Since their introduction in 1912, Oreos have been one of the most popular cookies in the United States. The cookie's continuous popularity likely has something to do with the fact that they are relatively simple: just two chocolate wafers and a glob of sweet white filling. You may have noticed that any time that filling is mentioned on Oreo packaging, it’s called “creme.” This is no typo. Technically, the creamy filling inside an Oreo is not cream at all: The recipe used actually contains no dairy; as such, the FDA prohibits Nabisco from labeling the product as “cream.”
Although the original recipe for Oreo creme filling contained lard (also known as pig fat), which creams up into a buttery-like substance, Nabisco switched to using partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in the 1990s. While this change made Oreos unofficially vegan and kosher, the official recipe for Oreo creme remains a mystery. However, you can put together a rough outline by looking at the back of the box.
Using the process of elimination on the ingredients list on a box of Original Oreos, you can deduce that Oreo filling contains sugar, high fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin, artificial flavor, and “palm and/or canola oil.” The short ingredient list contains ingredients you’ve probably already heard of, and at its core, the basic recipe—sweetener, emulsifier, oil—generally contains nothing you wouldn’t find in a homemade sandwich cookie filling. Oreo creme may not be cream, but there isn't technically anything wrong with that.
There's one ingredient not listed on the Oreo packaging, however, that may well still be in your cookie: Titanium dioxide, a chemical used to whiten products. The whitening agent is actually wrapped up in a bit of scandal. In 2014, two men from California were sentenced to prison time after stealing the formula for making titanium dioxide from American chemical company DuPont. The men sold the formula to Pangang Group, a Chinese company that had been unsuccessfully attempting to buy the formula from DuPont, for over $20 million. The conviction of the men subsequently leaked the fact that Oreo used the chemical to whiten their filling, much to the concern of the American public. Although titanium dioxide is a common food additive, recent studies have flagged the chemical as a potentially cancer-causing carcinogen.
If the titanium dioxide factor is putting you off your lunch, there are other options for getting your Oreo fix. Newman-O’s, a popular brand of Oreo-like sandwich cookies made with organic ingredients, actually has a surprisingly similar ingredient list for its creme filling with less highly processed alterations: sunflower oil instead of canola, organic invert syrup instead of HFCS, and natural flavors instead of artificial.
Before any vegans begin to rejoice, be sure to read the fine print. According to the Oreo UK’s FAQ section of their website, while Oreos are vegetarian, the cookies “have milk as cross contact and therefore they are not suitable for vegans.” Sorry, guys. You can pretend you didn’t read that part if you want—I won’t tell. Strict vegans shouldn’t lose hope; certified Dairy-Free Newman-O’s do exist.