Sweet, tender, fresh and irresistible. Who doesn’t love a doughnut? This quintessentially American treat can be prepared in many ways and is sold in bakeries, supermarkets, food stalls, specialised franchised stores… But who made it first? And how did it become such an iconic snack?


Archaeologists have found many fossilised food bits that look like doughnuts in prehistoric settlements, but the predecessor of the modern doughnut was born in the Netherlands and introduced in America by Dutch settlers in the 18th century. These snacks were known as ‘olykoeks’ meaning ‘oily cakes’. In the 19th century, a woman from New England called Elizabeth Gregory made a delicious deep-frieddough, spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon and lemon. She put some nuts in the centre, where the dough would not cook well, and simply called them “doughnuts”. Years later, her son, Hanson Gregory, claimed that he had put the hole in the doughnut with the top of a round tin pepper box. The ring-shapeddoughnut had been created!

436 Doughnut

A cheap TREAT

During the First World War, doughnuts were served to American soldiers in French trenches to give them a little taste of home. This increased the popularity of doughnuts both in America and overseas.

In 1920, a Russian refugee called Adolph Levitt started selling doughnuts in his New York bakery. His successful recipeled him to the creation of a machine to make them faster, and he placed it where the public could watch the doughnut-making process, which they loved. Levitt’s machines were so good that by 1931 he was making twenty-five million dollars a year! In this period, doughnuts were advertised as “the food hit of the Century of Progress”, and seen as a modern, mass-produced snack that everyone could afford, even in times of economic hardship.


By the late 1950s, doughnut makers like Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts flourished. But by the 1980s doughnuts had fallen in popularity, challenged by a new urban treat: the bagel. This decrease in sales also had to do with nutritionists warning of the high amounts of sugar and fat present in doughnuts. Still, doughnuts remain one of the most popular treats in the world. In the US alone, ten billion doughnuts are consumed every year, and the doughnut industry is estimated to be worth 3.6 billion dollars.