Doughnuts are Good for You
Dpughnuts Are Good for You
One of the most beloved foods in the United States is the doughnut or as it is popularly spelled, donut. Who invented the doughnut? Where did it come from? What is it made of? Why is it called a donut or doughnut? Why do I care?
Why? Because my beloved hubbuddy, frogdropping, challenged me to write about the history of the doughnut. So here is what I have learned from copious, painstaking research.
History of the Doughnut
To begin with, there are a number of conflicting statements about the origin of the doughnut;
It may be Chinese in origin.
But Germany, France, the Netherlands and Latin America also have valid claims.
And this was hard to believe: archaeologists have unearthed fossilized bits of what look like – would you believe, doughnuts – underneath prehistoric Native American settlements in the southwestern U.S.
So no matter where they originated, here is how they came to America. Back in1669, there was a Dutch recipe for “olie-koecken” (oily cakes) which closely resembles today’s doughnut. It seems that Dutch and German cooks fried the left-over sweetened dough from baking bread in oil or pork fat and made small round fry-cakes.
The Dutch also made their leftovers fancier by shaping them into decorative knots (aha! dough-knots), and rolling them in sugar after frying. I also learned that since doughnuts tended not to cook through in the middle some cooks would put nuts – walnuts or hazelnuts – in the center (aha! dough-nuts).The Puritans (Pilgrims) discovered these small, round, delectable oily cakes while they were in the Netherlands and brought the recipe with them to the New World.
Diverse Doughnut Data
When many new immigrants arrived at Ellis Island, New York, a jelly doughnut was the first food they wanted to taste because they believed it to be typically American.
Typical Doughnut Shop
When did the word, doughnut, become a part of our language?
The earliest occurrence I could find was in Washington Irving’s book, “History of New York (1809). He defined the word, so it probably wasn’t well known at the time, as “balls of sweetened dough fried in hog’s fat.” Ugh! The exclamation is mine, not Irving’s.
What about the Doughnut Hole?
You may well ask how did the doughnut, originally a solid round cake, develop a doughnut hole? There are conflicting theories about this, too. Here is my favorite:
Back in1847, Elizabeth Gregory, the mother of a ship captain, who lived in New England whipped up a batch of deep-fried dough using spices her son had given her from his cargo of nutmeg, cinnamon, and lemon rind. She made these deep-fried cakes for her son, Hanson, and his crew so they could store the pastry on long voyages. She believed it would help to ward off scurvy and colds, unaware of the benefits of citrus fruit. Mrs. Gregory inserted hazel nuts or walnuts in the center of the fried cakes where the dough often did not cook thoroughly. She called the pastry (aha!) dough-nuts.
Here is where the story gets curiouser and curiouser. Capt. Hanson Gregory always took credit for creating the hole in the doughnut. It is said that he gave the doughnut its first hole when, in the middle of a terrible storm and in order to get both hands on the ship’s wheel, he crammed one of his mother’s fried dough-nuts that he was holding onto one of the wood spokes of the wheel for safekeeping. Voila! A doughnut was born with a hold in the center.
He ordered the ship’s cook to henceforth prepare all dough-nuts with holes in the center, and shared his creation with the crew who swore It was the most delicious, delectable food they had ever tasted. Another variation of the story has Capt. Hanson poking holes in his mother’s dough-nuts because he did not like the soggy center where the dough was under-cooked. A third variation has our inventive captain using the tin cover of a pepper box to punch out a center hole – maybe he didn’t like nuts taking up space in his mother’s doughnuts.
The captain’s homestead no longer remains, but a plaque describing his achievement can be seen in a church yard in the township of Camden, Maine.
Interview with the Captain
On March 26, 1916, Capt. Hanson Gregory gave an interview to the “Washington Post” newspaper. Here’s the true story of his inventing the hole in the doughnut in his words: “I guess it was about ‘47, when I was 16, that I discovered the hole which was later to revolutionize the doughnut industry. Now in them days we used to cut the doughnuts into diamond shapes, and also into long strips, bent in half, and then twisted … don’t think we called them doughnuts then – they was just ‘fried cakes’ and ‘twisters.’
“Well, sir, they used to fry all right around the edges, but the insides was all raw dough. Well, I says to myself, ‘Why wouldn’t a space inside solve the difficulty?’ and then I got a great inspiration. I took the cover off the ship’s tin pepper box, and cut into the middle of that doughnut the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes!
“Well, sir, them doughnuts was the finest I ever tasted. No more indigestion, no more greasy sinkers, just well-done, fried-through doughnuts. I went home to my old mother and I says to her, ‘Let me make some doughnuts for you.’ She says all right, so I made her one or two and then showed her how. She then made several batches and everybody was delighted and they never made doughnuts any other way except the way I showed her. Of course, lots of people joke about the hole in the doughnut. I’ve got a joke myself. Whenever anybody says to me: ‘Where’s the hole in the doughnut?’ I always answer: ‘It’s been cut out!’”
JFK's Berlin Speech
On June 26,1963, President John F. Kennedy made a speech in West Berlin. He was emphasizing the U.S. support for West Germany 22 months after the Communist East Germany state erected the Berlin Wall as a barrier to prevent movement between the East and the West. This speech, considered one of Kennedy’s best, contained the statement: “Ich bin ein Berliner.” See the video first and then I’ll explain how it relates to doughnuts.
German "Berliner" doughnut
This is the entire last paragraph of Kennedy’s notable speech: “Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was ‘civis Romanus sum’ – I am a Roman citizen. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’ All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’”
So what was so noteworthy about Kennedy proclaiming himself as a “Berliner” – a citizen of Berlin? In many parts of Germany, round, full-of-jam doughnuts are called Berliners. So Kenney was announcing to all, “I am a jelly doughnut!”
Diverse Doughnut Data
Although Captain Gregory came up with the idea for the hole in the doughnut, a fellow named John Blondell was awarded the patent for the first doughnut cutter in 1872. His version was made of wood, but an improved tin version with a fluted edge was patented in 1889.
Doughnuts and Doughboys
The U.S. Army didn’t invent doughnuts but it can take credit for advancing their popularity. During World War I (1914-1918), the volunteer ladies (known as “lassies”) of The Salvation Army prepared doughnuts for millions of doughboys to give the soldiers a taste of home. The word, doughboy, has at various times been used to refer to a dumpling in the British Navy, for a kind of doughnut, and as a corruption of the Spanish word, adobe.
But I believe that the phrase, doughboys, to describe U.S. infantrymen had its origins from the method the Salvation Army lassies used to create their doughnuts. They used dough from left-over flour, wine bottles as rolling pins, and then fried the fresh treats – often inside the metal helmets of the U.S. soldiers. Ergo – doughboys.
During World War II, American Red Cross women known as “Doughnut Dollies” served hot doughnuts to our soldiers wherever they were stationed. The Red Cross purchased enough flour between 1939 and 1946 to make 1.6 billion doughnuts for our servicemen and women.
Doughnuts Become Mechanized
The first doughnut machine was invented in 1920 in New York City by a man named Adolph Levitt, an enterprising refugee from czarist Russia. He had been selling hand-made fried doughnuts from his bakery and hungry theater crowds pressed him to find a way to produce his doughnuts in less time.
Levitt's doughnut machine was a huge hit causing the popularity of doughnuts to spread like wildfire. During the 20s, doughnuts began to be mass-produced and people couldn’t get enough of them.
This was the motto printed on each box of doughnuts sold in Levitt’s Mayflower coffee and donut shops: “As you ramble on through life, brother, Whatever be your goal, Keep your eye upon the doughnut, And not upon the hole.”
At the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1934 the doughnut was declared the “hit food of the Century of Progress.” That same year Levitt was making $25 million dollars annually from the sale of his doughnut machines to bakeries throughout the U.S.
According to legend, dunking doughnuts first became a trend when actress Mae Murray accidentally dropped a doughnut in her coffee one day at Lindy's Deli on Broadway. In the 1934 film. “It Happened One Night.” newspaperman Clark Gable teaches young runaway heiress Claudette Colbert how to "dunk". In 1937, a popular song proclaimed that you can live on coffee and doughnuts if "you're in love".
New Doughnut Chains
In the 1940s and 50s doughnut chains such as Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Dunkin’ Donuts were established. As coffee became more of a staple in bakeries across the U.S., the perception of the doughnut as a breakfast food increased. There was no stopping the fried oily cake.
Do you live in an area with a Krispy Kreme doughnut franchise? Then you owe it to yourself to try them. Most connoisseurs consider the only-glazed version as the lightest of yeast doughnuts and an absolute treat. Or try any of the filled ones. Dunkin' Donuts has wider national coverage, and many folks are fond of the Boston-crème-filled as well as the coffee. You can also find a great doughnut in the almost extinct mom-and-pop bakeries or at farmer's markets. Homemade and created with care, these delicious doughnuts are a taste of nostalgia.
Diverse Doughnut Data
Sally Levitt Steinberg, the granddaughter of Adolph Levitt, inventor of the first doughnut machine, wrote "The Donut Book" (see at Amazon above) - a tribute to the health benefits of the delectable doughnut. The book is entertaining with many anecdotes. "...the word, doughnut, has become an umbrella that includes crullers, fritters, twists, rings, round cakes, those filled with jelly and cream, with holes and without, and even the holes themselves."
Doughnut vs. Bagel
Just as the number of doughnut shops had grown exponentially in the 1940s and 50s, small shops selling something called a bagel grew in the 1970s and 80s. As bagels became more popular, doughnuts began to be seen as the hick cousins to their city-slicker alternatives. And some people even began to call the doughnut unhealthy. Even though a bagel with cream cheese contains more than 450 calories, the poor doughnut was maligned for its average of 300 calories per fried cake.
In the 1990s, people started to seek comfort from the simpler things in life – such as doughnuts. In 1998, Winchell's House of Donuts in Pasadena, California created the world's largest doughnut. It weighed 5,000 pounds with a 95-foot diameter. It was made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Winchell's, but it also symbolized something more. It had been almost 150 years since Elizabeth Gregory gave her son her special home-made dough-nuts and the doughnut had survived.
Maybe it was the Muppet Chef Who Created the Doughnut Hole
Doughnuts Are Good for You
The doughnut belongs to the world. Whether it is round, diamond-shaped, twisted like a cruller, fried or sweet is a matter of local preference. Whether you call it a donut (U.S.), a doughnut (UK), a zeppole (Italy), a beignet (France and Louisiana, too), a Berliner or a Bismarck (Germany), a pozsonyi (Hungary), churros (Latin America), a vada (India) or any other name in any other country, it remains a global favorite.
Are doughnuts the healthiest food you can eat? No. So why do I say they are good for you? Because they are a comfort food, relieve stress, and make you feel good.
Just check them out for MSG and eat them in moderation. One at a time!
Diverse Doughnut Data
Today, in the U.S. alone we eat over 10 billion donuts a year.
Make Your Own Doughnuts at Home
All About MSG
- MSG and Fat Rats and Us
I commented earlier on the increase of obesity in the United States. That started me thinking. Could there be some chemical in our food that may be causing this tremendous obesity epidemic?
© Copyright BJ Rakow Ph.D. 2011. All rights reserved. Author, "Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So."
Readers of my book say it provided the information they needed to write a dynamic resume and cover letter, network effectively, interview professionally, and negotiate assertively. Includes a chapter for older workers.