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MIT scientists explore "Oreology": What's the best way to split an Oreo?

Oreos are a big business, with sales of more than $2 billion annually for parent company Mondelēz International. But the creme-filled treats have also sparked some big questions, such as if it's possible to open the cookie so the creme is evenly split between the two sides.

A team of scientists at MIT took on the task of examining the science of Oreos, upon which they bestowed the tongue-in-check name "Oreology," publishing their findings last year in the peer-reviewed journal Physics of Fluids. Determined to get to the bottom of the creme dispersion phenomenon, the team tested more than 1,000 Oreos, according to the Wall Street Journal, which earlier reported on the research.

On the face of it, the issue may seem trivial, but the researchers noted that the study of "the flow of materials with complex or non-Newtonian viscosity," also called rheology, has applications in food science. Developers of speciality foods, such as gluten-free batter and breads, depend on such science to analyze a product's texture and how it is experienced by consumers. 

Softness, feel and other factors are "intrinsic to [consumers'] enjoyable consumption, with one example being the habit of twisting a sandwich cookie apart before eating," the researchers noted. 

The adhesion conundrum

As most Oreo aficionados know, the creme inside the cookies tends to adhere to one side of its two wafers, rather than splitting evenly between the two cookies. The researchers found that, in fact, the creme adhered to one side of the cookie about 80% of the time.

The Oreo brand, meanwhile, continues to come out with new varieties, with the cookie maker in January introducing what it calls "The Most OREO OREO" — a treat stuffed with extra levels of creme that include Oreos mixed into the filling. 

And yet even the most Oreo of Oreos might also have the same issues, as the findings suggest that no matter how high the creme, the filing tends to stick to one side. Notably, however, some flavors were more likely to experience cookie breakage, the researchers found after testing Oreo's Dark Chocolate and Golden flavors.

Fact: Oreo creme is actually a fluid

Beyond pulling Oreos apart by hand, the MIT researchers used a machine called a rheometer, a laboratory instrument that's used to test how fluids react to different forces. (Yes, Oreo creme is technically considered part of a "class of flowable soft solids known as 'yield stress fluids'," the researchers noted. These appear like soft solids but "flow" when put under pressure.)

"We also tested the cookies by hand — twisting, peeling, pressing, sliding and doing other basic motions to get an Oreo apart," Crystal Owens, an MIT Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering and part of the Oreology research group, told the Journal. 

She added, "There was no combination of anything that we could do by hand or in the rheometer that changed anything in our results."

It's possible an Oreo creme's tendency to cling to one wafer is determined by how the cookies are stored in a box, as well as how the creme is applied in manufacturing, with the sugary goop perhaps more likely to stick to the side that it adheres to first, Owens told the Journal. 

To produce an Oreo in which the creme adheres to both cookies, the manufacturer could flip the wafers so the textured sides are facing the filling, or stick the cookies to the creme at the same time, the researchers told the publication.

Oreo parent Mondelēz said it remains agnostic about the best way to split an Oreo.

"We want to congratulate these amazing scientific minds and applaud their dedication to our cookie twisting ritual," said Michelle Deignan, vice president of Oreo U.S. at Mondelēz International, in an email to CBS MoneyWatch. "The reality is that there's just not one 'right' way to eat an Oreo cookie."

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