Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Oreo Problem

My daughter and I were eating Oreos in the park. It was the end of a picnic which had previously featured cheese-and-lettuce sandwiches, and water. A utilitarian sort of picnic.

"What is this, Mom?" my daughter asked, investigating her Oreo's inner substance. She had the two black halves pulled apart, and was scraping at the white center, as children, for some reason, do. I did too.

"Is it ice cream or frosting?"

This question required an uncomfortable pause for thought. It certainly wasn't ice cream. But, could you call it frosting, really? It was, you know, cream.

But not the kind of cream that comes from a cow. Oreo cream. Pressed to define this, I could only suppose it consisted largely of shortening (trans-fats!) and sweeteners (HFCS!). Fact is, I really didn't know what it was. My daughter seemed bemused by my hesitation.

Q: What is "Oreo cream" made of?

A: A mix of canola oil and palm oil-- not trans-fats since 2005 (see here for a long article on the history of Oreo filling fats!); sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup (both are somewhere in the Oreo); soy lecithin; vanillin. I think. This is a work of deduction. So, yes. Sweet shortening, though they've over time dumped both a) lard and b) hydrogenated oils. Not just out of the goodness of their hearts, to be sure.

If you would like to read a spirited defense, from the 2005 era, of the use of trans-fats in Oreo cookies-- in fact a threat to boycott if the company does not continue to use trans-fats-- you can read this freerepublic post. WTF. Moving on.

One more thing:
"Even lab rats had a ravenous taste for Oreos in a late 1980s experiment Levine ran at the University of Minnesota. They poked the cookies, sniffed them, ate them to excess. Many even tore apart the two dark wafers and licked away the creamy filling."
The real question, of course, remains: should I be sitting in the park eating something whose fundamental substance is a mystery to me, whose origin lies well beyond my conscious awareness? While I can think, with some effort, about what an Oreo might be made of, and research the matter further, it is so far from a recognizable product of nature that I am momentarily stumped by the natural curiosity of a child.

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