#1: Oreo #2: Great Value (Walmart) #3: Back to Nature
For the sake of accuracy and fairness, we're calling this piece the "Chocolate Sandwich Cookie" taste test. But that sounds pretty clunky. Around the office, we've been calling it the Oreo/"Oreo" taste test, or the Oreo/Faux-reo. You know what we're talking about: crunchy chocolate cookies (that don't taste all that much like chocolate) around a white, soft filling (that neither contains nor tastes much like cream).
There's an obvious dominant brand, especially since Hydrox cookies disappeared. But as we found out when we started shopping, there are an awful lot of chocolate sandwich cookies out there. Would Oreo be the best Oreo?
We gathered eleven different cookie brands; where multiple amounts of filling were available (Double Stuf, for instance, or Target's double filling), we tasted what was closest to a standard Oreo. While one of the brands (Late July) advertised that its filling contained green tea (in small print that we missed at first), an initial taste deemed it similar enough to the other brands to include; we couldn't taste the tea at all.
Here's what we tried:
- Back to Nature ($4.49)*
- Famous Amos ($3.49)
- Great Value (Walmart) ($1.98)
- Joe-Joe's (Trader Joe's) ($2.49)
- Late July ($3.99)
- Market Pantry (Target) ($2.15)
- Newman-O's ($2.99)
- Oreos ($2.49)
- Smart Sense (Kmart) ($2.69)
- Vista (Walmart) ($1.50)
- 365 (Whole Foods) ($2.99)
* Prices may vary by store and location. These are what we paid.
You've got two parts to a sandwich cookie, the cookie and the filling; of each of those, you've got to pay attention to taste and texture; beyond that, there's the question of how the cookie worked as a whole. We looked for cookies that had some chocolate flavor, were crumbly but held together, and weren't tough or too hard to chew. The filling should be more smooth than grainy, have some sort of pleasant, mild vanilla-like flavor, and shouldn't be too sweet. Nor should it be oily, gummy, or waxy—other issues some cookies exhibited. Finally, it should have a good ratio of cookie to cream, so that both elements play a part; you taste both, that is.
Tasters were asked to rank their cookie preference, cream preference, and overall preference, each on a scale of 1 to 10.
When you taste potato chips or hamburger buns, they don't have the name of the brand stamped across them. The markings on chocolate sandwich cookies, on the other hand, made a blind taste test rather difficult!
We split the cookies across any part with a name (the Oreos, for example, were split right down that "OREO" stamp), and then crumbled off the edges a bit to try to destroy any imprint. Of course, they still had some cosmetic differences; we asked for tasters' good-faith efforts to not scrutinize the cookie surface too closely.
In the past, we've often included one of the brands in a taste test as two separate entries—that is, have 9 brands but 10 samples, so that tasters unknowingly score one element twice. It's a useful way to see if your tasters are really paying attention (in which case, their comments and scores for each should be very similar) or if they're not. Since we could imagine that tasters would try to figure out which cookies were Oreos and that those mind games might affect their scores, we actually included Oreos as two different samples, unbeknownst to our tasters. (That is, we had 11 brands, but 12 items to taste, and two of them were Oreo.)
Since no one noticed the duplication—and we have the sort of proud-to-be-right crew that would've pointed it out, if they'd noticed—we feel a little more confident that they were appraising the cookies on their own merits, not trying to game the tasting by figuring out what the "real" Oreo was and going from there.
The Twist Test
While we didn't taste whole sandwich cookies (a half seemed more than enough to determine preference), a number of tasters were concerned with the "twistability" factor; that is, if you twist the cookies carefully, does the cream filling all stay to one side? A few Serious eats editors felt that that was of crucial importance, and that they wouldn't like anything that didn't twist neatly into one naked cookie and one cream-cookie combo.
So we took three of each cookie, all from fresh packs and all in the same air-conditioned room, and carefully twisted them apart to see how they split. While we didn't exactly have the resources to find ourselves a machine that could twist with uniform rotation and pressure, we did have a single person do all the cookies, doing her best to apply the same twisting method to each.
The results varied wildly—some always had the cream filling messily split (Market Pantry), never getting the filling all one one side; some divided cleanly with the cream all on one side each and every time. (Unfortunately, some of the good splitters had oily, slippery fillings; in one case, the filling flew out altogether, like a jiggly Frisbee, as soon as we twisted!) So clean twisters are good, but not all good twisters are good cookies.
After the results were tallied, we found that all of our top three finishers were also good twisters; the others varied.
Going in, we thought that the "Oreo" taste would be stamped in our tasters' heads pretty strongly. But only two of our ten tasters correctly identified an Oreo. These cookies were a lot more similar than we'd have thought!
It didn't seem that overall preference tracked cookie more closely than cream, or vice versa; those with high-scoring cookies and middle-scoring cream got similar overall ratings as those with high-scoring cream and middle-scoring cookies. Both seemed to matter to our tasters. That said, it's worth noting that their cream and cookie rankings tracked each other pretty closely, too; if tasters liked a cookie, they tended to also like the filling, and vice versa. There weren't any cases where a taster loved a cookie but hated the cream inside.
#1. Oreo (6.71/10)
Yes, yes; Oreo won the "Oreo" taste test. But only by a hair. Tasters ranked it both the best cookie and the best cream, suggesting that there's something they liked about each component; it wasn't just that ineffable "Oreo"-ness setting off childhood memories. The cookie was repeatedly called "perfectly crunchy," "crisp in a good way," and "just chocolatey enough"; the cream, "a little gritty, but still soft and good to eat," "sweet but not too sweet." Some tasters wanted a little more cream (maybe we eat too many Double Stufs around here?) but were otherwise satisfied.
#2. Great Value (Walmart) (6.6/10)
Walmart's store brand, Great Value, almost edged out Oreo for a win. "Chocolatey-toasty" cookies, "sweet and soft" cream, "absolutely classic"; it showed all the criteria we like in Oreos, and interestingly, convinced a lot of people that they were Oreos. "This is an Oreo," wrote one later chagrined taster. "I am absolutely certain that this is an Oreo. I eat Oreos all the time AND THIS IS IT."
In "filling" preference, it fell short of Oreos by just a few hundredths of a point. Some called the filling "a little gritty," but that was a complaint about Oreos, too. Walmart—who knew?
#3. Back to Nature (5.75/10)
"I like the crispness of the cookie, and its chocolate flavor." "This would soak up milk well." Back to Nature had the second-highest cookie rating, a runner-up to Oreo by just a hair. It convinced a few people that it was an Oreo. And the filling didn't score badly either, called "pleasantly soft" and "well-proportioned." Some did find it grainy, though. Those avoiding high fructose corn syrup (which both Oreo and Great Value use) might find these the best option, as they beat out the other "natural" brands; that said, they're also a good bit more expensive, about twice the price of a standard Oreo.
#4. Newman-O's (5.22/10)
Tasters liked the soft, smooth filling and crunchy cookie, but Newman-O's didn't do quite as well in the flavor department. "Bland!" was the general consensus; "like a generic breakfast cereal," as one taster put it. Still, a bland chocolate sandwich cookie is a reasonably tasty thing; these didn't fare too badly.
#5. Market Pantry (Target) (4.92/10)
The cookie brought Market Pantry down ("dense and chewy," "hard to chew," "doesn't break cleanly"), but there were few complaints about the taste. Still, if you're going discount store brand, go for Walmart; and if you're at Target, shell out a few more cents for the Oreos.
#6. Vista (Walmart) (4.78/10)
This entire pack cost a dollar-fifty? Whoa. The cream didn't win over our tasters ("sugary, too sugary"; "grainy"), but the cookies ("crisp" and "classic") did a little better. A middle-of-the-road cookie, but an awfully cheap one.
#7. Famous Amos (4.65/10)
Hydrox fans might be interested to know that Kellogg's bought Hydrox, kept it for a bit, then discontinued it, then released a new chocolate sandwich cookie under the "Famous Amos" name. That said, it didn't fare all that well. Tasters wanted more cream ("it's barely there!") although, at the same time, maybe they didn't, as it wasn't too tasty ("a little waxy," "a little dry"). Fewer complaints about the cookies. It'll do the job as a sandwich cookie, and isn't in any way inedible, but there are better options out there.
Why the Losers Lost
All of the brands above we'd eat again, some more willingly than others; the bottom scorers were Late July, 365 (Whole Foods), Joe-Joe's (Trader Joe's), Smart Sense. These cookies weren't just comparatively worse—they had clear faults in texture, taste or both. Some complaints included greasy or slimy filling; on the other end, dry or "weirdly compact" filling or excessively gluey filling ("it sticks to the roof of my mouth!"); and dry or otherwise unappealing cookies ("thick and dusty"). Taste-wise, off flavors were the problem, either in the filling (one was called "floral in a bad way") or cookie ("there's a strange taste of cheese") or both.
What About You?
What chocolate sandwich cookies do you buy?