The Oreo is the single most popular commercially-made cookie in the world. Oreos are widely eaten by both kids and adults alike, and it's nearly impossible to imagine modern life without them. These tasty sandwich cookies have been around for nearly 100 years. With 7.5 billion Oreo cookies eaten around the world each year, Kraft Foods reports, they show no signs of losing their popularity.
The Oreo was invented in 1912 by the National Biscuit Company, better known as Nabisco. Nabisco was formed in 1898 from several smaller biscuit makers. The cookies were originally called Oreo Biscuits, and the name was changed to the Oreo Sandwich in 1921. It was changed again in 1948 to the Oreo Crème Sandwich. The cookie has been officially known as the Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookie since 1974. The cookie itself hasn't changed much aside from some design differences.
What Does "Oreo" Mean?
Nobody really knows where Oreos got their name. It may have come from the Greek root word for "appetizing." It may also refer to the Greek word "oros," meaning "mountain" or "hill"; the original cookies were mound shaped. The name may have been derived from the French word for gold -- "or" -- as early Oreo packaging was gold-colored. Yet another theory is that the "-re" from "cream" was sandwiched between the two "o's" in "cookie," creating the famous name. Another possibility is that somebody decided the random collection of syllables sounded good together.
Lemon Meringue Oreos
When Oreos were introduced in 1912, they came in two cream flavors. One version had the familiar white cream sandwiched between two chocolate cookies. The other was similar, except it had a lemon meringue filling. Both cookies could be bought in the United States for 25 cents a pound in cans with glass tops that allowed people to see the cookies. The cream-flavored cookies were by far the more popular flavor of the two varieties, and the lemon meringue Oreos were discontinued by Nabisco in the 1920s.
Oreos in China
Although Oreos are popular worldwide, they weren't introduced to the People's Republic of China until 1996. They sold relatively slowly in that country, but they gradually became more popular. In 2006, Oreos became the best-selling cookie in China after the recipe was altered to have a lower sugar content to suit local tastes. The American practice of dunking cookies in glasses of milk wasn't well-known in China, so Nabisco began a grassroots campaign to educate the Chinese about the classic pairing of Oreos with milk. The popularity of Oreos has been climbing gradually thanks to the introduction of different varieties, such as cookies with strawberry-flavored cream and the use of chocolate wafers for the sandwiches instead of traditional cookies.