Most Of The World's Fortune Cookies Come From One NYC Company

Some food traditions are so widely accepted, we don't even think about how or why they exist. Peanut butter goes with jelly. Coffee is a fitting end to a meal. Fortune cookies come with Chinese food. But why? And who makes all those pocket-shaped wafers? Better yet, who thought it would be a good idea to insert paper with written fortunes inside those pockets? Let's start with this surprising piece of information: although fortune cookies are ubiquitous in Chinese restaurants throughout the United States, they are not Chinese.

The prophetic wafers served in Chinese restaurants today are a 20th-century version of a 19th-century Japanese sesame-and-miso cookie known as tsujiura senbei (fortune cracker). In her book "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food," author Jenniifer 8 Lee posits Chinese restaurateurs in the United States adopted the tradition in the mid-1940s following President Franklin D. Roosevelt's post-Pearl Harbor order to intern citizens of Japanese heritage, effectively shutting down their businesses.

Eight decades later, the pocket-shaped wafers concealing pithy predictions and corny puns remain a staple in Chinese restaurants. And almost every single one of the 3 billion fortune cookies consumed each year are made by one company headquartered in Brooklyn, New York.

Straight from the source

Established in New York's City's Chinatown in 1973 by Chinese immigrant Ching Sun Wong, Wonton Foods Inc. today holds sway as the largest manufacturer of noodles, wrappers, and fortune cookies in the United States. Originally known as West Lake, the company changed its name to Wonton Food Inc. in 1986 when it relocated to a larger facility in Brooklyn. Wonton Food Inc. uses just four ingredients to make fortune cookies — water, sugar, flour and some food coloring. Yes, food coloring. Without it the buttery yellow-colored cookies would be white.

In addition to its operation in Brooklyn, Wonton Foods Inc. operates facilities in Houston, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee, employing more than 400 people working to churn out 4 million cookies each day. That's a whopping 1.6 billion fortune cookies a year.

Those little fortunes that bring joy to so many? Believe it or not, they are written by one person. For 30 years Wonton Food Inc.'s CFO Donald Lau scribbled bits of inspiration amassing what he estimates must be between 2,000 and 3,000 individual fortunes. In 2017, Lau passed the pen to Wonton Food Inc.'s James Wong, the company's IT expert.