A History of the Oreo Cookie

Oreo cookies
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Many people have grown up with Oreo cookies. The "twist or dunk" debate has been around for decades, with one side claiming that the chocolate sandwich cookie is best separated into two halves and eaten as such and the other side claiming that the treats are meant to be enjoyed by dunking them straight into a glass of milk. Whatever camp you are a part of, it is safe to say that most find the cookie delicious.

Oreos have become an icon of 20th-century culture. From Oreo-based dessert recipes spreading on the internet to festival favorites featuring the beloved cookie, it is clear that the world has a soft spot for this famous snack, and the cookie has only grown in popularity since it was invented in 1912, propelling it to the rank of best-selling cookie in the United States.

Oreos Are Introduced

In 1898, several baking companies merged to form the National Biscuit Company, also called Nabisco. This was the beginning of the corporation that would create the Oreo cookie. In 1902, Nabisco rolled out Barnum's Animal Crackers for the first time, making them famous by selling them in a little box designed like a circus animal cage that featured an attached string so that the box could be hung on Christmas trees.

In 1912, Nabisco had an idea for a new cookie, though it wasn't exactly its own—two chocolate disks with a creme filling in between had been done already by the Sunshine Biscuits company in 1908, which called the cookie Hydrox. While Nabisco has never named Hydrox as its inspiration, the Oreo cookie invented four years after the world was introduced to Hydrox closely resembled the biscuit that preceded it: two decorated chocolate discs with white creme sandwiched between them.

Despite its potentially suspicious origination, the Oreo made a name for itself and quickly surpassed the popularity of its competitor. Nabisco made sure to file for a trademark on the new cookie soon after its creation on March 14, 1912. The request was granted on August 12, 1913.

The Mysterious Name

When the cookie was first introduced in 1912, it appeared as an Oreo Biscuit, which changed in 1921 to an Oreo Sandwich. There was another name change in 1937 to Oreo Creme Sandwich before the company settled on the name that was decided upon in 1974: Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookie. Despite the roller coaster of official name changes, most people have always referred to the cookie simply as an "Oreo."

So where did the "Oreo" part even come from? The people at Nabisco aren't quite sure anymore. Some believe that the cookie's name was taken from the French word for gold, or (the main color on early Oreo packaging).

Others claim the name stemmed from the hill-shaped test version that never even made it to store shelves, inspiring the cookie prototype to be named the Greek word for mountain, oreo.

Some speculate that the name is a combination of taking the "re" from "cream" and sandwiching it, just like the cookie, between the two "o"s in "chocolate"—making "o-re-o."

Still others offer the bare explanation that the cookie was named Oreo because it was short, fun, and easy to pronounce.

Though the true naming process may never be revealed, that has not affected Oreo sales. As of 2019, it was estimated that 450 billion Oreo cookies have been sold since 1912, planting it firmly at the top of cookie sales and winning over the hearts of millions.

Changes to the Oreo

The original recipe and signature look of the Oreo has not changed much, but Nabisco has been pumping out limited new looks and flavors for years, right beside the classic. The company started selling various versions of the cookie as its popularity grew. In 1975, Nabisco released its celebrated Double Stuf Oreos. A few of the other most welcomed varieties and themes created over the years include:

1987: Fudge covered Oreos introduced

1991: Halloween Oreos introduced

1995: Christmas Oreos introduced

Through ambitious new flavors of the cookie, the design of the chocolate discs has been a constant, outside of color changes. The wafer design that has stuck around for the longest and was brought into existence in 1952 has remained much the same since then.

As far as the recipe of the Oreo goes, the delicious filling that has contributed to the success of the cookie has evolved very little. It was created by Nabisco's "principal scientist" Sam Porcello, who is often referred to as "Mr. Oreo." His recipe for the classic creme has been only slightly altered since 1912, outside of primarily limited-edition flavors.

Nabisco and the world agree that the Oreo recipe and design are far from broken, so there is no need to fix them. Oreos are well-loved just as they are and are sure to be around for many years to come.