Where Did the Donut Hole REALLY Come From?

And now for a lesson in the donut-ology. (If that's not a course, it should be.)

Hong-Vo/ShutterstockYay for National Donut Day! While this glorious day of celebration will forever be marked in our calendar, let’s address the elephant in the room: Donuts are among the worst foods you can eat. The fat count reaches a whopping 10 to 20 grams per donut, which can cause depression and take a serious toll on your waistline. BUT let’s be honest: Everyone deserves a treat once in awhile, and donuts are just. SO. GOOD.

As a child, you might have pressed your nose against a glass wall at Krispy Kreme, transfixed as you watched machines rotate and dip circle after circle of dough into a tub of boiling oil. But while we might be familiar with the process of making donuts, their history is far less widely known.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, the first donut was invented in the mid-19th century by a New England ship captain’s mother named Elizabeth Gregory. Legend has it that Mrs. Gregory discovered her claim to fame by deep-frying dough and rolling it in nutmeg, cinnamon, and lemon rind. The literal term “doughnut” came from her practice of putting hazelnuts or walnuts in the center, where the dough might not cook all the way through. Lo and behold, the “doughnut” was born.

But what’s with the ring shape—not to mention those bite-sized pieces we call “donut holes?” Interestingly, it’s Mrs. Gregory’s son, Hanson, who claims credit for that creation. But it’s still unclear as to how the donut hole came to be. While Captain Gregory recalled cutting into the donut with a round tin pepper box, some historians say the real story is far more interesting. Some claim he skewered one of his mom’s donuts on a spoke of his ship’s wheel during a storm. Others make the case that it made the pastry easier to digest, while others speculate that the captain was skimping on ingredients.

In any case, nowadays the process is far less interesting. Although donut holes were originally derived from their ring donut counterparts, now sellers produce and bake them separately.

Brooke Nelson
Brooke Nelson is a tech and consumer products writer covering the latest in digital trends, product reviews, security and privacy, and other news and features for RD.com.