Taste Test: We Twist, Lick, and Dunk Our Way Through 10 Chocolate Sandwich CookiesJune 24, 2017
You’d think cookies are already a great thing in themselves, but we’ve gotta commend the great minds who realized they can be made even greater: by not only doubling it, but also stuffing it with cream. While the history of forming “sandwiches” with cookies and filling as a whole is unclear, one of the first pioneers of the genre in the US first came to life in 1908—and it’s not the brand you think. Dubbed “Hydrox”, which brings to mind household cleaning products more than it does food (as it turns out it referred to hydrogen and oxygen as the name was—quite literally—meant to “imply purity and goodness“), the said cookie featured two dark chocolate wafer cookies filled with creme (the spelling of choice which, if we were to guess, is likely due to the lack of actual dairy cream that makes it illegal to use the word “cream” in the label). Four years later, snack company Nabisco would come out with a very similar product, made with two chocolate wafer cookies with a creamy filling, but with a much catchier name (which surprisingly nobody knows the origins of, but sure sounds easier to roll off the tongue): Oreo. Despite of essentially ripping off good ol’ Hydrox, in a tragic turn of events, Oreos would eventually overtake the original in sales, popularity, and overall cultural impact. And like many products of Americana, Oreos would soon make its way to our shores, inspiring the creation of local versions, often sold at cheaper prices, but with the same chocolate sandwich cookie format. With so many brands out there at the moment however, which should you go for?
At the risk of sounding uncritically foreign-favoring or colonial-leaning in mentality, we’ll clear things up: we do not necessarily hold Oreos to be the best, and we take adherence to Oreos for this taste test to be a morally neutral element. We focus on flavors and textures (of cookie portion, filling, and the entire piece) with respect to good food as a whole, and seek to find the best bits of each brand—at the end of it, personal preferences differ, and that’s something we’re here to celebrate. Grab a glass of milk as we taste our way through ten chocolate sandwich cookie brands you can find at local supermarkets:
To this day, Oreos remain a crowd pleaser—and for good reason. In each piece, you get two sturdy chocolate-wafer cookies that’s just on the right side of dark, carrying the distinct deep-but-mellow flavor you get from Dutch-process cocoa. And in between is a filling with a nostalgic, “vanilla”-y taste and greasy-but creamy, slightly granulated texture that you can easily pick up and roll around by itself—helpful, FYI, if you’re looking to do food hacks like these. If you’re used to Oreos from the US, you might be disappointed that the version we get here is smaller and has less cream (which shaves a few calories off per serving—you get to have 3 cookies for the same 140 calories that only 2 of the American-sized ones cost). Still, every bite manages to juggle the well-loved bitter-on-sweet flavor and feel that have rocked our childhood and beyond.
Cream-O’s presents a curious case of extremes: you get a cookie portion which borders on tasting too bitter taken by itself, and cream which, though generous in amount with a strong note of vanilla (likely of the fake sort—not that it matters because the nostalgic taste is where it’s at), feels too greasy and too sweet. But together they meld in perfect harmony, each bite packing a more intense sensation, compared to Oreos, of the cookies-and-cream flavor profile—easily making this the author’s personal favorite. One small caveat is that it crumbles easier (which makes for messy milk-dipping), but this isn’t a problem when you’re devouring them straight-up. And listen up, dark chocolate fans: Cream-O’s may well be the deepest and darkest-tasting of the bunch.
We’ll admit this longtime favorite brand doesn’t get us as excited as each piece within bears a grayish, dull tinge. Its cookie portion is dense and barely sweet, with the mildest hint of a wheat-like flavor—but not much chocolate. Hi-Ro also feels severely lacking in filling, with little more than a dry, powdery schlump between cookies. These are a far cry from the Oreo-type chocolate sandwich cookie, but we can see how they hold their own appeal—one that leans more toward the mature biscuit end of the spectrum, or the kind you’d pair with a warm mug of tea than a glass of milk.
Bingo’s cookie packs a chocolatey punch but in a different sense—one that carries the fruity taste of natural cocoa, than the dutch-process cocoa used by Oreos (evident, too, in Bingo’s more reddish than black tinge). While the cream can feel greasy taken solo, we appreciate that it feels smoother and less granular than the others, and comes at just the right amount to moisten and sweeten each bite. Dipped in milk these are also great, as the flavor of natural cocoa with creamy dairy immediately brings to mind chocolate milk (of whose boxed versions often use the said type of cocoa). All in all, Bingo offers a great way to vary up the flavors while getting an equally chocolate-charged experience.
Sandee’s lighter, more delicate texture makes it disintegrate fast in milk, but the easiest to crunch on solo. It has the lightest chocolate flavor in the bunch however, lacking the bitterness we seek to quench the need for chocolate, and feeling more like a graham cracker with a very thin layer of greasy cream. Still, an overall bite delivers on the (fake—but again, nostalgic) vanilla and the sweetness that satisfies our inner child, providing a different (but tasty) experience that does justice to their claim of being, well, “original”.
While at first bite Presto seems to lack the cocoa-y punch we crave, these sneak in a good, dusky bitterness by the end of the bite. The cream is similar to Oreos in that it comes out as one easily peelable wad of fondant-like paste, just greasier. Overall though, these still deliver on the chocolate-vanilla cookies-and-cream experience, just in a more subdued way that takes time (e.g., more chewing) to build up. Call it a cookie for the patient, if you will; either way, this is a great alternative if you’re looking for a less-sweet sandwich cookie that still preserves much of the chocolate-vanilla combo.
With Otso, you get a cookie that starts out crisp as they come but reveals a delicate, short texture that ends with a starchy feeling that spreads on the tongue—we’d compare it to shortbread or uraro, served in chocolate sandwich cookie form. The filling comes with the grainy, greasy feel you’ll find in the others, but carries a powdered milk-like taste that brings to mind cheap pastillas. The overall flavor lacks the bold punch of chocolate we crave in a chocolate sandwich cookie (and no, we’re not getting any of the oddly specific ~cool vanilla ice cream flavor~ they state on the package), but it’s the short, crisp texture that wins us over the most.
Cookie Says’ main selling point is the cheeky messages you’ll find printed on each cookie’s surface (which may find useful, ahem, in many ways), but taste-wise it also proves to be a mighty contender. The cookie here has a sturdier build—not in the sense that it’s denser that it’s harder to chew, but in that it’s crisper, with less loose, crumbly granules to mess up your shirt as you munch. And while it isn’t the darkest or most chocolatey, we’re big fans of the filling, which takes on a creamy consistency with the distinct flavor that we’d liken to cake batter from a boxed mix (for which the author confesses to having a soft spot).
Of the homegrown brands listed here, Smileys comes the closest to tasting like Oreos—especially the cookie portion, which has the same sturdy texture and dusky-dark flavor that marks the use of Dutch-process cocoa. The cream it uses takes on an odd texture that feels greasy and sticks to the cookie too easily, but this isn’t too noticeable in the context of the cookie as a whole as it still delivers on the quintessential chocolate-on-vanilla flavor that defines the cookie genre.
This lesser-known brand delivers a slim cookie portion with a dense, compact crumb and a sturdy crunch that hardly budges when dipped in milk. Its filling feels relatively creamy and has a milky, waxy flavor we’d compare to compound white chocolate—not our favorite, but it makes for a richer impact than the mostly-shortening-and-sugar combination found in the other brands’ fillings. Though small in diameter, the ratio of cookie to cream is spot on. And while the chocolate flavor isn’t the strongest, you get a peculiar coconut-y note in each bite which this author strangely enjoyed.
No two sandwich cookies are equal—and that’s a great thing, because there’s bound to be something for everyone.
There’s a wide variety of cookie consistencies: the sturdiest in the bunch come via Hi-Ro and, though delivered in a thin cookie format, Monreo; meanwhile, Sandee and Otso offer lighter, more delicate cookies that are easy on the teeth. For dipping in milk however, you’ll want to go for something in the middle of the hardness spectrum, and for this Oreos get a gold star—the scientists at the factory have pretty much pioneered the formula such that it tastes pretty crisp when dipped briefly, absorbing just enough of the dairy to moisten its crumbs slightly. Smiley’s have done a great job at replicating this, too.
You’ll find differences, too, in the fillings: while all brands’ cremes generally displayed some degree of being granular and greasy on the tongue, Oreo and Bingo offer relatively smooth version that are bearable enough to be licked. Cookie Says’ cake batter-y filling stands out as one with so tasty a flavor, more than just sweetness, that we’d actually take it plain, on a spoon. Twist-and-lickers looking for creme that stays on one side and can be peeled off at will would be well to turn to Oreo and Presto.
Generally, we also observed that some brands definitely lean more on being “kid-friendly”: Oreos (and its close local counterpart Smiley’s), sweet-and-intense Cream-O, and cake batter-y Cookie Says; others, namely Hi-Ro and Presto, take on a more mature route with less sweetness and less “in-your-face” flavors, but still manage to come out with some pretty good sandwich cookies. Related to this, three brands—namely, Hi-Ro, Sandee, and Presto, tend to lean more toward tea biscuit category with their wheat-y, subdued cookies which tend to deliver less of a straightforward cocoa punch, at least not right away (in Presto’s case, it comes at the end). Meanwhile, Cream-O takes home the award for being most dark and chocolate-y in flavor—while it also happens to be the sweetest, the intense bitterness balances out the sugar in this case. Special mention goes to Bingo’s natural-cocoa profile, which tastes different but every bit as delicious.
All in all, the wide range of chocolate sandwich cookies sold locally offers something for pretty much all kinds of cookie lovers. Whichever one you choose however, the sensation of crisp cookie making way to a sweet filling, milk optional, is one that holds its own.