Who doesn’t love a mystery? Who doesn’t feel godlike after evaluating a set of clues and drawing the exact right conclusion from them? Who didn’t grow up feeling deeply envious of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and even the friggin’ Bobbsey Twins for getting to do this all the time? Who wouldn’t get a little thrill to receive a package in the mail labeled “Top Secret”? Especially if it contains a brown envelope labeled “Your Mission”?
Okay, so this was not a special request for me. Or not just for me. The Mystery Oreo has been available for the past month at Wal-Mart, Target, and Amazon, and everyone who guesses the mystery flavor correctly will be entered in a sweepstakes to win $50,000. Still, as a representative of The Takeout, I felt honor-bound to do my best.
I summoned my friend Leor, who is the greatest Oreo flavor expert I know. He snatches up every new flavor he can find and once special-ordered Wasabi and Chicken Wing Oreos from China. (They were disgusting.) On a gloomy Wednesday afternoon, we pried open the box and took a good hard look at what we found there.
A clue had been printed on the package: “Its name it stole and history kept. Perhaps from a creature that lives on the steppe?” There was a picture of something that appeared to be a yak. (Oreo updates its website with new clues every Monday. But none so far have been as tantalizing as the yak.)
The list of ingredients was no help; it just said “artificial flavors.”
We each took a cookie and bit into it. At first, they tasted like regular Oreos. Then we started to detect a tinge of cinnamon.
“Is it egg nog?” Leor asked.
We’re both Jewish and have only rarely tasted egg nog. I looked up the etymology of egg nog anyway, to see if it had anything to do with steppes or theft.
We invited my colleagues at The AV Club to help us. One of them, Erik Adams, claimed a long familiarity with egg nog. He said the cookie didn’t taste like egg nog at all.
“It has a buttery bouquet,” he said, sniffing. “Maybe it’s caramel corn?” He noted that it smelled very similar to Garrett Popcorn, a Chicago chain that is famous for pumping clouds of caramel corn aroma into the street.
Gwen Ihnat took a taste and said it tasted like praline.
By then, we had all grabbed seconds. Then it hit me.
“It’s graham cracker!” I cried. “That’s where the caramel and cinnamon come from.”
No one else was convinced. The chocolate from the wafer, everyone agreed, was overpowering. “If it had a stronger flavor,” Gwen rationalized, “it wouldn’t be a Mystery.”
She and Leor agreed that whatever it was, it was definitely better than Fruity Pebbles, last year’s Mystery Oreo.
I left the package on the snack table with a pad of paper so others could write down their thoughts. One person wrote “Golden Grahams.” Another wrote “Teddy Grahams.” I felt vindicated, especially after Leor’s girlfriend, Julie, also thought graham crackers.
I took them home. My dog, Abby, gave them a sniff. Since dogs have a superior sense of smell, I was hoping she would have some ideas, but if she did, she didn’t share them. I recruited Dagny, the six-year-old child who lives downstairs. She took her testing responsibilities very seriously and sniffed the Oreo thoroughly before taking a bite. “Vanilla!” she yelled. “Vanilla and cinnamon!” Then she ran off with the rest of the Oreo yelling, “My cookie!”
The problem with mysteries is that sometimes you start to overthink. I was feeling pretty confident about graham crackers, but then it occurred to me that maybe graham crackers were just a component and the Mystery Oreo was really s’more. But I didn’t detect any toasted marshmallow flavor, and Leor pointed out that there was already a S’mores Oreo (not called S’moreos, alas).
“I am less sure of what it could be than when we tried them,” Leor texted me a few days later, after I told him I was preparing to write up our findings. “The flavor is so... subtle and mild it felt like it took eating at least one cookie before I could really notice there was something different with this one. Which, on a basic level, is a win for Oreo—more people will eat more of these trying to just get a hint of a taste!! But all I can really think of is the vague cinnamon flavor!”
I argued that if it were cinnamon, it would be much bolder, like a Fireball. And now I’m still for graham cracker, even though Leor said it didn’t feel entirely accurate. But it’s an artificially-flavored cookie, so who knows?
Anyway, I am giving this Oreo an A because I enjoyed the taste, despite the annoyingness of the mystery.
Have any of you tried the Mystery Oreo? Care to help us out?