A cursory Google of “sandwich cookie history” yields, mostly, Oreos. Consider the sandwich cookie (two wafers hugging a soft filling), though, and there’s seemingly little else beyond the Oreo. Since their invention in 1912, they’ve become the United States’ best-selling cookie, as popular abroad as they are at home and so good as to warrant all sorts of forgiveness (there’s absolutely no good reason for the existence of Limeade or Watermelon Oreos). The giant cookie emblazoned on the packaging soars like Superman, swathed by milk shaped like two hands flourishing a fallen-and-revived hero. As adhesive to the memory as their crumbs are to the molars, there is no sound more American than the crinkly opening of that package.
When Donald Trump announced last year that he’d never again eat Oreos, it felt like another display of his brand of thumb-sucking rebellion, the brattiness children use to assert an independence they don’t really have. The woman-grabbing, Taki-colored human Ear of Rice Emoji discovered that Mondelez International, manufacturer of Oreos through its Nabisco division, had closed a Chicago plant and was moving the facility to Mexico — Mexico, that propagator of rapists and brown boogeymen. At a Las Vegas rally, Trump had supporters chanting “NO MORE OREOS,” before wistfully adding, “Ah, it’s gonna be tough getting off Oreos.”
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Yeah, right. In purporting Oreos to be somehow un-American, Trump accidentally became an image of anti-“Americanness” itself — you don’t get to personally boycott something so (deliciously) part of the American snack mythology without consequences. Stephen Colbert riffed on it, literally emptying a box of Oreos into his mouth. “Trump’s anti-Oreo stance puts other Republicans in a tough spot,” he said. “He’s forcing them to decide between alienating Latino voters and eating a Hydrox.” (Then he dry-heaved.)
Earlier this year, it was revealed that Trump may have first discovered the move after Ellia Kassoff, CEO of Leaf Brands, the manufacturer of Hydrox cookies, tweeted at him: “We’re making our @hydroxcookie in US, not like @Oreo moving to Mexico.” BURN! Other commenters started making memes surrounding the controversy.
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But there’s some truth to the idea that Hydrox cookies are distinctly American: they came first and are arguably just as good as Oreos. In 1908, Sunshine Biscuits debuted Hydrox, whose name implied purity (hydrogen, the simplicity of atoms). Though they consisted of a white crème filling between two chocolate wafers, they were less sweet than Oreos and far less popular. Later, Keebler purchased Sunshine, changed the cookies’ name to Droxies (which sounds like something that requires a prescription) and upped the sugar content. After Kellogg’s acquired Keebler, they removed Droxies from the market, much to the dismay of loyal fans.
Kassoff brought them back in their original incarnation: the dark-chocolate Hydrox, free of high-fructose corn syrup, made in the U.S.A., signifying long-gone memories for the grown children whose parents preferred them. When Kassoff, a kind of Willy Wonka of candy-nostalgia (he’s revived Astro Pops, Wacky Wafers and tarts n’ tinys) saw that Trump was focused on bringing back jobs to the U.S., he spotted an opportunity for boosting Hydrox’s own made-in-America classicism. Hydrox began posting cookie-twisted versions of Trump’s sentiments on their social media, statements like “We want to build a wall — of cookies!”
Kassoff, though, is an Independent and “not a Trump follower at all.” As he explains: “I looked at it as a way to show how public companies, who people think are for the people, actually focus on stockholder value. We’re a small company; we have no need to go anywhere outside the U.S. People started asking, ‘Where can I buy Hydrox? I’m never going to buy Oreos if they’re not made in the U.S.’” There was plenty of media coverage, and really no reason for Colbert to dry-heave. Hydrox’s schtick — that they’re crunchier and darker than the Oreo, and far less cloying—is actually true. One never scarfs cookies to satisfy a complex palette, but Hydroxes taste better than Oreos.
Now that Trump’s revealed himself to be far more terrifying than a bully — and deeply un-American, if we’re going to idealize what that means — it’s worth revisiting the cookie battle, which has long faded for all but Hydrox supporters. Prior to the election, to extricate themselves from Trump, Hydrox introduced their own candidate: Hydrox for President, a cookie with a tuft of white hair and a defined jawline. He’s not new, but he’s a very official candidate, still occasionally tweeting at “Señor Oreo.” He seems to combine the sentiments of several candidates, promising again to build a wall of cookies and then give the cookies to students for free.
Ellia Kassoff, CEO of Leaf Brands, with Miss Universe
Meanwhile, Hydrox (the brand) will release a new line of packaging featuring American flags. “We’re just playing with the campaign,” says Kassoff. “We’ve had two years of this maneuvering for the presidency, and I think everyone is burned out.” The stakes might seem too high for a joke, but that’s hard to say in an election that would have had plenty of people voting for a cookie instead. And a cookie is never just a cookie, is it?
“It’s amazing what our senses can do, if you smell or taste something you smelled or tasted when you were a kid,” Kassoff says. “There’s a reason why that nostalgia is so strong.”
Now that Trump has been elected, will he make good on his promises to bring jobs back to American factories? Either way, I think it’s safe to say we’ll all be eating a lot of cookies in the next four years.
Top photo by theimpulsivebuy CC BY-SA. All other photos courtesy of Hydrox and Leaf Brands.