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« Cakewalk in Wallingford, Seattle | Main | Hello, Biscochito: A Primer on New Mexico's Official State Cookie »
Monday
May122008

Donut Speak: Sweet Talk About the Iconic Treat's Name

Doughnuts
Recently, we did a little survey to see what type of doughnuts you preferred: cake, yeast, or "other"--cream filled or special versions, like a cruller or fritter. Turns out that while there's a lot of love for all types of fried dough out there, moreover Cakespy readers vote, resoundingly, for the cake doughnut (of course, is that a big surprise here?).

But of course, this still left a nagging question that just wouldn't leave our heads: which is it, doughnut or donut?

Time to Make the Donuts 2
Let us first premise the ensuing argument by saying that no matter what they're called, we love rounds of fried dough. So while it doesn't necessarily matter to us which name is used--doughnut or donut--we were curious to know if one was more "correct". On the one hand, doughnut seems more honest and working-class; donut has the distinct feel of, say, kitchen products that employ the use of "brite" instead of "bright", or something of the like. But really, what impresses us most of all is how both terms are still commonly used. Is it just a matter of time before one spelling reigns supreme? This may be--but in reading the below, at least you'll be educated on that day of reckoning.

 

First documented usage?

It's true--doughnut was the first term to be used. The earliest known recorded usage of the term dates an 1808 short story which describes a spread of "fire-cakes and dough-nuts." However, its more famous debut is cited as Washington Irving's 1809 History of New York, in which he describes "balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog's fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks." Interestingly enough, these little balls he describes probably more closely resemble today's doughnut holes (or Munchkins)--so the term likely refers to the fried dough looking like a nut once finished. Cakespy Note: Of course, there's also a little historical vignette in John T. Edge's wonderful book Donuts: An American Passion (see more info on the book at the end of the post) about the name coming from a crazy lady who sold fried dough (a dough-nutjob, as it were) which we rather like too.

Coffee and DonutThe first known printed use of donut was in a 1929 Los Angeles Times article, wherein a writer bemoans the decline of spelling, and that he "can't swallow the 'wel-dun donut' nor the ever so 'gud bred'." The interchangeability of the two spellings becomes evident in several "National Donut Week" articles in The New York Times during the 1939 World's Fair; out of four articles during this time, two articles use the "donut" spelling. Dunkin' Donuts, which was founded in 1948 under the name Open Kettle (Quincy, Massachusetts), is the oldest surviving company to use the donut variation, but the now closed Mayflower Donut Corporation seems to have been the first to have used the spelling in their company name, having done so prior to World War II.

 

Last Night, I Dreamt of Doughnuts...Because I say so: Here are some thoughts that individuals have on the matter:

  • The Intellect: Kenneth G. Wilson, in The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, says: "Doughnut is the conventional spelling, donut a variant used in advertising or signs and as eye dialect."
  • The Electronic Intellect: Spell check says "donuts" is correct; then again, it also says "doughnuts" should be dough-nuts. Source: Cakespy mini sleuthing. 
  • Random Dude on the street: "Donuts" sounds lighter and less greasy to me.
Literary or Pop Culture References:
In Laura Ingalls Wilder's book Farmer Boy , Almanzo's mother makes doughnuts, both braided and ring-shaped, and the round ones are referred to as "new-fangled".

 

Vegan DonutsIn Wayne's World, the shop they frequent (and which is home to one of Garth's amazing breakdowns) is Stan Mikita Donuts


Other Observations: Some things we noticed
  • Price: Interestingly enough, there does seem to be a connection between the price of the fried dough ring and what it's called. Not in all cases of course (Krispy Kreme, which purveys doughnuts, comes to mind as an exception), but enough times that we kind of noticed it.
Doughnut Plant: Generally more than $2.00
Top Pot Doughnut: Generally more than $1.00
Voodoo Doughnut: Generally more than $1.00
Dunkin Donuts: Generally less than $1.00
Winchell's Donuts: Generally less than $1.00
LaMar's Donuts: Generally less than $1.00
  • Supermarket Bakeries: In a tour of five Seattle area grocery stores and their bakery sections, four referred to their fried dough treats as Donuts.
A few final arguments in favor of "Donut":

Voodoo Doughnut, Portland OR
Of course, we would be remiss if we did not mention that two of our favorite aficionados on the subject both choose to just donut. In his wonderful book Donuts: An American Passion (oh, please buy it now!), John T. Edge notes in a sidebar that he chooses Donut; also, our favorite website dedicated to all things fried dough and holey (well, mostly, though they feature cream-filled and hole-devoid versions too), theblognut.net, refers to 'em as donuts. Considering their expertise, this is a strong argument indeed!
So, all things considered, is either doughnut or donut correct? Though some can get quite passionate about the subject, ultimately we elect that no, it's not a matter of being right or wrong; dollars to do(ugh)nuts, taste wins every time. Oh yes, we really just said that.

 

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Reader Comments (51)

I like how the guy on the street fools himself by thinking donut is less greasy than doughnut... hey, that's how I think too!! I happen to looove donuts like most people and yes, I am a krispy Kreme fan, what can I say!

May 13 | Unregistered CommenterAran

Here in Canada - unofficial land of the donut - we are in a terrible predicament. Our chain donut shops which were veritable institutions, have gone all transfat free and streamlined production conscious. As a result we can't get a decent donut anymore. Sigh.

I used to love a fresh, light, slightly greasy donut. Now, I can't be bothered. I just may have to make some myself to compensate for this sad lack of good fast food donuts.

I always thought (wrongly it seems) that in the UK we call them 'doughnuts', whereas in the US it's 'donut'
I am digressing but there was a lovely clip on the news once of a Swedish teacher teaching in Britain (I think the story was about oversees teachers) reading a story aloud to his class and reading the word as "duff nut" then asking, puzzled, "what is a duff nut?"

ahhh donuts!! i think you've just convinced me to make them! i've never made them before. but i'm off to get a recipe! time to make the donuts!! lol!

May 13 | Unregistered Commenterbunny

That first photo is so mouthwateringly gorgeous....! We had the best doughnuts Saturday-- a place near the McCarren Park Greenmarket. They were cake (natch), rolled in sugar, cinnamon and just enough cayenne to give them some bite. Piping hot and oh, so good....

Even better, they sent two home with me for lazy Sophie, who never gets out of bed for the Saturday Greenmarket Brunch Event. :-)

May 13 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

I heard somewhere that every culture has some sort of fried dough or a doughnut in their diet.

May 13 | Unregistered CommenterKrysta

That first picture has me droolin'. I really need some breakfast right about now...

May 13 | Unregistered CommenterjustJENN

I love doughnuts but I never have them. I dont' know why. Our Krispy Kreme was built right beside the Heart Hospital....how funny is that. Just grab a dozen Krispy Kremes on the way over to your angioplasty....HooRAH.

what an interesting post! i do like cakey donuts..and krispy kreme :) i remember trying some donuts from a Japanese donut store as well. they had some pretty insane and tasty stuff.

Great post Cakespy. And Edge's book is definitely a must read (as is the rest of his series: fried chicken, burgers and apple pie). I think he gets into how the Doughnut Machine Corporation first changed the spelling in the 1920s for marketing purposes (ie, easier to pronounce, cleaner look, etc). And if you're appreciating the donut as an American icon, you have to go with "Donuts" because what's more American than the pure capitalism of changing a word just to sell stuff. But as I often do on Blognut, if I'm referring to old world donuts - or a shop that uses the traditional spelling - I'll revert to "doughnuts." I'm rambling...

Keep up the great do(ugh)nut coverage.

May 13 | Unregistered Commenterblognut

Lots of great info here--thanks! But really, what's in a name? A donut by any other name would still taste as sweet, right? ;)

May 13 | Unregistered CommenterRicki

I think I use the donut spelling out of sheer laziness.
This so reminds me to use my donut pan that I haven't touched yet!

Aran: Yeah, isn't that funny? We all fool ourselves a little I suppose. Then again, I was looking at the nutrition info for Starbucks pastries (Bad idea, don't do it) and noticed that the doughnuts on their menu were the least sinful of most of their pastries--about half the calories of their scones.

Dana: That trans fat thing really has ruined all the fun. There I said it!

Caked Crusader: This made me laugh out loud because Mr. Cakespy and I were having an indepth discussion about our respective discoveries of the strange word in our youth. he thought it was "dog-nut" (ha!) and I thought it was "Duff" nut when we were respectively learning how to read. :-)

Bunny: Make them!! NOW!

Ann: Ha! And that photo--yes, it's true--is of Safeway Grocery store donuts!!! That pretty lighting is the mere neon of a grocery store. Sometimes you just get lucky!

Oh, and in Brooklyn I do long for those Peter Pan Doughnuts on Manhattan Ave...

Krysta: You're correct! There was a NY Times article on it a while back. Fascinating.

JustJenn: How about a donut? Or doughnut, you choose.

Obsessive Foodie: Ha! Well, they support each other I suppose. That reminds me of Sex and the City where the "bad" weight watchers meetings are right above Krispy Kreme.

Diva: Yeah, donuts can get pretty creative, can't they?

Blognut: Very true--I like the point about donut being the more American way. It's crafty too--it has "DO!" right in the name, like a command, rather than doughnut, which has a secret "ugh" in the middle.

ALSO--a bit more John T. Edge trivia--the donut machine in the top of this post is the very one he speaks of, at Daily Dozen in Seattle!!

May 13 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

Donuts are one of my favorite food groups..other than cupcakes. I am definitely a Krispy Kreme fan, and I am not talking about those that are sold in the grocery stores. I like the Krispy Kremes that are fresh off the conveyer belt. What a great taste!!!

May 13 | Unregistered CommenterCupCakeGirl

i'm torn--it's pitting laura ingalls wilder against mike myers. perhaps i'll just stick with "manna from heaven" as an all-encompassing term.

May 13 | Unregistered CommenterGrace

I just need to say that my favorite donut is the apple cider donut from the cold hallow cider mill in Vermont!

mmmmmmm donuts....

May 13 | Unregistered CommenterTrevor

They've always been donuts to me!

My hubby took me to my very first Krispy Kreme in Virginia many years ago (before the big craze and expansion.) I thought they were amazing then. Now, not so much.

May 13 | Unregistered CommenterRecipeGirl

voodoo is the best damn doughnut shop in the world.

i'm really surprised that cake doughnuts won. i'm a fan of any doughnut BUT cake.... hmmm

now if i could just find some vegan non-cake doughnuts

Well, clearly, you're paying for more letters when you buy doughnuts! I remember traveling through the prairie provinces of Canada a number of years ago. Donuts was all we ate. That, and club sandwiches ...

Nice piece of research. This, for sure, didn't take you 10 minutes to post. It's great to feel like I actually learned something while I craved something I know is so not good for me...sigh.

May 13 | Unregistered Commentergiz

Very informative. I have often wondered about the great doughnut/donut debate. Spelled either way, they're always deliciously decadent.

i had a donut this weekend for the first time in probably a year! (btw, i realize as i type this that i am apparently in the "donut" camp!) i think i am a beignet girl, myself -- somehow they don't sound as unhealthy and indulgent as a donut -- funny how a little french will put you into denial. :-)

May 13 | Unregistered CommenterKaty

I'm not a HUGE fan of donuts because they leave that sticky dry film in my mouth after a cup of coffee - but I must admit, I do weasel a donut into my system from time to time from the guy downstairs at the cart - esp if he has strawberry frosted with sprinkles :X

Your site gave the devil in my heart big power. The devil said to me. "Eat this thing which I was sweet, and seemed to be delicious" As a result, I lost a fight with the devil. I was dieting so... (T_T)
From Japan
http://food-soybean.blogspot.com/

May 14 | Unregistered Commenteredamame

This is so wrong, this was just waiting in my inbox this morning...huge picture of sprinkled donut! Yum, yum, yum :)

May 14 | Unregistered CommenterGolightly
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