Nothing hits the spot like a freshly fried doughnut which is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. But one thing that got me curious was the peculiar shape of the doughnut. Why is there a hole in the middle of it? Well, there’s a very basic explanation which just requires common sense but that wouldn’t be good enough for an article so maybe let’s just explore a little bit of its history. So here’s how the modern doughnut got its’s hole.
To tackle the history of doughnuts, we have to assess what all dishes will come under the label-DOUGHNUT because any fried dough cannot be considered a doughnut, because every culture has its version of fried dough- Jalebis, Funnel cakes, Churros, Beignets, if we are considering all these as doughnuts it’s going to be a long day for us. Many variations of the doughnuts are present in various cultures like the Globi from ancient Rome. A 3rd-century BC Chinese poem talks about fried honey cakes of rice flour and sugar malt sweetmeats. And when Marco Polo was in China he also documents the honey cake which the poem talked about. Sounds like a Proto-Doughnut to me.
And in the Middle East, the 1001 Arabian Nights mentions Fritters swimming in bee’s honey and almond cakes, based on the period it’s highly likely that the author is talking about Luqam al-qadi which were balls of fermented dough fried in sesame oil dipped in sugar syrup and sprinkled with sugar. C’mon now that’s starting to sound like a doughnut to me. During the course of a few centuries, this proto doughnut spread all over the Middle East, North Africa and up into Europe. Similar fritters made out of apples were all the rage during lent.
In a 13th- Century Spanish cookbook there’s a recipe for a doughnut made out of eggs and cheese which were fried and covered in sugar. At the same time, the Germans were frying up Schmalz Gebackens which means fried in fat and under that category is the earliest ancestor to the jelly-filled doughnut named Krapfen.
But the most important recipe in the history of doughnuts comes from the Italian Renaissance Chef Bartolomeo Scappi who calls for an enriched dough filled with raisins and cinnamon deep-fried and covered in sugar. This is very important because it led to the Dutch delicacy Oliekoekens (oily cakes) later known as Oliebollen (oily balls). The recipe for Oliekoekens first appeared in a cookbook in 1667. It is said the Dutch immigrants in New York popularised Oliebollen. But giving full credit to the Dutch might not be the way to go because there were already many similar dishes to the doughnut e.g., French Beignets and even the German Krapfen. It is highly likely that they also contributed to the formulation of the modern doughnut and the term doughnut is most definitely of English origin.
Why is called a Doughnut?
The earliest mention of doughnuts goes way back to an 1808 short story which describes a spread of cakes and dough-nuts. These were called doughnuts because the earlier forms of doughnuts didn’t have a hole in the middle and were much smaller and round in shape resembling a nut.
Doughnut becomes Donut:
Though doughnut is the traditional spelling it’s often called donut. The popularity of the term donut is attributed to a Russian immigrant Adolf Levitt. After WW1 doughnuts rose in popularity because the homesick American soldiers started craving doughnuts but the supply could not meet demand because in earlier times doughnuts were made by hand. So Adolf invented a machine which was literally called THE WONDERFUL ALMOST HUMAN AUTOMATIC DOUGHNUT MACHINE lol and it pumped out thousands of doughnuts in his New York bakery.
He popularised the term Donut, maybe it took up less ink to print out or it was similar to the Yiddish pronunciation DONAT, we’ll never know.
Why is there a hole in a doughnut:
So here is the explanation which requires a little common sense I was talking about. Making a hole in the centre aids in even cooking because American doughnuts without holes in the middle were often overdone on the outside when fully cooked on the inside or underdone on the inside when cooked properly on the outside. But the Dutch and English had a solution for this problem, what if you get rid of the dough in the middle? They stuffed the middle with dried fruit. But the doughnut getting its iconic hole in the middle is credited to Captian Hanson Gregory. I’m pretty certain that this story is a myth, this is the most persistent of all the myths surrounding doughnuts, so anyway here’s how it goes, Captain Gregory went out sailing along with some nutmeg and cinnamon doughnuts that his mother Elizabeth had made for him. But the doughnuts were raw in the middle so using the top of a tin pepper box he cut off the centre and the modern doughnut was born.
So that’s how the modern doughnut was born, now you don’t have to wonder why is there a hole in the middle of a doughnut all thanks to Captain Gregory lol.
If you liked this article Donut refrain from commenting some of your favourite doughnut puns.