Who doesn’t love a good Oreo cookie, especially since there are so many ways to enjoy them — straight out of the package as is, dunk in ice cold milk, or gently twist them apart and dive into the white creamy center with your teeth.
And today, there are 25 varieties of Oreo cookies, making it even more difficult for a lesser known brand — Hydrox — to share good shelf exposure at the store.
Hydrox is a very similar, slightly smaller cookie also with a white cream center. It has been around four years longer than Oreo.
The problem is its name.
In 1882, the entrepreneur Jacob Loose bought a biscuit and candy company that would eventually be known as Sunshine Biscuits (after the company’s baking plant designs) and, in 1908, launched the biscuit sandwich known as Hydrox, according to atlasobscura.com.
The name, they thought, would be reminiscent of the sunlight that glimmered through its factories, in addition to speaking to a basic purity of product. The truth is that what was intended to imply hydrogen and oxygen — the two chemicals that make up water — the result has a more clinical, less roll-off-the-tongue convention to it, and instead evokes hydrogen peroxide, a chemical you probably don’t want to drink.
It didn’t help that in 1922, there was an existing Hydrox Chemical Company on the market, one that sold hydrogen peroxide and was caught up in a trademark lawsuit at the time over the use of the word “hydrox”— a lawsuit that noted the term was used for coolers, for soda, even for brands of ice cream.
It was a strange name for a cookie. But the cookie’s design, which was initially sold with an exotic “English biscuit” twist, was pretty interesting for its era. With an industrial press from a mold, the cookie took on the look of a flower.
While Oreo grew to be a cultural icon, Hydrox retained its partisans, in part also because the slightly-more-bitter cookie was also kosher.
Hydrox did have some natural advantages. For example, while Nabisco was stuck spending money on a costly transformation to remove the lard from the cream in its cookies, Hydrox cookies were already kosher, which for decades gave them an advantage in the market.
The problem, of course, was probably the name. When Keebler took ownership of the Sunshine Foods brands in the late ’90s, most people thought Hydrox was the Johnny-come-lately, when it was really Oreo that had entered the market second. And the name proved such a huge turnoff that Hydrox only had 4.2 percent of the sales of Oreo in 1998 — just $16 million compared to Oreo’s $374 million takeaway.
Making matters worse, 1998 was the first year that Oreo itself went kosher for the first time.
Keebler realized this was a problem and quickly attempted to rename the cookies Droxies, a sort of softening of the name to discourage people from thinking of chemicals.
But the shift wasn’t enough; in 2001, Kellogg’s had bought the Keebler brand, putting Hydrox under yet another corporate owner, and by 2003, it had stopped selling Hydrox altogether — sans a brief reprieve in 2008 after enough consumers complained that it briefly changed its mind.
Hydrox made a comeback in 2015. Ellia Kassoff, a Jewish kid who grew up on the kosher cookies, had gained some knowledge on how to gain access to a trademark that was sitting unused, and as a result, he was able to pick up Hydrox for his own company, Leaf Brands.
Not only are the cookies kosher, but these days they’re made with real sugar and without GMOs. And even if they’ll always be the second best compared to Oreo, they have a spot in the grocery store again.
Hydrox cookies are kosher?
“Clean” or “pure” refers to food that has been ritually prepared or blessed so it can be eaten by religious Jews. It comes from the Hebrew word kasher, meaning “proper” or “lawful,” and became common in English in the mid-19th Century. It can be used as an adjective, for example, “kosher meat.” In the mid-1920s, the word took on a more general meaning, used to refer to anything that was acceptable.