What’s In A Cookie?

I admit that I am a huge cookie fan. I know they aren’t healthy. But, really, who doesn’t like a good cookie?
photo of chocolate chip cookies and milk (cookie ingredients)
A few weeks ago, I posted a link to The Science of the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies on the Food Construed Facebook page:

Since then, I’ve been thinking about cookie ingredients. It’s easy to look at a recipe or an ingredient list and see what goes into the cookie. The article provides great answers to questions about why specific ingredients are used and what purpose they serve. What I’ve been wondering is how do processed, pre-packaged store bought cookies differ from homemade?

Homemade Cookie Ingredients:

First, lets look at one of my favourite chocolate chip cookie recipes. The cookie ingredients are:

  • All-purpose flour
  • Chocolate chips
  • Dried cranberries
  • Butter
  • Granulated sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Egg
  • Baking soda
  • vanilla
  • salt


Flour provides most of the cookie’s structure. The ratio of flour to fat (butter in this case) determines how much the cookie will spread out as it bakes.

For those of you who want to take cookie baking very seriously, there are different types of flour you could use to help adjust the cookie’s structure. The main difference between types of flour is the amount of protein. Less protein (cake flour) in the flour means the cookie will be very soft. More protein (bread flour) makes the cookies chewy. All-purpose flour seems to be a good middle ground.

Chocolate Chips

Well, they wouldn’t be chocolate chip cookies if there weren’t any chocolate chips! Here’s what my chocolate chips are made from:

The soy lecithin is an emulsifier that prevents the cocoa and cocoa butter from separating.

Dried Cranberries

Not much to say here. Just dried cranberries.  I think they give the cookie a bit of tang that balances the chocolate.


All cookies need some sort of fat.  Butter is commonly used, but so is shortening.  The fat serves a number of different purposes in the cookie.

It makes the cookie tender.  It does this by preventing the formation of gluten.  Gluten is a tough stretchy protein formed when flour is mixed with water.  Gluten cannot form is the presence of fats.

The higher the proportion of fat to other ingredients, the more the cookie will spread.

Finally, butter in particular adds colour and flavour to the cookie.  Butter browns and adds nuttiness and butterscotch flavours to cookies.

How the fat is added to the cookie can also affect texture.  If the fat and sugars are creamed, the cookie tends to be lighter.  Melting the fat and adding it to the remaining cookie ingredients results in dense cookies.

Granulated Sugar

White sugar is crystallized sucrose. It has a relatively neutral in pH.
White sugar tends to give up more moisture than other sugars (such as brown sugar). So, cookies made with more white sugar tend to be crisper.

Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is just white sugar covered with a layer of syrup, usually molasses. Molasses is a byproduct of processing sugar cane or sugar beets into sugar. It contains roughly 30% sucrose, 12% glucose, and 12% fructose. It can also contain significant amounts of several minerals making it slightly acidic.

Because of it’s acidity, brown sugar can react with baking soda to create air bubbles. The cookie will rise higher and spread less than a cookie made with white sugar.


Except for a small amount in the butter, the egg is the main source of moisture in the cookie ingredients. The water combines with the flour to produce gluten.

The egg whites and the gluten are good at trapping air bubbles. The bubbles help the cookie rise.

The egg yolks provide proteins that help make the cookie tender with a brownie or fudge-like consistency.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. It is an alkaline powder. When mixed with a liquid and an acid, the baking soda reacts to produce sodium and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide gets trapped in the bubbles formed by the egg whites or gluten. And again, this helps the cookie rise.

Vanilla and Salt

Vanilla and salt are just used to adjust the flavour of the cookie.

Commercially Produced Cookie Ingredients:

I first thing I did was to look at the nutritional information provided on the
Chips Ahoy Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies website.

Here is the ingredients list:

  • Unbleached Enriched Flour
  • Semisweet Chocolate Chips
  • Sugar,
  • Soybean oil and/or Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed oil,
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup,
  • Leavening (Baking Soda and/or Ammonium Phosphate),
  • Salt,
  • Whey (from Milk),
  • Natural and Artificial Flavor,
  • Caramel Color.

The flour contains:
Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate {Vitamin b1}, Riboflavin {Vitamin b2}, Folic Acid.

The chocolate chips contain:
Sugar, Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Dextrose, Soy Lecithin)

So, a lot of the ingredients are the same as the homemade cookie ingredients.

The main exceptions seem to be soybean oil and whey used in place of the butter and egg. Another noticeable difference is the use of high fructose corn syrup. These substitutions lower the cost and ease of manufacturing the cookies.

We don’t know what natural or artificial flavours have been added. Ingredient lists can be pretty vague about these things.

The caramel colour is used to make the cookie look better. According to the Center for Science in ihe Public Interest, there is a possibility that the caramel colour may cause cancer. You have to wonder why manufacturers still use it. It would be interesting to see what cookies made without the colour look like. Would people actually buy one version over the other?

Leave a comment and tell your opinion.

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