Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Regional Cookie Highlight: The Oreo

Photographs by Nicole Holt

I know what you are thinking- how can Oreos be regional? I was thinking the same thing when I stumbled upon this story a couple of months ago. I now know more about the differences between Canadian and American Oreos than I ever thought possible.

Prior to leaving for a trip to Sudbury, ON, I asked my contact there if I could bring her anything from the States. I was surprised when she replied that the only thing that she wanted was a box of Oreos. She explained that while they are available in Canada the Oreos there are different than the ones in the States and that her partner prefers the US made Oreos.

Her partner was raised in Bermuda where, amongst other things, the Oreos come from the United States. When she moved to Canada, she was surprised and disheartened to find that her beloved cookie had been transformed into something that, while having the outward appearances, was not the cookie with which she had grown up.

I have to admit that I was suspicious of the claims that there was a noticeable difference, but since I am fond of cookies of all sorts I decided that I had to get to the bottom of this Oreo mystery. After delivering the promised cookies, I headed to a local grocer store to purchase some Canadian made Oreos. My initial inspection of the package revealed that the Oreos were made by a company named Christie and not by Nabisco.

I returned to the United States with an unopened package of Canadian Oreos, and I did a side by side comparison with a fresh package of US Oreos. While the package colors and basic cookie concept were basically the same, there were indeed some significant differences between the two cookies. The following information was obtained by inspecting the packaging, measuring and making careful observations.

US Oreos are darker than Canadian Oreos.
US Oreos are slightly over 1 3/4 inches in diameter, and Canadian Oreos are slightly under 1 3/4 inches in diameter.
The frosting (AKA: white stuff) in US Oreos is softer in comparison to the Canadian frosting.
A US Oreo weighs approximately 11.6 grams, and a Canadian Oreo weighs approximately 12.2 grams.
There are 3 Oreos to a suggested serving in the US while there are 2 Oreos to a suggested serving in Canada.
US Oreos contain corn syrup while the Canadian Oreos do not.

The serving differences are interesting, and they probably say more about the differences in eating culture between the two countries than anything else. It's interesting to note that while US Oreos are bigger in diameter, they weigh less. I didn't measure height, but the comparative heights are probably similar. The difference here likely comes into play with the filling. I noticed that the Canadian white stuff was denser; this is most likely because of the absence of corn syrup which can lighten and soften a frosting

With a well known product like the Oreo, why are there such big differences in the offerings of two neighboring countries? Companies often adjust their formulas to take advantage of locally available ingredients and to appeal to regional tastes. With all of the energy that goes into building a successful brand, companies are loath to throw away all of that brand recognition, which is especially true for a product as recognizable and iconic as the Oreo.

Another famous example of a company regionally changing the formula of a product can be found in Coca-Cola. In the United States, this soda is sweetened with corn syrup while in Mexico it is sweetened with cane sugar. I much prefer the Mexican product, but it is only sporadically available in the United States, so I hoard what I can find. My wife and I do the same thing with Mallomars which are only available seasonally.

So, which Oreo is better? That's a fine question, but it's one that is impossible to answer because it is a matter of personal taste. In a very unscientific taste test, I found that people have a strong preference for the cookie with which they grew up. Generally speaking, Canadians prefer the Christie cookie while Americans prefer the Nabisco cookie.

My experience investigating the regional differences in Oreos has showed me that if you keep your eyes open, you might just find something unexpected in a product that you thought you thought you knew all of your life.

If you have any other examples of products in which the formula changes from region to region, please let me know in the comments section below.

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  1. I read that the white stuff is aerated in the American cookie. which is probably why it's softer.

  2. Hey Graham

    Well, next time when you will be in Toronto, may be you can organise for your self visit at Christie's Factory located at Lakeshore/Park Lawn :o)

    By the way it is well known fact that even that Product should be same recipe changed. I remember living in Europe even toothpaste or detergent was different country to country.

    Now I live in Toronto and noticing same differences between Canadian and US product.

    a) I do no like Hershey's chocolate made in Canada, but I have no problem with US made.

    b) Detergent in Canada are band to contain phosphate in detergents which is great for planet, but in US you can still get "original"

    c) Same with Campbell soup ... taste very different compare US & Canadian made

    d) US butter taste better then Canadian because the % of fat are higher

    e) Canada also banned usage of pesticides on our lawns, so we actually have lawns with beautiful natural flowers by highways