to an abrupt halt when Hagiwara and his family were interned in a camp in Arizona in 1942 following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The tea house was demolished. The owner of Benkyodo was also interned, and was forced to close his business temporarily.

Legendary History of the Fortune Cookie #4

During the 13th and 14th centuries, China was occupied by Mongols. The story goes that the Mongols had no taste for Lotus Nut Paste. So, the Chinese people hid sayings inscribed with the date of their revolution inside the Moon Cakes where the yolk would typically reside. Under the disguise of a Taoist priest, patriotic revolutionary Chu Yuan Chang, entered occupied walled cities to hand out Moon Cakes to other revolutionaries. These instructions coordinated the uprising that successfully allowed the Chinese people to form the basis of the Ming Dynasty.

Moon Festival became regularly celebrated. Part of that tradition was the passing out of cakes with sayings inside them.

It is thought that this legend is what inspired the Chinese 49ers working on the construction of American Railways through the Sierra Nevada to California. When Moon Festival rolled around, they did not have any traditional moon cakes. So out of necessity they improvised with hard biscuits and the Fortune Cookie was born.


These crunchy little cookies with the wise, humorous or didactic sayings. Especially in Western culture you get them commonly served in Asian restaurants after the meal. Even in the supermarkets they can be found from time to time. Once cracked, the small strip of paper discloses his aphorisms. Sometimes likewise with funny comments or predictions for the future. However, our familiar form of the fortune cookies is in most Asian territories nearly unknown. The reason is that the fortune cookies, though a Chinese tradition is imputed, are in their present form an adaptation of an old Japanese recipe by the American gastronomy.

Chinese tradition?

Due to a legend, where hidden messages has been smuggled hidden in Chinese moon cakes (yuèbing, 月饼), the origin of the fortune cookies is often seen in China.

The moon cake is traditionally served for many different occasions, whether festive, family or vocational. Up to nowadays they are a specialty of the country. The moon cake can be filled both sweet and salty, and are often aromatized with a paste containing ingredients of the lotus flower.

Between the 13th and 14th Century according to our chronology, China was occupied by the Mongols. The Chinese Resistances against the Mongol occupation had severe problems communicating with each other due to constant controls and the country's vast size.

The legend twines around this rebels, that they have used moon cakes to smuggle secret messages to coordinate the resistance in this way. The patriotic revolutionary Chu Yuan Chang is said to have disguised himself as a Taoist priest to travel through the country and distribute these moon cakes in occupied cities.

Elsewhere, similar tales can be found. However, their veracity may be doubted, as with the Chinese legend. Allegedly also in the Turkish liberation war (1919 to 1923) small messages were hidden in aliment. During the Second World War, the French resistance fighters have smuggled in a similar way messages to the Allies. At the end of the Second World War during the last weeks of the occupation the Austrians have likewise transmitted messages concealed in food.

Beyond the legends - the roots are in Japan

The true precursor of the fortune cookies is Japan, with its Omikuji and Tsujiura Senbei. Omikuji are small horoscopes, which can be purchased at temples and shrines throughout Japan. Tsujiura Senbei is a cracker, though composed of other ingredients, that corresponds in shape and preparing today's fortune cookies. In the 19th Century book „Moshiogusa Kinsei Kidan“ (Moshiogusa Strange Tales From Recent Times) is a story of Shinoda Senka, illustrated by Mosai Yoshitora, from the year 1878. It describes based on the character Kinnosuke, an assistant to a Sendai stall, how the Tsujiura Senbei was prepared and small rolled Omikuji was put into it.

The first producer of fortune cookies in America was the native Japanese Seiichi Kito, who immigrated to America in 1903 and opened a confectionery specializing in Japanese sweets as a family business in Los Angeles: The Fugetsu-Do, which is even today in the family business of the descendants.

At this time in San Francisco the native Japanese Makato Hagiwara led the Japanese Tea Garden in the Golden Gate Park, where he is said to have served these fortune cookies to tea the first time in 1909th.

However, only through the businessman David Juan, the fortune cookies became popular. Juan David, an American of Chinese descent, was the first in mass production of fortune cookies in 1918 and successfully marketed them in connection with the Chinese legend. Then in 1964 the fortune cookies in the USA were produced by machine. Finally in the early nineties the cookies were exported to China the first time, where they till then were entirely unknown and further scorned as too American.

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The fortune cookie is an indelible part of the American dining experience. Whether we’re making memories over egg rolls and spareribs, or unboxing steaming hot noodles in front of the TV on a lazy Saturday, it’s always been understood that a crispy cookie with a fortune tucked inside awaits us at the end. This ubiquitous Asian treat has even found its way into the fundraising circuit – after all, what better fundraising idea than something that brings an automatic smile to people’s faces.

The meteoric rise of the fortune cookie fundraiser has us wondering: why do we love fortune cookies so much? And why are they so popular across the world – except China?

The Snack That’s All Over the Map!

Few people question the origin of fortune cookies – after all, they’re omnipresent in Chinese restaurants the world over – or almost. One Japanese researcher began questioning the origin of the curious cookie that she’d sampled in Chinese restaurants all over New York, but had never come across in China. However, it was only back in Japan when she found a snack with an identical shape and paper insert at a restaurant in Kyoto that she really started digging. Yasuko Nakamachi’s subsequent research turned up solid evidence that the fortune cookie is actually a Japanese creation.

The Japanese snack is more of a cracker than a cookie, flavored with sesame and miso, and has remained a bit of a niche item in Japan. Its closest relative, however, exploded in popularity and became widely associated with Chinese-American culture. This began when Japanese immigrants in California started opening restaurants serving Americanized Chinese food, as they deemed it an easier sell than traditional Japanese cuisine. It seems it was there that the fortune cookie crossed over to the Chinese menu. After World War II, soldiers returning home from fighting in the Pacific would request fortune cookies at their local Chinese restaurant, and the restaurant owners were happy to oblige. The rest, as they say, is history. You can read the whole story here.

The New Look of the Modern Fortune Cookie

People are always looking for a new twist on an old classic. We’ve seen this phenomenon with Cronuts, Dippin’ Dots, and gourmet pretzels, to name a few. Fortune cookies are simply the latest to get the gourmet treatment. Their unique clamshell shape makes them perfect for dipping and decorating. And that’s exactly what some modern fortune cookie companies have done, including our Famous Gourmet Dipped Fortune Cookie Fundraiser.

Elevated with colorful candy coating and stuffed with uplifting quotes and sayings, our fortune cookie fundraiser is a creative and fun alternative to traditional candy bar fundraisers. And they’re a great way to increase your group’s fortune! Let’s take a look at how this eye-catching fundraiser works.

Crack Open Your Profit Potential!

What makes this fortune cookie fundraiser so sweet? Besides the obvious – they’re delish! – here’s a quick overview.

Watch the video: Adam Ruins Everything - Where Fortune Cookies Really Come From