WASHINGTON — Technically they're "chocolate sandwich cookies," a baked concoction of sugar, vitamin-enriched flour, canola oil, high-fructose corn syrup and, at the bottom of the list of ingredients, chocolate.
But the Oreo cookie -- first baked in New York city 100 years ago Tuesday -- is much more than that. It's an American icon, the best-selling cookie in the nation, with plenty of fans around the world to boot.
Flash mobs celebrated the centenary in seven US cities including Los Angeles, where country rock trio Lady Antebellum led a shopping-mall crowd of several hundred in singing "Happy Birthday" to the venerable comfort food.
"Oreo is probably my favorite cookie, because I don't enjoy dessert as much as I should and Oreos is always the go-to for me," said college student Maggie Buoye, 18.
"I think there's nothing more family friendly than Oreo cookies," Lady Antebellum vocalist Charles Kelly told AFP. "And approachable," added fellow band member Hillary Scott.
Overseas, there were fireworks in Shanghai, birthday fetes in Saudi Arabia, special playgrounds in Indonesia and pinata-breaking in Venezuela.
"In today's hectic world, people have more responsibilities and pressures than ever before," said John Ghingo, senior director for Oreo Global, waxing philosophical in a Kraft Foods news release.
"Despite this, the simple act of enjoying an Oreo cookie and glass of milk continues to speak to a universal, human truth: inside all of us... there's a kid that deserves to be set free every once in a while."
Sold in more than 100 countries, Oreos spin more than $1.5 billion a year in global annual revenues for Kraft, one of the world's biggest food and beverage conglomerates.
They first popped out of the oven at the Nabisco factory in New York's Chelsea district -- since converted into a chic shopping arcade -- and sold by a grocer on the other side of the Hudson River in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Bigger than today's Oreos, they cost 30 cents a pound, equal to $6.69 in today's money. (In Washington on Tuesday, an AFP reporter paid $1.50 for a carton of 13 cookies, promptly consumed in the name of research.)
"Within a short time Oreo, which resembled an English biscuit, became a fantastically good seller among (Nabisco) sweet goods," wrote William Cahn in "Out of the Cracker Barrel," a 1969 corporate history of Nabisco.
Countless variations emerged over time, starting with lemon-filled Oreos in the 1920s.
Today there are Double Stuf Oreos, peanut butter Oreos, mini Oreos and triple-decker Oreos. Green tea Oreos are popular in China, and for six weeks only, fans can buy limited edition centennial Birthday Cake Oreos.
Kraft claims half of all Oreo eaters, and women more than men, embrace the "twist, lick, dunk" ritual -- twisting off the chocolate outside, licking the vanilla filling inside, then dunking in a glass of milk.
Oreos have inspired cookbooks, coffee mugs, toy racing cars, children's counting books and Barbie dolls toting Oreo shopping bags and packaged in boxes that exclaim: "What a smart cookie!"
In 2010, Nike came out with an Air Jordan Retro 6 basketball shoe that was soon known as the Oreo for its white-on-black design.
Oreo Mint was Ben and Jerry's first flavored ice cream; co-founder Ben Cohen later used a stack of Oreos in an online cartoon to illustrate the towering scale of US military spending.
Among African Americans, in the Black Power era, calling someone an Oreo -- black on the outside, white on the inside -- was a painful put-down, as Gerald Thompson recalled in "Reflections of an Oreo Cookie," a 1991 memoir.
"This was 1970, a year of no middle ground," he wrote, remembering the day he was slapped in the face and likened to a mere cookie. "You allied yourself black or white, but I was not aware of any of this."
On the other hand, many Jewish Americans still fondly remember the day in 1998 when Oreos became kosher after lard was dropped as an ingredient.
For Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, writing in the New York Times, that milestone in the annals of the great American cookie was nothing less than "a telltale sign that Jews have finally made it."
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