Skip to Content

Fortune Cookie Without Fortune – What Does It Mean?

So you finish a nice meal at a Chinese restaurant, and with the check came the expected fortune cookie. You crack open the cookie as you eagerly anticipate your coming fortune, and, horror of horrors, there is nothing inside! There is no fortune!

What does it mean? Are you doomed? Should you get your affairs in order and say goodbye to your loved ones?

What Does It Mean To Get A Fortune Cookie Without Fortune?

According to popular belief, getting a cookie without a fortune can mean one of four things: first, something good will happen to you because those who bestow the fortune now owe you one. Second, you have the ability to take control of your own future. Third, it is bad luck. Fourth, it doesn’t really mean anything and you just got a dud of a fortune cookie. It is likely that there is another cookie out there that has two fortunes inside because yours had none.

Fortune Cookie Without Fortune - What Does It Mean?
Fortune Cookie Without Fortune – What Does It Mean?

There Was No Fortune in My Fortune Cookie… Am I Doomed?

Especially if you are the superstitious type, anything that goes “wrong” can feel like an ominous sign from above that your luck has run out. 

Something like opening a fortune cookie and finding out there’s no fortune inside can feel like the universe has singled you out and is about to rain upon you a host of unfortunate events.

So what do most people make of this empty fortune business?

Here are some of the beliefs that people have regarding empty fortune cookies.

1. Good Fortune Is Owed

Some people say that if you break open your fortune cookie and there’s no fortune there, you are owed some good fortune by the fortune fairies. Think of it like getting a gift voucher that you can redeem anytime.

2. The Opportunity to Take Charge of Your Life

This camp believes that an empty fortune is cosmic permission to take the reins and take control of your own life. You have a free pass to determine your own future and determine the course of your life.

If you get a fortune cookie without fortune, some believe you are owed good luck.
If you get a fortune cookie without fortune, some believe you are owed good luck.

3. You Are Out of Luck

Still, some believe that an empty fortune is an omen of sorts, that you have been singled out and got the short end of the stick and now have to bear bad luck and other misfortunes that are about to happen in your life.

4. It Means You Got A Dud

And finally, we have the camp that says that it doesn’t mean anything. It means you got a dud fortune cookie. Millions of fortune cookies are made daily, and some are bound to be “defective”.  

In fact, because of how they are made, it is likely that there is another fortune cookie out there with two fortunes since yours had none. Also, getting an empty one just means you can take another one!

What is A Fortune Cookie?

A fortune cookie is a crispy, crescent-shaped cookie that is hollow inside and contains a strip of paper containing a “fortune” and that may include sayings, prophecies, quotes and lucky numbers. It is typically made from flour, sugar, water and eggs, although many other ingredients may be added depending on the place that serves it.

It is usually served at the end of the meal at Chinese and sometimes Japanese restaurants in the U.S. and some other countries like Canada, and is considered to be an American invention, not really of Chinese origin.

A Brief History of Fortune Cookies

Fortune cookies are often served at Chinese restaurants so it is natural to assume that it has its roots in Chinese culture. However, it actually has nothing to do with Chinese culture and is purely an American tradition, by way of Japan. 

Japanese Fortune Cookies

A man by the name of Makoto Hagiwara, the owner of a place called Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco is credited to be the first person to introduce the fortune cookie to California sometime in the late 1890s to early 1900s, although it was widely contested and many competing claims were subsequently made by different people after that.  

Regardless of who first introduced it, the modern fortune cookie that we know today is likely an Americanized version of a Japanese cookie called tsujiura senbei. 

Tsujiura senbei are rice crackers made with ingredients like miso and sesame, that contained strips of paper containing a fortune. However, rather than being inside the hollow part, the fortunes were wedged at the fold, outside the wafers.

They are also larger, and darker in color, and had a more savory flavor to them. It is said to have been sold prominently as early as the 19th century, and are likely rooted in the Japanese temple tradition of omikuji, or the practice of getting fortunes after making an offering in the temple as messages from the gods.

When the idea of the fortune cookie was brought into the U.S. by way of the influx of Japanese immigrants, the form, ingredients and flavor evolved and was likely changed to adapt to Western tastes. 

The fortune cookie that we know today is sweeter in taste and is usually made with sugar, flour, eggs and water, though other ingredients and flavorings may be added as well.

Wait… But How Did They Become A Chinese Restaurant Staple?  

I know what you’re thinking. So how did fortune cookies come to be so deeply associated with Chinese food if they came from Japan?

Well, certain events have contributed to why this became so. Prior to World War II, fortune cookies – then more popularly known as “fortune tea cakes”- were very popular in Chinese and Japanese restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Japanese bakeries who created the cookies sold them to Chinese restaurants, which contributed more to its popularity.

When over 100,000 Japanese Americans were detained in internment camps during World War II, Chinese bakeries had to be the ones to take over most of the production of the fortune cookies.

The Chinese were also one of the first ones to mass-produce fortune cookies by creating a way to mechanize the process. Prior to this, fortune cookies were traditionally made by hand.

Because of this, it became easier to produce and easier to distribute to other Chinese restaurants in the U.S. The widespread availability in Chinese restaurants cemented the association that the fortune cookie is part of Chinese culture, and the misconception remains so to this day.

Despite its association with Chinese food, fortune cookies are actually an American tradition.
Despite its association with Chinese food, fortune cookies actually are not from China.

 How Are Fortune Cookies Made?

Fortune cookies are made with a mixture of sugar, flour, water, and eggs. The batter is poured to make circles of about 3”, baked and then before the cookie cools, the paper fortunes are quickly placed in the middle and then folded and shaped to allow the cookies to cool. When cool, the fortune cookies harden and become crispy. 

Fortune Cookie Automation

Fortune cookies have always been made this way, by hand, but in the 1970s, fortune cookie making dramatically changed forever.

A man by the name of Edward Louie, who owned Lotus Fortune Cookie Company in San Francisco, is credited with the invention of a machine that automatically inserted the paper fortune into the cookies before they are folded, making the process faster and more consistent.

In 1980, a man named Yong Lee invented a machine that made the entire cookie-making process fully automated. This machine was called the Fortune III. 

Over the years, improvements have been made in the machines but basically followed the same baking process as the handmade ones. 

  • Mix batter
  • Pour into 3” circles, flatten and bake for a few minutes
  • Add paper fortunes and keep them in place
  • Metal fingers fold and shape the cookie
  • Cookie is cooled and packaged

As the machines improved, it has become more and more efficient and has become faster in producing fortune cookies. A modern machine called the Kitamura FCM-8006W can actually churn out and shape about 8,000 cookies in one hour!

The automation of the process of fortune cookie making made fortune cookies more widely available and faster to produce.
The automation of the process of fortune cookie making made fortune cookies more widely available and faster to produce.

How Many Fortune Cookies Are Made Daily in The U.S.?

The world’s largest producer of fortune cookies, Wonton Foods, Inc, based in Brooklyn in New York produces about 4.5 million fortune cookies a day. There are other companies that produce fortune cookies, so imagine how many are being churned out in one single day!

Do The Fortunes in Fortune Cookies Predict the Future?

No one can predict the future or determine the exact course of your life, and certainly fortune cookie writers don’t claim to be sages that see into the future. Fortunes in fortune cookies are meant to be words of wisdom to remember, or words that make you smile after a good meal. 

They are not meant to give you advice whether you should sell your house and move across country to start over. These things are a little bit more complicated and take more than a fortune in a sugar cookie to determine.

Fortunes in fortune cookies sometimes give us words of wisdom to help us navigate life.
Fortunes in fortune cookies sometimes give us words of wisdom to help us navigate life.

Frequently Asked Questions to Fortune Cookie Without Fortune

What Does It Mean When There’s No Fortune In My Fortune Cookie?

Some people believe no fortune means good luck as you are owed a fortune or you have a chance to create your own future, while some believe it is a negative omen. Most believe that it doesn’t mean anything and you just got an empty cookie by chance.

Are Fortune Cookies An Important Part of Chinese Culture?

Despite the fact that it is mostly served in Chinese restaurants in the U.S., there actually is no tradition or culture pertaining to fortune cookies in China. Japan has a similar concept, but the fortune cookie as we know it is purely an American tradition.

Who Invented the Fortune Cookie?

The fortune cookie is said to be a modern variation of a Japanese cookie called tsujiura senbei , which is rooted in a Japanese temple tradition of obtaining fortunes after temple offerings. The idea was said to have been brought to the U.S. by Japanese-American immigrants.

Conclusion to Fortune Cookie Without Fortune

According to popular belief, fortune cookies without fortune offer you a chance to take control of your life, and give you a “good fortune” credit from the fortune fairies. Some also believe it is a negative sign however, most people believe it doesn’t really mean anything, and you can just take another one.

Fortune cookies are not really meant to predict the future, because no one really can. It is just a fun way to end a nice meal at a Chinese restaurant with some wise words to think about that may perhaps give us a new perspective on our current circumstances.

The idea of fortune cookies may have originated somewhere else, and somewhere unexpected at that, but the whole practice and tradition behind it is, as some have said, is as American as baseball and apple pie.