Fortune Cookie Origin Remains a Mystery

A carry out, delivery, or dine-in experience at a Chinese restaurant, such as Yu’s New Beijing in Glen Ellyn, would not be complete if it didn’t include some fortune cookies to crack in half and crunch on, as the secret little piece of paper reveals our fortune…

Fortune CookieThe origin of the fortune cookie, however, is not clear. What is certain is that the version of the fortune cookie we currently enjoy, stems from early 20th century California, with both Chinese and Japanese communities claiming its “invention.” One source suggests that Chinese immigrant David Jung, created the cookie, which included an inspirational scripture note, to pass out to the poor on the streets. Another source, however, credits Japanese immigrant Makoto Hagiwara, designer of the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco, who passed it on to all that helped him with the project and included a thank you note.

What Americans know as the “fortune cookie,” is not a mainstay dessert snack in China or Japan. However, both cultures claim to have deep-rooted history where fortune-type cookies played a role, and which might have served as an inspiration for the American version. In 19th century Japan, tsujiura senbei (or fortune crackers) flavored with miso and sesame , larger in size but similarly shaped, carried the fortune note in the folded edge. Prior to that, in the 14th century, the Chinese hid secret messages inside Mooncakes, to help coordinate efforts that eventually overthrew the occupying Mongol government, giving way to the Ming Dynasty.

American fortune cookies gained popularity after WWII, remaining strong for over 70 years. Whereas the fortune message varies from bakery to bakery, some bakeries specialize in baking cookies with custom messages for special occasions. Others have created gourmet fortune cookies in different colors and flavors, and even dipped in chocolate.

At Yu’s New Beijing , we will continue the Chinese-American tradition of including a fortune cookie with every meal. However, if you’re so inspired, here is a recipe for you to make some at home. Enjoy!

Yield: About 12


  • ¼ c unbleached all-purpose flower
  • 1 egg white
  • ¼ c white sure
  • 1/8 tsp vanilla extract
  • A pinch of salt


  • In strips of paper measuring approximately 3 inches by ½ inch, write or type the messages
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Butter 2 or 3 cookie sheets
  • Pour the vanilla into the egg white and mix until foamy.
  • Sift the flour into the egg white/vanilla fluff
  • Gently add the sugar and salt and carefully blend it all together
  • Knowing that you will only bake 4 cookies at the time, spoon 1 tsp each of the mix in each quadrant of the cookie sheet
  • Grab the cookie sheet from both ends and gently swirl it around so that the batter expands into 3-inch diameter circles
  • Bake for 5 minutes, until golden around the edges
  • Using a large spatula, remove them from the cookie sheet unto a wooden surface
  • Quickly lay one message inside of each circle
  • Fold over into a half circle with the message inside – Careful, as the cookies might be hot!
  • Use a utensil to bring the corners of the folded edges together, shaping the cookie as a typical fortune cookie
  • Place the fortune cookies into a muffin tin and let cool until firm
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