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Oreology: The study of the creme-filled cookie sandwich.
Haven’t heard of it? Well, you’ve probably studied it – experimenting with dunking, twisting and separating to find the best Oreo eating experience.
Whether you prefer the filling intact on one half of the cookie or spread evenly when you open it up, researchers have asked the long-plaguing question: How do you make sure you get the Oreo just the way you want it every time?
“When I was little, I tried twisting wafers to split the cream evenly between wafers so there’s some on both halves – which in my opinion tastes much better than having one wafer with a lot of creme and one with almost none. This was hard to do when I was trying it by hand,” said Crystal Owens, lead author of a study published Tuesday in the journal American Institute of Physics and a researcher in mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
So, she bumped it up a notch. Researchers devised an Oreometer, a device designed to split the cookie with a scientifically precise amount of torque (a measure of force used to rotate an object).
The hope was that with the perfect twist, researchers could manipulate the cookie’s filling to distribute evenly between the two wafer cookies. Alas, they could not.
“We 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,” Owens said. For those of us who are not Oreo scientists, delamination is when something splits apart into layers.
If you do manage to separate the cookie evenly, it likely wasn’t the result of your delicate, precise work, according to the study. That has more to do with the level of adhesion between the creme and cookie, which is altered by some factor before it gets to your hands.
What that could be is a question for a later study.
“We didn’t even begin to answer all of the questions someone could ask about Oreos or cookies, which is why we made our Oreometer, so anyone with access to a 3D printer can make other measurements,” Owens said.
Serious science for a silly question
Randy Ewoldt, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, was reviewing the study one night when his 11-year-old son peeked over his shoulder.
He knows his dad works in rheology, a branch of physics that studies the flow of matter between liquids and solids, but like most kids, his dad’s work doesn’t hold his interest for too long. Until he saw the word Oreo on the paper, that is.
“When we talk about the physics of complicated materials, and there are many, the Oreo cookie creme is one that is accessible to many people immediately,” Ewoldt said. “To bring people into a much more complicated world, this may serve as an entry way for that.”
The study is in Owen’s mind every time she has an Oreo, and now she hopes it will get people outside of the field curious as well.
“I hope people can use this information to improve their cookie eating when they twist open an Oreo, or when they dunk it in milk,” Owens said. “I hope people can also take inspiration to investigate other puzzles in the kitchen in scientific ways.
“The best scientific research, even at MIT, is driven by curiosity to understand the world around us, when someone sees something weird or unknown and takes the time to think ‘I wonder why that happens like that?’”