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Fortune cookies are not a Chinese custom. They were invented in the early 1900s in San Francisco

Goran Blazeski

More than 3 billion fortune cookies are made each year, most of them in the United States. They are usually served in Chinese-American restaurants after a meal is completed. Fortune cookies are now popular everywhere around the globe. They are served in Chinese restaurants almost everywhere in the world except for China, which is quite strange.

Fortune cookies are usually made from flour, sugar, vanilla, eggs and sesame oil. They contain a piece of paper inside on which is written aphorism or a vague prophecy.

In 2004 in Brazil many people traced their winning lottery numbers from fortune cookies made by a Chinese restaurant chain called Chinatown.

Fortune cookie. Photo Credit

Fortune cookie. Photo Credit

Since fortune cookies are not known in the Chinese food culture, we must ask ourselves, where they were invented? The exact origin of the fortune cookie is unknown. Some claim that fortune cookies have origins from Japan. A similar pastry was served in teahouses in Japan in the 1800’s.

Modern day fortune cookies first appeared in California in the early 1900’s and most of the sources credit either Makoto Hagiwara or David Jung.

Makoto Hagiwara was the first person in the US to have served the modern fortune cookie in the 1890s at the Golden Gate Park’s Japanese Tea Gardening San Francisco, but the fortune cookies were made by a San Francisco bakery, Benkyodo. He started distributing the cookies with “thank you” notes in them.

An opened fortune cookie. Photo Credit

An opened fortune cookie. Photo Credit

On the other hand, David Jung, the founder of the Hong Kong Noodle Company in Los Angeles, claims that he invented the cookie in 1918. He claims that he invented the cookie in order to uplift the spirits of the poor and homeless. As it’s said he gave the cookies for free in 1918 and they contained a strip of paper with an inspirational Bible passage printed on it.

At first fortune cookies were made using chopsticks. In 1960, the owner of the Lotus Fortune Cookie Company in San Francisco, Edward Louie, invented a machine that automatically places the fortune inside the 3-inch wafer and folds it.

Unusual non-positive aphorism found in a fortune cookie. Photo Credit

Unusual non-positive aphorism found in a fortune cookie. Photo Credit

In 1983, a federal judge ruled in a mock trial of San Francisco’s Court of Historical Review that the fortune cookie was in fact invented in San Francisco.

Fortune cookies became popular in America during World War II. Chinese restaurants served them as a dessert, but they were not popular as a dessert in Chinese traditional cuisine.

By 1960, fortune cookies had become such a mainstay of American culture that they were used in two presidential campaigns: Adlai Stevenson’s and Stuart Symington’s.

The largest fortune cookie manufacturer produces 4.5 million fortune cookies a day and is located in the United States.