As part of a study seemingly designed to drive business to their dentists and dietitians, MIT researchers twisted apart over 1,000 Oreo cookies in an effort to find the perfect filling-cookie split. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Oreo's own vice president, Michelle Deignan, says there's no way to separate halves of the sandwich cookie and get an equal division of chocolate cookie and cream filling. MIT mechanical engineering PhD candidate Crystal Owens, who tells the WSJ she has "always been annoyed" at having "to twist them apart and then push creme from one side onto the other," decided this was a challenge worth taking. The result was a study published in the Physics of Fluids, "On Oreology, the fracture and flow of 'milk's favorite cookie®.'"
While the research may seem like a silly yet tasty way to use a respected institution's resources, it was a legitimate experiment in rheology—the study of how things flow or move, especially when they're thick or gooey. It is particularly relevant to cooking, and scientists use rheology to learn more about how foods change when we cook or mix them, and how they feel when we eat them. Rheology helps us learn how to make new types of food, like gluten-free bread and low-calorie chocolate, taste and feel as good as the regular kind. It aids in understanding how ingredients affect the food we make and how we enjoy it.
As CNN reported when the study was released last year, Owens and her team created a cookie-twisting device they dubbed the Oreometer to divide a single Oreo with a precisely calibrated amount of rotational force at various speeds. Unfortunately, MIT—the institution that brought us inertial guidance systems for the Apollo space program and the first image of a black hole—was defeated by the humble Oreo. Researchers never found a twisting method that evenly distributed wafer and filling. As Owens says, they "learned, sadly, that even if you twist an Oreo perfectly, the cream will almost always end up mostly on one of the two wafers, with a delamination of the cream, and there’s no easy way to get it to split between wafers."
The WSJ notes that Netherland’s University of Groningen replicated the experiment with researchers using their hands and had better results, but Owens says she suspects this was due to differences between European and US food manufacturing processes. (Read more Oreo stories.)