Fortune cookies were first made in Kyoto, Japan, but are now served with most dishes in Asian cuisine.
These crips and sugary cookies usually come with a piece of paper inside, also called a “fortune”, which contains a vague prophecy. Interestingly, fortune cookies are quite common in Chinese restaurants in the United States, but they’re not as popular in China.
Out of the 3 billion fortune cookies made each year around the world, the majority of them are used for consumption in the United States.
Among the different brands of fortune cookies I’ve found, the majority of them are suitable for vegans, but you still have to be careful because some brands may include egg whites. If you’re having fortune cookies in a restaurant, ask the staff if they have no animal ingredients before ordering.
Let’s take a closer at fortune cookies and how they’re made, and let’s also see what are the common ingredients manufacturers use to make them.
How Are Fortune Cookies Made?
Most fortune cookies are made with plant-based ingredients.
Namely — sugar, flour, vanilla, and sesame seed oil. While not introduced in the dough, a piece of paper is later added with a proverb, insight, or vague prediction.
While still warm, the cookies are folded around small strips of paper with a “fortuned” printed on them. The cooling process then makes the fortune cookie hard, so the only way of taking out the paper is by actually cracking the cookie.
There is a science to manufacturing fortune cookies. In fact, here is a step-by-step video on how fortune cookies are made. Courtesy of Discovery UK:
Ingredients in Fortune Cookies
Out of all the fortune cookies sold online, most of them contained the following ingredients:
I’ve taken the list of ingredients above from a listing on Amazon, and while there are no animal-based ingredients, there are a few questionable ingredients.
These ingredients are — refined sugar, natural & artificial flavors, and the colors yellow #5 and #6.
Questionable Ingredients in Fortune Cookies
There are strong ethical reasons that lead stricter vegans to avoid any of the questionable ingredients I’ve mentioned above.
While the ingredients are plant-based or artificially-made, there’s a link to animal suffering.
If you’re a brand-new vegan, this may come as a surprise, but there is a chance sugar may be filtered with an animal-based product called bone char.
Sugar and Bone Char
Typically, sugar comes from two plant-based sources: sugarcanes and beets.
They both taste the same, have a similar texture, and they’re used in equal amounts in the United States. However, their refining processes are different.
Beet sugar is extracted using a diffuser and mixed with vegan-friendly additives to crystallize. On the other hand, cane sugar is processed, filtered, and bleached with bone char.
What is bone char?
Bone char, also known as natural carbon, is used by the sugar industry as a decolorizing filter, which is what gives sugar its immaculate, white color.
Unfortunately, bone char is obtained by heating the bones of cattle at high temperatures. When carbonized, the bones are reduced to a porous, black, granular material, which is quite similar to regular charcoal.
Not all companies use bone char
Yes, not all companies use bone char.
Some companies rely on other types of filters such as granular carbon or an ion-exchange system.
While that is true, there isn’t a distinction on labels that allow vegans to make a buying decision based on the type of sugar used on a product.
The only thing you can do right now is contact companies and ask them directly about it.
If most companies are like Oreos or Ghirardelli, they are pretty transparent about the type of sugar they use, but you will also feel disappointed by knowing that they source from sugar suppliers that follow different methods. So, yes, it’s hard to trace the sugar back to its refining process.
Natural & Artificial Flavors
On some of the labels in fortune cookies, I found the words “natural & artificial flavors”.
However, they’re different, so let’s make that distinction.
According to the FDA, here is the definition of “natural flavors”:
Also, their definition of “artificial flavors” is:
In other words, while natural flavors may include both plant-based and animal-based derivatives, artificial flavors are synthetically made.
This means two things:
- It’s wrong to assume that every natural flavor is vegan. In fact, one ingredient that is seen often in natural flavors is castoreum, a substance extracted from beavers. This substance is often used to create vanilla flavorings.
- Because artificial flavors are synthetically made and some pose health-problems, they need to be regulated by the FDA, which usually means that animals are used in rigorous testing before a substance is deemed as being safe for consumption.
Therefore, yes, not all vegans are okay with consuming natural & artificial flavors, especially when they’re not as explicit as they should be.
If you saw the earlier video, you saw a sack of food coloring being dumped on the mixing machine. Well, as you know, one of the biggest issues with artificial colors is animal testing.
While most vegans don’t avoid artificial colors in foods, stricter vegans are heavily against them, so foods that contain artificial colors are a no-go.
However, while I admit I’m not a stricter vegan, I also don’t agree with animal testing, even though it may be a necessary evil to ensure a lot of the things we buy are safe for consumption.
This being said, I wasn’t aware that artificial colors required periodic testing.
This shows us that artificial colors have a negative health component that requires prolonged vigilance, which unfortunately requires animal testing.
So, yes, if you’re a stricter vegan, you may probably want to avoid fortune cookies.
Commercial Vegan Fortune Cookies
Now that we know what we can expect from fortune cookies, allow me to share with you some options I’ve found online. Feel free to check them out if you will.
Golden Bowl Fortune Cookies
The Golden Bowl fortune cookies are sold on Amazon, and according to the listing, these are 100% vegan, nut and dairy-free.
They come in a plastic bag with 100 individually wrapped fortune cookies, which is a shame because that’s a lot of plastic, to be quite honest.
Twin Dragon Fortune Cookies
While these are not on Amazon.com, they’re available on Amazon.co.uk. Although it doesn’t come in a plastic sack, the fortune cookies are also individually wrapped in plastic.
Here is the list of ingredients: Enriched wheat flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine, mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), sugar, water, canola oil, vanilla, flavor, salt, and baking soda.
Again, if you’re a stricter vegan, this one may not be one that you end up buying.
Silk Road Fortune Cookies
The ingredients in these fortune cookies include: Wheat flour, (calcium carbonate, iron, nicotinamide, thiamine), sugar, soya lecithin, dried glucose powder, raising agent: E500, color: riboflavin, vanilla flavoring, rapeseed oil, antioxidant: E304, and E306, emulsifier: E322, and sunflower oil.
In addition to sugar, you can also find vanilla flavoring, which may or may not be vegan. As we’ve mentioned earlier, there’s a chance vanilla flavoring may be created using a substance extracted from beavers, so always keep an eye for that.
Also, this one includes soya lecithin, so if you’re soy-intolerant, this is certainly not for you.
There are more options out there (especially in local supermarkets), but these are the only legitimate options I found online.
Summary: Most Fortune Cookies Are Vegan.
Yes, most fortune cookies are suitable for vegans. However, if you’re a strict vegan and want to be clear of questionable ingredients such as refined sugar, natural or artificial flavors, and added colors, fortune cookies may not be a good option for you.
Also, one thing you should keep in mind is that if you’re in a restaurant, you should ask the staff to confirm whether their fortunate cookies are vegan because they may contain egg whites or milk.
If you’re buying fortune cookies at Walmart, then I’d say most of them are suitable for vegans, but still check the ingredients before you purchase.