How do they get fortunes inside fortune cookies?

-- Nicole King, 13, Gaithersburg

The real question is how do they know which cookie you're going to pick so they get the right fortune for you in there. But we'll answer your question first.

* "You never hesitate to tackle the most difficult problems."

A fortune cookie consists of a piece of paper (the fortune) surrounded by a hard, hollow shell (the cookie). The trick is making it so the paper, with the funny saying or prediction, is readable when you crack open the cookie. A fortune smeared with grease is a bad fortune indeed.

The basic fortune cookie contains eggs, sugar, vegetable oil, cornstarch and water. Variations substitute flour or cornstarch, and may add salt or flavorings. After a quick bake in the oven, the flat, three-inch circles -- still hot -- get a special ingredient: the fortune. After the paper is placed on top, the flexible cookie is folded in the proper shape to wrap around the fortune and put on a cooling rack. When it cools, the cookie becomes hard and crunchy.

Yum. What a way to finish off a Chinese meal.

* "A little impatience will spoil great plans."

However, fortune cookies are more American than Chinese. In fact, fortune cookies were just introduced in China in recent yars.

Legend has it that messages were hidden in moon cakes during the Mongolian occupation of China more than 600 years ago. The Chinese railroad workers in the western United States in the late 1800s also may have hidden messages in food. But the first widespread use of cookies with a message was at Japanese and Chinese restaurants in 1910s California.

The largest manufacturer of fortune cookies is in Queens, New York. The Wonton Food Company produces more than 2.5 million cookies a day and is said to use more than 4,000 different messages, including some written in Spanish.

Most people will find either something useful in their cookies or something so wrong it's funny. Don't like that fortune? Try another. Or make up your own.

* "You will become famous when your name appears in KidsPost."

-- Scott Moore

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