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iStock // Lucy Quintanilla

The Optimal Time to Dunk an Oreo, According to Science

iStock // Lucy Quintanilla
iStock // Lucy Quintanilla

Have you submerged an Oreo into a glass of milk and lingered too long? Did you watch in horror as America's supposedly favorite cookie disintegrated before your very eyes? Fear no more! Here's how to find (and elongate) your optimal dunk time.

THE SHORT ANSWER

Dip your cookie for three seconds, give or take. Carry on with your life, dear reader.

THE LONG ANSWER

Well, it depends. Do you prefer a crispy cookie masked in a thin veneer of milk? A cookie that has metamorphosed into unrecognizable gloop? Do you believe in a Goldilocks zone, a Platonic middle-ground that’s neither too dry, nor too spongy, but just right? It’s all subjective. But let’s assume you want an Oreo that is pleasantly soggy and has maintained its structural dignity.

There’s math for that. In the late 1990s, Len Fisher, then a professor of physics at the University of Bristol, sparked a media storm when he argued that a decades-old mathematical formula could predict the perfect dunk time for a cookie. It’s all thanks, he claimed, to capillary action.

Water molecules are adhesive: They cling to solid surfaces. (It’s why water in a beaker shows a meniscus—it’s attracted to the sides of the container.) When water enters a small tube, the liquid can adhere to surfaces in ways that seem to defy gravity: This is why water may crawl up your drink’s straw and why a paintbrush seems to slurp up liquid. That’s capillary action in a nutshell.

On a microscale, a cookie is essentially a series of small, starchy tubes. Fisher writes in his book How to Dunk a Doughnut that a dunking liquid (in our case, milk) is “held in place in the porous matrix by the pressure across the meniscus in the smallest of pores.” In other words, capillary action helps the milk spread through the cookie. In the early 20th century, the American scientist E.W. Washburn cooked up a formula to describe this watery journey.

Washburn's Equation
Lucy Quintanilla

Washburn tested and confirmed his formula by observing ink blots spread through paper. (A simplified version of his equation explains how inkjet printers spit out dry, sharp-looking text.) But it took nearly a century for someone such as Fisher to apply the formula to baked goods: After finding reliable numbers for the variables, Fisher rearranged the equation and solved for T (time).

He discovered that the perfect dipping time for a typical British dunking biscuit with a conventional dip was three-and-a-half to five seconds.

But Fisher never tested Oreos. So in 2016, members of Utah State University’s Splash Lab—an academic group studying the behaviors of fluids—put Oreos to the test. (Splash Lab, we should note, has an appetite for quirky experiments: They’ve studied the fluid dynamics of urinal splashback, analyzed the physics of the perfect skipping stone, and even tested the insulating properties of beards.)

Three researchers gathered Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Nutter Butter, and Graham Crackers and dipped the cookies halfway in 2 percent milk for half a second to seven seconds. After dunking, the team weighed the treats and measured how much milk had been absorbed.

The results: Oreos absorbed 50 percent of their potential liquid weight in just one second. After two seconds, they absorbed 80 percent. The number flatlined briefly for a second. After the fourth second, the cookie maxed out: It absorbed all its possible milk. “This data indicates that for the tested cookies, keeping your cookie in the glass any longer than five seconds does not lead to any additional milk entering the cookies,” their study suggested.

A graph of optimal cookie dunk times.
Oreo cookies absorbed milk at the same rate as Nutter Butter, taking in 100 percent of their liquid weight in four seconds.
Splash Lab

Splash Lab then performed a second test, dunking all cookies for six seconds and attaching them horizontally to a clamp. They waited for the cookies to collapse. The Oreo lasted an impressive five minutes! Compare that to measly Graham Crackers, which crumbled after eight seconds.

The takeaway: Three seconds is enough time to saturate most of an Oreo. There’s no benefit to dunking longer than four seconds. (Unless you want to watch the cookie crumble into your milk. As Splash Lab’s Randy Hurd, a mechanical engineering Ph.D. candidate, told us: “Waiting for the crisp cookie structure to break down is not necessarily a waste of time if that’s what you prefer.” We don’t judge.)

However, things get more complicated if you choose a different kind of dairy.

THE LONGER ANSWER

Your choice of milk could change the optimal dunk time by a few split seconds.

In 2011, researchers published a study in the Journal of Food Science that explained why milk doesn’t immediately turn breakfast cereal into mush: Fats and other solids in the dairy hindered “liquid infiltration,” slowing absorption. The same process is true of cookies, says Jennifer Fideler, a graduate student in food science at North Carolina State University.

Milk, for one, is full of sugars. Sugars are hygroscopic, meaning they hold onto moisture and can prevent liquid from seeping into the cookie. Additionally, fat and carbohydrate molecules are big. They can prevent the water in the milk from infiltrating the cookie’s porous matrix.  “Not only is it likely that the fat content of the milk (whole, 2 percent, skim, even heavy whip!) would affect the rate of moisture migration ... but the fat included in the cookie—and even moreso the cream filling—would help resist the influx of fluid,” Fideler wrote in an email.

Fat content doesn’t just slow down absorption time. It’s also known to enhance the flavor. In 1999, Len Fisher tested more than 200 British biscuit and drink combinations and concluded that milk could make a cookie 11 times more flavorful. (This wasn’t peer-reviewed, and it was sponsored by a biscuit company, so take it for what it’s worth.) “Milk is essentially fat droplets suspended in water and those fat droplets stay around in your mouth and they hang on to the flavour in the biscuit so that the aroma can be released up to the back of your nose,” Fisher told the BBC.

So, if you’re the type of person who dreams of extending the optimal Oreo dunk time while enhancing the flavor, toss the skim milk down the drain and pour a cup of high-fat dairy. Whole milk (3.25 percent butterfat) spiked with half-and-half (generally 10 percent butterfat) could extend your dunk time. But if you wanted to indulge and throw a Hail Mary—and have a few spare notches left in your belt—try dunking in heavy cream (36 percent butterfat). Heck, while we’re at it, why not go all the way and dip it in melted butter (80 percent butterfat).

(We’d like to take this moment to say we are not licensed to give nutritional advice and are not liable for culinary crimes against humanity. So maybe don't do this.)

THE MUCH LONGER ANSWER

If you wanted to boost the optimal Oreo dunk time even longer, there’s another principle you can hack: Water Activity.

Water activity is a measurement of how likely something gives away moisture. It’s measured on a scale from 0 to 1: Milk, for example, possesses a high water activity of 0.98. It readily gives its water away. A cookie, on the other hand, has a water activity hovering around 0.3. It holds onto its moisture and is more likely to absorb water.

Food manufacturers and processors have to constantly contend with water activity. It’s critical in determining a product’s safety, stability, and shelf life: Controlling water activity is the easiest way to prevent—and predict—the spread of dangerous bacteria [PDF]. (That’s because items with a high water activity are more likely to give water away to nasty microorganisms, causing spoilage.)

But for our selfishly sweet-toothed purposes today, water activity is just another factor affecting the critical cookie dipping time. A liquid with a lower water activity will hold onto its moisture more tightly than standard milk, Fideler explains. So, if you wanted to extend the optimal dunk time further, you should try to dip your Oreo into dairy that not only contains lots of fats and carbs, but also possesses a relatively low water activity. With that in mind, we have the perfect recommendation: Sweetened condensed milk. (We don’t actually recommend this.)

Boasting a high butterfat content (8 percent), obscene loads of carbs (166 grams per cup), and a relatively low water activity (.87), sweetened condensed milk is perfect if you’re the kind of person who relishes long dunk times and believes “calories” are just another government conspiracy designed to scare you from chugging modernity’s decadent ambrosias.

Dunk away!

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Eggnog
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Eggnog: you know it's delicious, but did you know it once led to a riot at West Point? In honor of National Eggnog Month (which runs all of December), join us as we raise our glasses to one of the most popular beverages of the season with these fascinating facts.

1. EGGNOG MOST LIKELY ORIGINATED IN MEDIEVAL TIMES.


Lady Macbeth by George Cattermole, via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Most historians trace eggnog back to “posset,” a hot milk-based drink comprised of spices and wine, which became popular as early as the 14th century. Though it was mostly consumed as a cozy cocktail, it was also used as a soothing remedy for colds and flu. Posset remained a mainstay into Shakespeare’s era, though it was famously used for nefarious purposes in Macbeth when Lady Macbeth drugged the guards’ possets outside King Duncan’s chambers.

2. GEORGE WASHINGTON HAD A (NOW-FAMOUS) SUPER-BOOZY EGGNOG RECIPE.


Portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Our first president apparently enjoyed serving eggnog during Christmas at Mount Vernon; according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, it was one of his favorite concoctions. The recipe continues to circulate widely today, even though Washington forgot to include the number of eggs needed (hey, improvise!). And here it is, in his exact words:

One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, ½ pint rye whiskey, ½ pint Jamaica rum, ¼ pint sherry—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.

3. DWIGHT EISENHOWER WAS ALSO A PROPONENT OF BOOZY ‘NOG.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

One of the 34th president’s favorite ways to de-stress was to cook, according to National Journal. “By the time he left office, Dwight Eisenhower had concocted a hearty collection of recipes, chronicled in his post presidential papers,” write Marina Koren, Brian Resnick and Matt Berman. “There was his famous vegetable soup and beef stew, warm hush puppies, and lemon chiffon pie. [...] But nothing could get you drunk faster than Ike’s eggnog.”

Ike’s recipe calls for one dozen egg yolks, one pound of granulated sugar, one quart of bourbon, one quart of coffee cream (half & half), and one quart of whipping cream. National Journal whipped up some of Ike’s eggnog, and found it a “very alcoholic, surprisingly light and creamy (in density, not in richness or calories) nog.”

4. HEAVILY SPIKED EGGNOG ONCE CAUSED AN INFAMOUS WEST POINT RIOT.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Eggnog Riot, a.k.a. The Grog Mutiny, was a Christmas soiree gone very wrong at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1826. Earlier that year, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, West Point’s superintendent, had forbidden alcohol on campus. Known as the “Father of West Point,” Thayer turned what had once been an academy consisting of an undisciplined student body and a derelict campus into the respected institution West Point is today, according to Natasha Geiling in her very detailed telling of the riot for Smithsonian magazine. “Eggnog was a traditional part of West Point’s annual Christmas celebration, but Thayer’s moratorium on alcohol threw a wrench in the festivities,” Geiling writes. “Not to be denied a night of revelry, some cadets set about smuggling in liquor from nearby taverns for the holiday party.”

The cadets proceeded to get rip-roaring drunk, and the night resulted in smashed crockery and windows, broken furniture, the drawing of swords (no one was hurt), gunshots (only a doorjamb was harmed), and a knocked-down lieutenant. Once the “party” was over, 19 cadets were expelled.

The U.S. Army also has a telling of the Eggnog Riot on its official homepage, and the article concludes thusly: “Years have passed since the cadets overindulged on eggnog, but the moral of their story is still applicable. Too much of the ‘good stuff’ can lead to serious consequences. So remember this story as the holiday parties approach; let's not let one night of fun alter our future as 19 West Point cadets had.”

5. WHEN STARBUCKS REMOVED THE EGGNOG LATTE FROM ITS HOLIDAY MENU, THERE WAS A FLURRY OF COMPLAINTS..


Getty Images

In 2014, Starbucks dropped the Eggnog Latte from its offerings. According to USA Today, there was immediate customer backlash. “The coffee kingpin will bring back its seasonal Eggnog Latte nationwide this month after a customer revolt spread from letters to phone calls to social media,” reporter Bruce Horovitz wrote. “It had dropped the beverage, a seasonal offering since 1986, to try to simplify its expanding menu.” Starbucks even issued an apology: "We made a mistake," said spokeswoman Linda Mills. "We are very sorry."

On its blog, Starbucks credits the very first, original Eggnog Latte to Il Giornale, a small, Italian-themed coffee chain in Seattle. Il Giornale’s owner was Howard Schultz, who bought Starbucks in 1987 and then continued the Eggnog Latte tradition at the now-behemoth coffee chain.

6. PUERTO RICO HAS ITS OWN HOLIDAY-SEASON DRINK THAT’S SIMILAR TO EGGNOG.

Coquito is a traditional Puerto Rican Christmas drink, and it’s typically made with coconut milk, rum, nutmeg, cinnamon, and, depending on the chef, sometimes condensed milk, and sometimes egg yolks. The Museo del Barrio in New York City hosts an popular annual Coquito Masters contest during the holiday season.

“Coquito is a very important tradition in the Puerto Rican community. Everyone has their own recipe,” Debbie Quiñones, founder of the contest, told the New York Times in 2009. At the contest covered in the article, one woman competed with her father’s secret recipe, which her mother had stolen for her from his hiding place: a metal safe under his bed. Another contestant used his grandmother’s recipe. “Everyone has a little quirk that they think makes it better than everyone else’s,” Dr. Frank Estrada, another contestant who was competing with an old family recipe, said. “I can’t sell it, because if I was to put a price on it, of what I think it’s worth, they couldn’t afford it.”

7. IT IS IMPORTANT TO CHUG EGGNOG WITH CAUTION—EVEN NON-ALCOHOLIC 'NOG.

In 2014, Ryan Roche of Lehi, Utah, officially became “Utah man hospitalized after chugging eggnog.” Roche’s story of eggnog chugging gone awry became national news, all because he decided to engage in an alcohol-free eggnog-chugging contest as part of an office holiday party.

According to BuzzFeed News, Roche was on his way out the door when he heard his boss yell, “Roche, get up here!” Roche then chugged a whole quart of eggnog in 12 seconds flat. “I just opened up the carton and pretty much poured it down my throat,” Roche told reporter Jim Dalrymple. “I didn’t take a breath of air.”

Roche left the party coughing, but he figured he would soon be fine. Instead, ended up in the hospital, where he spent a day in the Intensive Care Unit, and another two days in recovery. The doctors determined Roche had inhaled some of the eggnog, and he was given antibiotics.

8. EGGNOG CAN ALSO BE REFERRED TO AS A “HELL’S ANGEL.”


Wikimedia Commons // Fair Use

In Stella Gibbons’s 1932 novel Cold Comfort Farm, one of the main characters makes a beverage called a Hell’s Angel, consisting of one egg, one teaspoon of cream, two ounces of brandy, and some ice.

9. DAVID LETTERMAN LIKED TO INCORPORATE EGGNOG INTO HIS LATE SHOW HOLIDAY TRADITIONS.

David Letterman was famous for his oddball holiday traditions, such as annual target practice involving the giant meatball that topped the Late Show’s Christmas tree in lieu of a traditional star, bow, or angel. And of course, some of his odd holiday shenanigans incorporated eggnog. One year, Letterman drenched his film crew with a Super Soaker filled with eggnog. Another year, the Goo Goo Dolls performed their hit song “Name” with nothing particularly unusual about the performance ... until they dove into a giant glass of eggnog.

10. DECEMBER 24TH IS NATIONAL EGGNOG DAY.

So what are you waiting for? Find your favorite eggnog recipe. Add some booze, or don’t. Dive in. Don’t forget to come up for air. And, as George Washington advised, taste frequently!

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Celebrate the Holidays With Candy Canes That Taste Like Pickles, Gravy, Wasabi, and Bacon
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Candy canes are a classic seasonal snack that you can pluck right off the tree. Some might argue that the traditionally red-and-white candies are perfect the way they are, but some holiday deviants disagree. If you're sick of peppermint, perhaps we could tempt you with a candy cane that tastes like a pickle?


Amazon

Believe it or not, Amazon has a whole slew of questionable candy cane flavors for purchase: You can try intriguing flavors like bacon, wasabi, gravy, coffee, and, of course, pickles.


Amazon

The unusual flavors are perfect for anyone with daring taste buds—or a wicked sense of humor. The pickle ones are decorated in bright green, so they look festive enough for even the most traditional tree. 


Amazon

If you're looking for something equally quirky but not necessarily disgusting, there are also flavors inspired by different sodas and sour Warheads.

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