Why MIT Researchers Are Studying Oreos

Fluid dynamics experts find that it’s nearly impossible to split the black-and-white cookie’s sweet filling evenly in half

Oreo cookies
Oreo cookies helped inspire a new field of study coined "Oreology" by researchers at MIT. Pixabay

Since childhood, Crystal Owens has been stymied by a lingering question about one of her favorite snack foods: Is it possible to twist an Oreo cookie and split the sweet, creamy filling evenly in half between both chocolate wafers? Now, Owens and other fluid dynamics experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) think they finally have an answer.

Per a new paper published this week in the journal Physics of Fluid, the researchers suggest that it’s nearly impossible to split Oreo’s famous creme so that half ends up on each wafer.

Graphic from Oreo research
New research from MIT suggests that it’s nearly impossible to split Oreo creme so that half ends up on each wafer. Physics of Fluids

“In essentially all possible twisting configurations, the creme tends to delaminate from one wafer, resulting in one nearly bare wafer and one with almost all the creme,” Owens tells Vice’s Becky Ferreira. “In the case that creme ends up on both wafers, it tends to divide in half so that each wafer has a ‘half-moon’ of creme rather than a thin layer, so there is no secret to get creme evenly everywhere just by twisting open—you have to mush it manually if that's what you want.”

The results were surprising, as Owens and her colleagues fully expected to be able to split the creme with some experimental techniques in the lab. To understand the scientific underpinnings of the iconic black-and-white cookie made by Nabisco, they used an instrument known as a rheometer, which twisted the cookie between two plates.

They tested a variety of Oreo filling quantities (such as “Double Stuf” and “Mega Stuf” cookies), tried dipping the cookies in milk and even tweaked the device’s rotation rate, but nothing made a difference: The creme still stuck primarily to one wafer. The researchers attribute this to the Oreo production process, which creates one “creme-heavy side” of each cookie, they write in the paper.

A pile of Oreos on a table
MIT researchers tested different Oreo flavors, filling levels and rotation rates. Pixabay

“It turns out there’s not really a trick to it,” Owens tells Popular Science’s Philip Kiefer. “Everything you try to do will get mostly a clean break. It’s a bit disappointing that there’s not some secret twist.”

In addition to detailing the results of their experiments, they also coined a new field of study: Oreology, which is a mashup of “Oreo” and the Greek phrase “rheo logia,” which means “flow study.” The new field is officially “the study of the flow and fracture of sandwich cookies,” according to the paper.

Graphic from Oreo research
Researchers at MIT used an instrument known as a rheometer to study the flow and fracture of Oreos. Physics of Fluids

Importantly for citizen scientists and Oreo-lovers alike, the researchers also developed and tested a new Oreometer that uses rubber bands and coins. They published the instructions for building this 3-D-printed device online.

“When you want to study the fluid mechanics of food, or ‘Fooid Mechanics,’ with scientific rigor, you need a tool to make quantitative measurements,” the researchers write in an introduction to the instructions.

Though studying Oreo cookies may seem trivial, the research could be an important tool for explaining complex fluid dynamics principles used in fields like 3-D printing and a potential gateway for getting new individuals interested in science more broadly.

"When we talk about the physics of complicated materials, and there are many, the Oreo cookie creme is one that is accessible to many people immediately," Randy Ewoldt, a mechanical engineer at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who was not involved in the study, tells CNN’s Madeline Holcombe. "To bring people into a much more complicated world, this may serve as an entryway for that."