Who Invented Donuts?

If you’ve never visited Los Angeles before, you’ll be struck by something upon first visiting our fair city. Namely, that there are a crazy number of donut places here. There are some chains like Winchell’s, sure, and we even have a couple of Dunkin locations these days, but what’s really surprising is the amount of independent donut shops around town. It has always been a mystery to me how such a large number of these places stay in business. Perhaps it is just a testament to how much people love donuts. They taste great, they come in fun and colorful designs, and they can even be filled with cream or jelly. But where do these tasty treats come from? Who invented the donut? Let’s bite into some answers. 

Who invented donuts?

Many have sampled the lardy, sweet deliciousness that is a donut—or, doughnut, for the extra classy—but few know who invented the donut. It turns out the answer to this question depends on what you mean by “donut.” Deep-fried dough balls have been a popular treat since at least ancient Roman times and we still enjoy them today—but is a funnel cake really a donut? The philosophical debate rages on. And, of course, there’s the churro, whose ancient origins are in fact shrouded in mystery

As far as the name itself, recipes for dough “nuts” started appearing in recipe books in the mid 1700s. Washington Irving even wrote about “dough-nuts” in his 1809 A History of New York

But in terms of the round, hole-in-the-center classic donut that Homer Simpson is a big fan of, the inventor is ostensibly Hansen Gregory, a Mainer who went on to become a ship captain. He claimed to have invented the treat when he was sixteen years old. 

When were donuts invented?

Again, donut forebears (not to be confused with bear claws) are as ancient as the Romans, but the ring-shaped donut itself was likely invented in 1847. That’s what supposed donut inventor Hansen Gregory claimed, at least, and there’s no strong reason to doubt him. 

Where were donuts invented?

Hansen claims he came up with the idea for donuts while working as a crewman on a lime-trading schooner on the coast of Maine. Though it’s hard to fact check this claim, he is widely regarded as the inventor of the ring-shaped donut. 

How were donuts invented?

The New England Historical Society details Hansen’s recollection: “Now in them days we used to cut the doughnuts into diamond shapes, and also into long strips, bent in half, and then twisted,” he said. “I don’t think we called them donuts then–they was just ‘fried cakes’ and ‘twisters.’ Well, sir, they used to fry all right around the edges, but when you had the edges done the insides was all raw dough. And the twisters used to sop up all the grease just where they bent, and they were tough on the digestion.”

Realizing that these “fried cakes” were raw in the center, Hansen wondered if cutting a space out of the middle would solve the problem. He notes: “I took the cover off the ship’s tin pepper box, and—I cut into the middle of that donut the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes!”

Who invented donut holes

There are two ways to interpret this question, due to the dual nature of the phrase “donut holes.” The first is, who came up with the idea to put a hole in a donut? And that honorific must go to Hansen Gregory, the first man to punch a hole in the middle of fried dough to make a ring-shaped donut. 

The second is, who came up with what we call “donut holes,” the round bite-size donut product? The answer to that question is a little tougher to answer, but it might possibly be Dunkin Donuts, who claim to have come up with Munchkins in the 1970s as a way to utilize the extra dough they had punched out of their donuts.

About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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