After all my complaints about nutrition science, every now and then I hear about a study that just seems perfect.
Thanks to my NYU colleague Mitchell Moss for sending this account of the study: Age-old Oreo mystery solved by MIT scientists: Can the cream be evenly split between both sides?
The study (published in a physics journal, no less): On Oreology, the fracture and flow of “milk’s favorite cookie. Physics of Fluids 34, 043107 (2022); https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0085362
The mechanical experience of consumption (i.e., feel, softness, and texture) of many foods is intrinsic to their enjoyable consumption, one example being the habit of twisting a sandwich cookie to reveal the cream. Scientifically, sandwich cookies present a paradigmatic model of parallel plate rheometry in which a fluid sample, the cream, is held between two parallel plates, the wafers. When the wafers are counter-rotated, the cream deforms, flows, and ultimately fractures, leading to separation of the cookie into two pieces.
Method: Using a laboratory rheometer, we measure failure mechanics of the eponymous Oreo’s “creme” and probe the influence of rotation rate, amount of creme, and flavor on the stress–strain curve and postmortem creme distribution.
Results: The results typically show adhesive failure, in which nearly allw (95%) creme remains on one wafer after failure, and we ascribe this to the production process, as we confirm that the creme-heavy side is uniformly oriented within most of the boxes of Oreos…Failure mechanics further classify the creme texture as “mushy.”
Research iInnovations: We introduce Oreology (/ɔriːˈɒlədʒi/), from the Nabisco Oreo for “cookie” and the Greek rheo logia for “flow study,” as the study of the flow and fracture of sandwich cookies…Finally, we introduce and validate the design of an open-source, three-dimensionally printed Oreometer powered by rubber bands and coins for encouraging higher precision home studies to contribute new discoveries to this incipient field of study.
Multimedia: The study comes with a computer-redered animation demonstrating use of the Oreometer (definitely worth a look).
This computer-rendered animation shows the assembly and use of our Oreometer including inserting the Oreo cookie into the two halves of the clamping fixture, inserting this fixture into the base, and adjusting the base separation, adding “penny castles” to the wings, adding pennies, and finally observing the fractured Oreo.
The press release: MIT engineers introduce the Oreometer
In all, the team went through about 20 boxes of Oreos, including regular, Double Stuf, and Mega Stuf levels of filling, and regular, dark chocolate, and “golden” wafer flavors. Surprisingly, they found that no matter the amount of cream filling or flavor, the cream almost always separated onto one wafer.
Comment: Who are these people? I love their study. I can’t do justice to it in this brief summary. Read it. It’s clearly written, elegantly illustrated, and full of delicious tidbits about the construction of Oreos.
But I do have a question: When trans fats were required to be revealed on food labels, Oreo creme was no longer made with hydrogenated oils. I think the creme in Oreos was firmer with trans fats. I’m guessing the “mushiness” is due to higher levels of unsaturated fatty acids. I think a historian needs to get into this. Is the unfair distribution of creme collateral damage from making its fats healthier?