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

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 simply adore your blog and donuts.

Very informative post. I find that I love baked donuts more than the traditional fried delights. I recently found your blog and am so glad that I did. I am an addict already! Please come spy my site at www.ravingrecipes.com

May 14 | Unregistered Commenterslshacka

For the Wayne's World reference alone you forever will have a place in my heart.

May 14 | Unregistered CommenterEB

What a fascinating history of donuts/doughnuts!! :0) However one chooses to spell it, they're a wonderful treat :0)

May 14 | Unregistered CommenterVeggieGirl

Hilarious observation on the doughnut versus donut price discrepancy ... =) Great post!

May 14 | Unregistered CommenterAnne-Marie

I, too, though the pricing difference between the two spellings was very interesting! I wonder how Starbucks spells it... I just checked, they spell it "doughnuts". Now I just have to see how much they charge!

May 14 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

I only came here to say:

mmmmm donuts...

May 14 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Nieto

Oh man, I should make some doughnuts! I get to go to Voodoo in a few weeks, woo!

I spell it both ways, depending on how lazy I am!! But now I really have a craving for doughnuts...

May 14 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

What a great post - I have been craving doughnuts lately. How'd you know? :)

Oh yea, we're also having a contest on our blog where you could win a package from Lou Malnati's. http://chewonthatblog.com/2008/04/30/chicago-food-giveaway-contest/" REL="nofollow">Check it out!

May 14 | Unregistered CommenterHillary

"Donut" is easier to spell, right? The use of "gh" is too upper-crust for this working class treat.

xoxox Amy

P.S. I want your job!

great looking donuts!

May 14 | Unregistered CommenterJerri

mmmm...this blog always make me crave for food

As an East Coaster who grew up on Dunkin Donuts, it's "donuts." No doubt about it. And there's no doubt about your first pic making me salivate. And I'm not even a donut fan!

All of my old family recipes say doughnuts, but spell check had a problem with that when I did a doughnut post, so I caved to its infinite wisdom and went with donuts. I still prefer the classic doughnut though, and now I'd like one with my morning coffee please!

May 15 | Unregistered CommenterRural Vegan

I spell it both ways, but I think I prefer doughnut. Did you know that Stan Mikita's in Wayne's World is meant to be Tim Horton's? Do you know Tim Horton's? Canadian institution. But their donuts are nothing great if you've had nicer ones.

Also, I saw packaged madeleines on sale at Starbucks. Is that new? I sort of wanted to buy them.

May 15 | Unregistered CommenterLydia

Vegan Noodle: Oh, make some! Bet yours will be gorgeous.

Cupcakegirl: How about some donut cupcakes? Just saying...

Grace: OK, I like the way you roll! Manna from Heaven it is!

Trevor: OOh, yum! I have a soft spot for cider donuts from Delicious Orchards in Colts Neck, NJ!

Recipegirl: Oh, to have sampled them during a more authentic time! Yum.

Shannie: We really liked Voodoo! What's your favorite one there?

T.W. : Club sandwiches and donuts...now that's a diet!

Giz: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it! :-)

Southern hostess: So true!

Katy: Isn't it wonderful to have one? I don't eat them often myself but whenever I do, I think "I should do this more often".

Cakewardrobe: Of course! Sprinkles are a necessity!

Edamame: Thanks I think!

Golightly: Ha!! Hope you had one yourself!

Abbey: Thanks! Both things worthy of love!

Slshacka: Glad you enjoyed coming across what we've spied!

EB: I so, so, so love Wayne's world.

Veggiegirl: So true. No matter how it's spelled--delicious!

Anne-Marie: Thanks! Interesting and random, isn't it?

Christina: Starbucks does "Doughnut"--but, they get theirs from Top Pot, a Seattle company that refers to theirs as "Doughnut". So who is to say what they'd call them if they were supplied by someone else?

Amy: HA! Homer Simpson would approve.

Melisser: Lucky you! That shop has put its spell on us.

Deborah: Good, that means we're doing a good job!

Hillary: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed!

Amy: So true--it has that hidden "ugh".

Jerri: Thanks!

Cotton Candy: Me too!

Susan: Oh, don't tempt us with Dunkin Donuts--none in Seattle! :-(

Rural Vegan: Yes, it's interesting! If they were older it's not a big surprise that they said "doughnut". Personally I prefer the visual of those letters. :-)

Lydia: I have heard of Tim Horton's but never been!

Also, Starbucks here has had madeleines for a while--actually that's where I got the one I took photos of for a previous post. They're not bad in my opinion!

May 15 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

This is the blog of my dreams, it feels like I'm in heaven! Is it okay if I link to you? Keep feedig my heart and stomach - love sarah

May 15 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

WOW what a great post and very informative I keep learning as I read your posts - now I'm craving doughnuts!

Rosie x

May 19 | Unregistered CommenterRosie

mmm i am ALWAYS craving donuts, they are one of my fave treats. multiples. those pictures are amazing!

May 19 | Unregistered CommenterMara

Ok, my all time favorite, J, which I think you mentioned before as being one of your favs, is Dunkin Donut's White Powdered with Frosting-like filling. I can't find them at 90% of DD though. Great post!

June 8 | Unregistered CommenterBethany

i think i lost my comment!

J, I think you mentioned before that the Dunkin Donuts Powdered Sugar with White Frosting Filling are your favs -- mine too! Best ever! Only I can only ever find them at like 10% of DDs. Which is probably a good thing, since a lot of times my rule is, if they have it, I'll get it, if not, no donut for me. One downside? So messy!

June 8 | Unregistered CommenterBethany

Donut/Doughnut: I use donut but have no problem with the other spelling.

Favorite donuts: In the US, my go-to donut is the Chocolate Frosted at Dunkin' Donuts. In Canada, it's the Walnut Crunch from Timmy's.

Jim Dwyer
Donut lover and "Canadian spy"

August 24 | Unregistered CommenterJim Dwyer

I think that we bake the best of both worlds. Take a look at our Sophie's Sinful Donut Cupcakes aka Dirt Bombs pictured on our website www.baker-babes.com

November 26 | Unregistered Commenterbakingdivas

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August 12 | Unregistered Commenterwasai
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