Doughnuts: A Delicious History Lesson

We all know what a Doughnut is. But why is it called that? And where did it originate? And why do we love them so much? All these questions will be answered and the veils will be lifted from even more mysteries as we investigate the genesis and evolution of one of the world’s most beloved snacks…

Doughnut Assortment - © Laura D. via YelpJust a sample of the dozens – maybe hundreds – of varieties of Doughnuts
available every day at your neighbourhood source…

As we reported in this space on the weekend, it’s unofficially National Doughnut Week in the U.S., culminating in National Doughnut Day this coming Friday, June 1.

Doughnuts have been around as long as baking, in one form or another. That means a couple of thousand years, at least. And sweet baked treats related to what we call Doughnuts are enjoyed in many cultures around the world.

Where did the modern Doughnut get its start?

Wikipedia says the round cake with the hole we all know and love originated with Dutch settlers who brought their cuisine to New Amsterdam (now New York) in the 17th century. They were called ‘olykoek’ (‘oily cake’), described as ‘sweetened cake fried in fat’) and reportedly looked a lot like modern Doughnuts, but lacking the hole.

The first official mention of Doughnuts came in an 1803 English cookbook which had an appendix for American recipes.

Why ‘Doughnut’?

As we said, the first Doughnuts were simply lumps, or ‘nuts’ of fried dough. That English term appears to have been coined independently of the traditional Dutch name for the treat. But it stuck, and survives unchanged to this day. And it describes a much wider array of ‘sweetened cakes fried in fat’ than it once did.

What, officially, is a doughnut

The contemporary definition is pretty loose. Now-a-days, anything yo8u can eat in your hand that’s been fried in fat the traditional way might be called a Doughnut. But we’ve some a long way from the original ‘nut’, through flattened spheres, to twisted Berliners and Crullers, to Bear Paws and Fritters.

Cake versus Yeast

The eternal debate over whether Cake Doughnuts are better (or more traditional) than Yeast Doughnuts will probably never be resolved. My take is, if your first encounter with a doughnut was with a Baking Soda-leavened one, that’s probably the kind you’ll prefer, and vice-versa if your fist close encounter of the Doughnut kind was with a yeast-raised one. At least, that’s what my totally unscientific survey of friends and relations over the past few days revealed.

Why do we love them so much?

My take is, it’s because they combine two of the basic foods we love – and crave – the most: Sugar and Fat. I’d like to have been able to have added Salt to that list, but it’s just not so. There’s only a whisp of Sodium per Doughnut, whether Cake or Yeast.

Some insist that we love Doughnuts because we can easily take them with us, wherever we want to go. The ultimate convenience food?

Finally… Which is correct? ‘Doughnut’ or ‘Donut’?

The dictionaries all agree that ‘Doughnut’ is the preferred spelling of the word, but most also list ‘Donut’ as an legitimate ‘variant’. The ultimate authority, the Oxford, says ‘Doughnut’ is used throughout the civilized world, but ‘Donut’ is strictly an American usage.

It’s reported that ‘Donut’ first surfaced in print in the year 1900, when it appeared in in Peck’s Bad Boy and his Pa by George W. Peck, in which a character is quoted as saying, “Pa said he guessed he hadn’t got much appetite, and he would just drink a cup of coffee and eat a donut.”

Knowing the foregoing, you can enjoy Doughnut Week all the more!

~ Maggie J.

Posted under: Comfort Food, Food News, Food Tips

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