A History of Doughnuts

Goodman Fielder Food Service
A History of Doughnuts

A History of Doughnuts

Posted on 9th December 2020
From European festival food, and blue-collar American breakfast, to adorning freakshakes, our nation's current sweet obsession has taken on many forms throughout its history.


Each one, whether it’s a sticky jelly-filled doughnut, perfectly glazed, oozing curd, or a cronut/dosant/crodough hybrid, is thoroughly, compulsively, delicious. It could be said, we’re nuts about dough.

They are little more than sugar, flour and water, but each time a new doughnut store opens there are queues around the block and social media seems to have a melt down.

Like many popular dishes, doughnuts have a disputed history. It can be generally agreed that they are deep-fried cakes with a long European history and roots in still earlier Middle Eastern cuisine. They were introduced to America by the Dutch in New Netherlands to America as oliekoecken (oily cakes or fried cakes).

The name doughnut may refer to the nuts that were once put in the middle of the doughball to prevent an uncooked centre.

The addition of the doughnut hole is generally attributed to Captain Hanson Gregory, a Dutch sailor whose mother made him some doughnuts for a voyage but there a few versions of how it happened. One says he stuck the doughnut on one of the spokes of the steering wheel to keep his hands free. The spoke drove a hole through the raw centre of the doughnut. Captain Gregory liked them better that way, minus the raw centre– and so the doughnut hole was born.

From these humble beginnings, doughnuts slowly began to climb up the culinary ladder. First step: mechanisation. In 1920, Adolph Levitt, a Jewish refugee from Czarist Russia, invented the first doughnut machine. However, it wasn’t until World War II that the craze really took. Women volunteers, known as ‘Doughnut Girls’, used to serve up the sweet confections to American soldiers in the trenches. When the soldiers returned home to the States, the love of doughnuts stuck.

Today, doughnuts have become the poster child of everyday indulgence thanks to a melting pot of influential characters, historical happenstance, and sweet tooths. However, though they may be the retro darling of hip bakeries, doughnuts will always be there for the everyman — as long as we have oil, yeast, and sprinkles.

From European festival food, and blue-collar American breakfast, to adorning freakshakes, our nation’s current sweet obsession has taken on many forms throughout its history.

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