Both Hydrox cookies and Oreos sport elaborate designs, creme centers, and a long history. PUBLIC DOMAIN

A lot has been said about the origins of the Oreo cookie name. Some say it’s completely made up. Others have unsubstantiated theories behind it. Mondelez, the parent company of the black-and-white-and-black cookie hasn’t taken any stance and rather maintains a suspicious silence. Even the official Oreo website makes no mention at all. So I couldn’t help but ask myself: Why is Oreo called Oreo and what does Oreo really mean?

The Leading Theories

Some have speculated that it comes from a derivation of the French word for “gold” (or). Τhat never made any sense to me since Oreos are black and white. This article postulates that the original packaging was gold.

The packaging on the right is the earliest Oreo packaging I could find -and I am not 100% convinced it’s real. I did a reverse image search on Google, and the earliest instance of the picture I could find wasn’t really that old. Either way, this doesn’t really look gold to me, and the thought of “gold” being such a key ingredient in the name of the product seems a bit far-fetched.

Another theory is that it comes from the Greek word for beautiful (ωραίο), which, according to the International Phonetic Alphabet -and me being Greek- is pronounced oˈɾe.o. This theory always sounded a bit strange to me as the pronunciation for Oreo in English is ˈɔːrioʊ and also, I never fancied the Portokalos way of thinking.

The original Oreo Packaging (?)

The Sweet Beginning of Oreo

Oreo was introduced in 1912 by the National Biscuit Company (Na-Bis-Co), as a competitor to the then-popular Hydrox cookie made by Sunshine Biscuits. You have to understand that Hydrox, at that point, was considered the King of Biscuits and was one of the most widely consumed cookies in America.

Let’s take a look at Hydrox promotional poster from 1913 courtesy of the Internet Archive.

Now let’s zoom and enhance. Notice the laurel branches that decorate the top of the biscuit? This will come in handy later on.

The Cookie Crumb Trail: The Clue that Binds it All

In her book BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, the pastry chef and food writer Stella Parks, made a very interesting find. “Consider the roster of Nabisco’s fancy biscuits in 1913: Avena, Lotus, Helicon, Zephyrette, Zaytona, Anola, Ramona, and Oreo,” she writes. It may seem like random words, but there is a pattern: “Avena is Latin for “oats,” and we all know the famous lotus blossom. Helicon comes from Heliconia, a genus of flower native to Florida. Zephyrette matches with Zephyranthes, the genus of the tropical lily. Zaytona is Arabic for “olive,” Anola was shortened from canola (one of its defining ingredients), and Ramona is in the buttercup family (buttercups dotted each box).

Someone at Nabisco clearly had a thing for botany, and to understand Oreo, you don’t have to look any farther than the mountain laurel on every Hydrox—Oreodaphne. It was a copycat in every way.

“Anola Sugar Wafers, with a delicate canola flower on the box, show Nabisco’s fondness for botanical names.”Excerpt From
Stella Parks

So there you go! Oreo from Oreo-daphne.

Scraping the Bottom

But wait a minute! Why should we stop there? Knowing Greek, I could deduce that oreodaphne consists of two words, oreo, and daphne. Daphne, pronounced ˈða.fni is still the Greek word for laurel. So what is that oreo in the front? Could it really mean beautiful, and legitimise the Greek origin theory?

I had to go deeper. As we know by now, Oreo comes from the Latin Oreodaphne, so what better place to look than a Latin lexicon? And so I did: According to, the word oreos in Latin means of the mountain, from the Greek oros (ὄρος) meaning mountain, which becomes oreos (ὄρεος) in the possessive tense of Ancient Greek.

Finally, we have reached the end of this trail. Oreodaphne means mountain-daphne, and thus Oreo comes from the Greek oros meaning mountain.

Damn you Portokalos!

A screenshot from a Latin Lexicon showing the meaning of oreos.

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