Fortune Cookies - Everything You Need to Know

Read about the origins, traditions, and meanings behind the fortune cookies, in this light-hearted guide to their history and context.

From their humble beginnings to their widespread popularity today, this comprehensive guide homemade fortune cookies will shed light on the secrets hidden within the iconic folded cookie.

Browse all savoury biscuits and crackers here or read more about Chinese food and recipes.


Introduction to Fortune Cookies

History and Origin of Fortune Cookies

There are many different folklore tales of where fortune cookies first originated. Some more credible than others...

Despite their widespread association with Chinese cuisine, fortune cookies are often misidentified as a traditional Chinese delicacy, when in fact, they are a product of American innovation.

Immigrant communities in California are sometimes linked with the invention of these whimsical treats. Some tales suggest that Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese gentleman who designed the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco, was the first to serve fortune cookies in the 1890s.

Others attribute their creation to David Jung, a Chinese immigrant and founder of the Hong Kong Noodle Company in Los Angeles, who reportedly started producing fortune cookies around 1918 to cheer up dispirited passers-by.

Regardless of their true origin, it's clear that the popularity of fortune cookies has soared, becoming a staple end to meals in Chinese restaurants across the Western world.

The cookies themselves have become a symbol of good luck and future prosperity, embraced by many cultures around the globe.

Fortune Cookies: A Misunderstood Delicacy

In China, these cookies are virtually unknown, and it wasn't until the 20th century that they made their way to Hong Kong and mainland China, primarily for tourists. The confusion likely stems from their presence in

Chinese restaurants outside of China, creating a culinary myth of ancient Chinese origin. But the reality is they were crafted from a blend of American ingenuity and the entrepreneurial spirit of immigrant communities.

The Making of Fortune Cookies

Ingredients and Preparation

The making of fortune cookies is both an art and a science, requiring a delicate balance of simple ingredients and precise timing.

The basic components include flour, sugar, water, and vegetable oil, which form the cookie's crisp and light texture. Some recipes also call for a small amount of almond or vanilla extract to enhance flavour.

The batter is mixed until smooth and then spooned in small amounts onto a baking sheet. The key to their unique shape is to fold the cookies while they're still warm; it's a race against time as they harden quickly once removed from the oven.

Slips of paper with fortunes are placed in the centre of the cookie, which is then folded in half and pulled over the rim of a cup or mould to create the characteristic shape. Mastery in this process is essential to produce the perfect cookie that encapsulates the anticipation of a hidden message.

The Art of Folding and Inserting Fortunes

The distinctive fold of fortune cookies is an art form that requires both precision and speed. After the round, flat cookie is baked, it must be quickly removed from the oven and the fortune slip placed in the middle while the cookie is still pliable.

The cookie is then folded in half, creating a semi-circle with the fortune nestled inside. To achieve the classic shape, the semi-circle is bent at the edges over a rim or a rod while the cookie is still warm and malleable.

This process must be completed rapidly, as the cookie will harden within seconds of being exposed to air. The correct folding technique ensures that the fortune is secured within the cookie, waiting to be discovered by the recipient.

It's this unique combination of crunchy texture, shape, and an element of surprise that makes fortune cookies a special treat beyond their simple ingredients.

The Message Inside Fortune Cookies

The Art of Writing Fortunes

Writing the fortunes found inside these celebrated cookies is a creative process that blends optimism, tradition, and sometimes a touch of humour.

The messages typically offer words of wisdom, predictions about the future, or general life affirmations that can apply to a broad audience.

Crafting these fortunes requires a keen understanding of the cultural and emotional impact they can have.

It's an exercise in brevity and positivity; the messages must be short enough to fit on a small piece of paper, yet meaningful enough to resonate with the person who receives it.

Some fortunes also include a set of "lucky numbers," often used by recipients in lotteries or as personal lucky charms. T

he goal is to leave the reader with a sense of hope, curiosity, and a small moment of joy, making the experience of receiving a fortune cookie memorable and delightful.

Most Intriguing Fortune Messages

Over time, some fortune cookie messages have stood out for their uniqueness, wit, or uncanny relevance to the recipient's life.

These intriguing fortunes often find their way into people's memories, social media feeds, and even into popular culture.

A classic message might prompt self-reflection, such as "The journey is the reward," while others might offer more direct advice like "Avoid taking unnecessary gambles". Or perhaps "Lucky numbers: 12, 15, 23, 28, 37."

Some fortunes are known for their humorous undertones, leaving the reader with a chuckle: "You will eat something sweet soon"

Fortune Cookies around the World

Fortune Cookies in British Culture

British adaptations of fortune cookies can sometimes be found with a local twist in the messages, incorporating British humour, colloquialisms, or references to UK popular culture.

They are increasingly making appearances at weddings and corporate events as a quirky way of offering guests a unique keepsake or conversation starter.

While they may not hold any significant cultural importance in the UK, fortune cookies serve as a delightful bridge between cultures, symbolising the British penchant for embracing and enjoying diverse culinary experiences.

Adaptations and Innovations

As fortune cookies have spread around the world, they have inspired a range of adaptations and recipe innovations.

These variations reflect local tastes and cultural influences. For instance, some fortune cookies now come dipped in chocolate or sprinkles, while others might be giant-sized for a more impactful gift.

Flavour innovations include matcha, strawberry, and even pumpkin spice, catering to diverse palates and seasonal trends.

Custom fortune cookies have also become popular, where individuals and companies can create their own messages, whether for marketing purposes, personal declarations, or unique event souvenirs.

There are now gluten-free and vegan options, making them accessible to a wider audience.

A sign of their cultural penetration is their use in art installations and as the focus of social media campaigns, showing that the simple fortune cookie remains a canvas for creativity and a vessel for messages that resonate across borders.

The Future of Fortune Cookies

Modern Takes on Fortune Cookies

In the digital age, fortune cookies are experiencing a renaissance, with modern takes that reimagine their potential. Digital fortune cookies, for instance, deliver virtual messages through apps and websites, blending tradition with technology.

These digital versions can be personalised and shared, making them a perfect fit for the social media-driven culture.

Innovative businesses are also using fortune cookies as branding tools, embedding their marketing messages within the fortunes to engage customers in a unique way.

Additionally, there are interactive fortune cookies that invite recipients to partake in online experiences or visit specific web pages. 

Fortune Cookies and Digital Transformation

The digital transformation has not left fortune cookies untouched. In an era where connectivity is paramount, these traditional treats have found a new life online. Digital fortune cookies allow users to "crack" open a virtual cookie with a click, revealing a message that can be just as poignant or humorous as their physical counterparts.

This format offers endless opportunities for customization, where users can generate fortunes based on their interests or current events.

Moreover, social media has embraced the concept, with platforms offering personalised fortune cookies and cookie features that tie in with festival celebrations or daily horoscopes.



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