Kristen Tomlan began selling raw cookie dough online in 2015, but when people started dropping by the company’s unmarked New York City kitchen asking for the dough, she knew she was onto something big. “I thought it had all the potential to be the next hot dessert, but I had no idea how quickly,” Tomlan says of her decision to open Dō as a Manhattan brick and mortar in early 2017. During the first weeks, there was a two-hour wait to get inside. “I was hoping for a line,” Tomlan says. “But had no idea that it would extend down to the end of the block starting the first weekend.”
Thanks to Food and Drug Administration warnings, people around the country have grown up heeding advice against eating raw cookie dough, lest they fall ill from salmonella (from the raw eggs) or E. coli (from the untreated flour). Nowadays, thanks to pasteurization and heat treatment, the forbidden treat can be safely enjoyed.
But so-called edible cookie dough has been around for a few years. The Cookie Dough Cafe, with headquarters in Illinois, began selling the dessert by the tub online and in grocery stores in 2011. Three years later, sisters and owners Julia Schmid and Joan Pacetti brought the venture to prime time: On ABC’s Shark Tank, the TV show where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to celebrity investors, Lori Greiner, the “Queen of QVC,” and film producer Steve Tisch loved the idea so much they collectively invested $100,000. The jars are now in 10,000 supermarkets nationwide.
When pitching their idea, Schmid and Pacetti claimed their product was the only edible cookie dough on the market made to be eaten as-is. Not anymore: Between new shops, expansions, and menu upgrades, 2017 is set to be the breakout year for edible cookie dough. Dō — based in New York City, where there is a line for everything — certainly garnered a lot of publicity during its January opening, but it wasn’t the only doughy debut of the year. In February, Tart Sweets bakery in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, started selling its dough in “doughwiches” and by the scoop through its cookie dough bar, which is only open Fridays and Saturdays. Earlier this year, Yoyo Berri frozen yogurt shops in Nebraska and South Dakota started offering raw cookie dough to liven up yesterday’s snack craze. And four flavors of the stuff, served with a side of “ice milk,” will be among the newest items featured at this year’s Minnesota State Fair.
Three months after Dō took New York City by storm, 28-year-old Joseph Francabandiero debuted Dough Boyz in upstate New York, in a mall near Buffalo. The shop has 11 flavors, served by the scoop, and lines have been out the door there, too. “You hope it’s not one of those fads,” Francabandiero says. “It’s not something you want people to try it once and never come again.”
But it’s certainly trending. According to a recent analysis by Twitter, cookie dough is the most talked-about ice cream flavor on the social media platform, after classics chocolate and vanilla (last year, the data showed coffee was the third-top choice). Google Trends shows that search interest in “edible cookie dough” is at the highest index it’s ever been. Yelp data shows that so far in 2017, user reviews that mention "cookie dough" in the dessert category have increased 68 percent year-over-year from 2016, and are at an all-time high. Meanwhile, Foursquare City Guide and Foursquare Swarm data showed an 8 percent year-over-year increase in users talking about cookie dough.
Google Search Interest for “Edible Cookie Dough”
Why? People want what they shouldn’t have — the forbidden fruit, Francabandiero says. “It’s kind of one of those things you’ve been told your whole life you can’t do, and now you can eat cookie dough.”
But the reason may be even simpler than that, says University of Michigan health behavior and education professor Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher. While there is an allure to eating things with a bit of risk attached (think sushi, tartare, and rare hamburgers), at the end of the day, getting sick from eating raw cookie dough, even without the pasteurization or heat treatments, is very unlikely.
“The likelihood of becoming sick, while not zero, is not huge,” Zikmund-Fisher says. “Generations of kids have eaten cookie dough that their parents made, or raw batter of different types, and have not gotten sick before, so there’s a lot of historic memories.”
Zikmund-Fisher is an advocate of eating raw homemade cookie dough, but makes sure he’s using pasteurized eggs and ingredients that don’t appear on any recall list (especially the flour, which he checks). But people who don’t want to take chances, however small, can rest assured with companies selling products specifically designed to be eaten raw, he says.
The ways edible cookie dough purveyors pull it off vary, and so do the resulting tastes. Producers like Tomlan who use special heat-treated flour and pasteurized eggs yield a bakeable, dough-like product. But others, such as Francabandiero and the Shark Tank-approved Cookie Dough Cafe, forego the eggs and baking soda, yielding a tasty but more or less non-bakeable product, which requires more effort to perfect its likeliness to homemade cookie dough. The way the dough is served varies, too. Some come in cones, others in cups. Some are served chilled and/or as sandwiches. Butter and sugar levels may differ.
“It’s trying to find the proper balance,” Francabandiero says. Unbaked cookie dough that people lick from the beater or spoon at home has a very sweet taste, but when you’re selling cups of the treat, the amount of sugar and butter has to be adjusted so that people don’t feel sick. “They’re not used to sitting down and having a bowl of this,” Francabandiero says. It takes months of research, taste tests, and focus groups to get the right imitation; Francabandiero says this stage was one of the hardest parts of bringing the dish to market. “It was attempt after attempt after attempt.”
Soon enough, cookie dough lovers will have ample choices. Tomlan is bringing Dō to New York Mets ballpark Citi Field this summer and is eyeing real estate locations in a number of cities, one rumored to be Nashville and another Miami. (If the Miami rumors are true, she’d have to compete with edible dough delivery company Dough Miami, which just opened in February and claims to be Miami’s only edible dough company.)
Not to be outdone, Francabandiero will open in a mall in Niagara Falls, and is planning more locations across upstate New York, including in Rochester, Albany, and Syracuse. He’s currently in discussions to partner with an unnamed frozen yogurt company for a location at the University of Buffalo. Meanwhile, owners of another dough parlor, Cookie Dough & Co., will open their first location in Bethseda, Maryland, around late July, with plans to expand to North Virginia, D.C., and Baltimore by the end of the year.
Whether the cookie dough trend is here to stay is a tough call, but purveyors aren’t waiting to find out: They’re hoping to cash in on the craze and are aiming high. On why he is opening stores so quickly, Francabandiero referred to the “high risk, high reward” mantra. “I’m more of a swing for the fences kind of guy,” he says. “We’re trying to really expand this as far as we possibly can.”
Vince Dixon is Eater’s data visualization reporter.
Editor: Erin DeJesus