The Amazing and Delicious History of Doughnuts


Everyone loves doughnuts, whether they are part of your diet or not. That is an undisputed fact. Whether they act as breakfast or as an evening snack, doughnuts are known in a variety of forms. They may have jelly in the center with powdered sugar sprinkled on top, or they may be rectangular with cream in the middle; they may contain fruit, sprinkles, or chocolate chips. The most common and familiar form of the doughnut is the ring-shaped kind, usually with frosting spread on top. Doughnuts are so popular, especially in America, that it seems they will never go out of style. However, there was a time in history where doughnuts did not yet exist. So, where did doughnuts come from?

It seems that the origin of doughnuts came from the Dutch in the mid 19th century, but the doughnuts the Dutch were making didn’t look much like the pastries we’re familiar with today, and they went by quite a different name: olykoeks, literally translated as “oil cakes” (Moncel, 2020). These olykoeks were simple balls of cake dough that were fried in pork fat, usually with something stuffed in the middle such as fruit or nuts since the middle of the cake balls were usually not able to fully cook. The olykoek only started to slowly morph into what we today recognize as doughnuts when the Dutch began immigrating to America, most of them ending up around Manhattan.

History of Doughnuts

history of doughnuts
Photo by Andres Ayrton from Pexels.

Over time, the Dutch became a bit more imaginative in what they could put in the center of their olykoeks, and they started adding cream to their list of olykoek ingredients. However, despite this addition making the Dutch traditional pastry a bit closer to the modern doughnut, this food is still missing a crucial and identifying feature: the doughnut hole. For some time, it may have been believed that the origin of the doughnut hole would forever be a mystery, but we now know this is not the case. In fact, we have a name associated with the invention of the doughnut hole: Captain Hanson Gregory (Moncel, 2020).

We are still not entirely sure what compelled Gregory to create the doughnut hole. It may have been to save ingredients so nothing would need to be stuffed into the middle of the pastry, or it could have been so there would be no uncooked center of the olykoek at all, or it could have been a convenient addition so the olykoek could be skewered onto one of the notches of a ship’s steering wheel when it was essential for the captain’s hands to be free for the moment. Whatever the case, we have Captain Gregory to thank for the doughnut hole, but that still leaves us with yet another question: who came up with the very word, “doughnut?”

This comes with a slightly less certain answer. Some believe that it came from the most obvious solution: stuffing nuts into the center of the dough of the olykoek so it would cook properly. Others believe “nut” originates from “knot” since olykoeks were also commonly formed into knots rather than balls (Moncel, 2020). We at least know that the first ever mention and use of the word doughnut in publication was in 1809 by Washington Irving (the very same man who wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow). He mentioned the word “doughnut” in another publication of his, A history of New York. A hundred years later in the early 1900s, doughnut was commonly shortened into “donut.” So, if you’re ever wondering which spelling is correct, they both are, as they are now considered interchangeable.

The Details

Photo by Erlian Zakia from Pexels.

Doughnuts truly started to become a sensation in the 1920s when a Russian immigrant, Adolph Levitt invented the first machine that was able to create doughnuts automatically (Moncel, 2020). Interestingly, this machine was considered so impressive and futuristic for the time that it was featured at the World’s Fair in 1934, which was held in Chicago at the time, where it was praised for its progression in food technology.

Since that time, nearly a hundred years ago, doughnuts became a stable in the American diet, especially for breakfast or as a comforting snack. Now, doughnut vendors can be found on virtually any street and any city, whether they be commercial businesses like Dunkin’ Donuts or small family-owned stores. Clearly, doughnuts have been loved for a hundred years, and they’re sure to be enjoyed for another hundred more.


Moncel, Bethany. (2020). “The History of Doughnuts.” The Spruce Eats. Retrieved from

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