The History of Doughnuts (Or Donuts. Or Whatever)

“I don’t care how it’s spelled, it’s delicious, give me more.”

~Webster’s English Dictionary


If you’ve ever had a donut from Dunkin’ Donuts or a doughnut from Krispy Kreme or a Canadian bump into you and apologetically hand you a free cup of coffee at a Tim Hortons, you’re well familiar with North America’s favorite fried ring-shaped treat that sometimes isn’t ring-shaped at all.  While we our never 1s to be stickelers for speling, there does seem to be a dispute on if we should call it a “doughnut” or a “donut.”  Doughnut seems to be the original term used all over the world, while donuts originated in America, which uses both terms interchangeably.  At the end of the day, we don’t care, because doughnuts (donuts) are delicious (yummy) and that’s true no matter what you call them.

But with doughnuts becoming increasingly popular, both in their native form and in the creation of ridiculous sandwiches, it’s time for us as Americans to take a step back and look at the history of our favorite deep fried sugar capsules.  Which is why we present to you…

The History of Doughnuts (Or Donuts.  Or Whatever)

all the donuts

Long before Homer Simpson and the similarly 90’s-based overuse of “cops eat doughnuts” jokes, the modern doughnut began its origin on America’s fertile shores.  While people have been frying various types of dough in oil ever since the first caveman realized that frying things in fat makes them exponentially more delicious, the modern doughnut first began taking its roots in the early 18th century when Dutch settlers would cook olykoek, a version of the traditional Dutch dish Oliebol that was took fried balls of dough and covered them in powdered sugar.  For those of you who are mumbling that it’s starting to sound like the Dutch invented doughnuts, and not Americans, you need to shut your goddamn mouth because olykoek’s are still different from doughnuts, and don’t you dare interrupt us again you mouth-breathing son of a bitch or so help us WE WILL FUCKING END YOU.


Anyway, Olykoeks began slowly evolving, and we began calling these hole-less treats “doughnuts” by the start of the 19th century, and by the middle of the century, doughnuts as we know them today, with holes in the center and everything, were being consumed across the nation as an inherently American treat.  The American sailor Hanson Gregory claimed to have invented the ring-shaped doughnut in 1847 while aboard a lime-trading ship as a 16 years old, saying he disliked the fact that the center of doughnuts at the time often didn’t cook as much as the rest, so he punched a hole in the center of the dough before frying it, and taught the technique to his mother.  Now, we like to believe this, because it’s a lot more gratifying to know the answer than to say “no one knows who decided to put a hole in a doughnut first, but they were a goddamn genius” but we have to question this account, mainly because it’s much more likely to see a 16 year-old boy lie about inventing something incredible than him to see him taking some time to teach his mother how to cook something.


“So, mom, all you do is stir constantly on a low-medium heat and…”


Since then, we’ve expanded the breadth of doughnut possibilities, with jelly-filled, frosted, glazed, powdered, chocolate, and Boston cream doughnuts representing just a small amount of the ways that we force insulin producers to work overtime to meet the demand.  For whatever reason, our brothers up north in Canada apparently started going crazy for the things, probably because they saw us doing it and got a little excited when they were able to create a national chain that was pretty good at making the things.

In World War I, The Salvation Army served doughnuts to soldiers fighting on the lines.  In 1938, this was celebrated on June 7th with National Doughnut Day, which now occurs every year on the first Friday of June each year (we’re waiting for it to become a mail holiday).  Naturally, Canada is jealous of this fact.

Since then, doughnuts have become an American culinary staple, because we all know at least someone who has waited more than ten minutes for the “Hot Krispy Kreme Now” light to come on at a Krispy Kreme.

So next time you’re filling your body with your daily allotment of sugar with your jelly-filled doughnut and your cup of coffee with 12 sugars, take a moment to thank the generations before you that morphed a Dutch pastry that’s literal English translation was “oil balls” and make it the most delicious way to start your day.

sea of donuts

Now get eating.


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