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Doughnut debate: who put the hole in the middle?

Posted on May 14, 2022 | Comments

Are there any doughnut fans out there? I think there must be since sales by the year 2024 are projected to top $55 million. That’s a lot of “dough” right? Worldwide, this very popular sweet treat can be called a beignet, zeppoli, puff puff and oliebol depending upon the region and culture. Whatever you call it, and wherever you are in the world, you’re sure to find some form of a fried dough snack unique to that region and culture. Historically speaking, what’s not so certain, is who actually gets credit for putting the hole in the doughnut’s center and why. 

Even though the idea of a doughnut seems like a contemporary confection, as is often the case, small cakes fried and dipped in honey are traced back to the ancient Romans and Greeks. For centuries Europeans enjoyed variations of this snack, yet it wasn’t until around 1750 that the delicious dessert was called a doughnut. Eventually the recipe was brought to the colonies and thought to be a British creation. Maybe yes or maybe not according to food historian Peter G. Rose. He credits the Dutch because of a 1667 recipe book that describes fried dough balls filled with almonds, raisins, chopped apples and cinnamon.  So, what’s the story behind how a hole was added to a doughnut when for centuries that was not the case.

My favorite story is about 15-year-old Hanson Gregory, a young captain from Maine who spent considerable stretches on the open seas. Each time he was setting sail for a long journey, his mother sent him off with a portable snack she called the doughnut. At the age of 85 years, Gregory claimed that he pierced the doughnuts with his captain’s wheel to keep them “handy.” However, there’s another side to this doughnut discussion. Chief High Eagle of the Wampanoag Tribe tells the story of a young Indian brave who was pursuing a settler who happened to have a doughnut (without the hole) in his pocket. The brave shot an arrow that created a hole in the middle.

So who wins the great doughnut debate? While both sound a little far-fetched, most often Hanson Gregory is given the credit, although there are other tales that will keep folks questioning for years to come who was really the first to put the hole in a doughnut. However, there’s one thing that seems very certain—a doughnut with a cup of coffee is the best. That’s a perfect combo to discuss which way to spell doughnut. Or is it donut? Both are acceptable.     

Originally published by the Orange County Register, May 12, 2022

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