What Is the Correct Way to Spell Donut/Doughnut?

(Last Updated On: September 12, 2019)
What Is the Correct Way to Spell Donut/Doughnut?

Whether you treat them as a breakfast staple or a sweet treat, doughnuts/donuts have become a favorite snack across the world over the last few decades. However, this delicious food has also been a source of contention. Just how exactly how are you supposed to spell it? Many people use the donut/doughnut spelling interchangeably due to how common both versions are, but we’re here to settle the debate once and for all. What is the correct way to spell donut/doughnut?

What Is the Correct Way to Spell Donut/Doughnut?

We might as well get right to the point, and unveil that the technical correct spelling is indeed the longer “doughnut”. This is what you will see in dictionaries, where the alternative spelling is not present. However, if those in the know seem to be well aware of how to spell doughnut correctly, how did things get so confusing? 

The shorter donut spelling was actually around as an alternative option as early as the 19th century, but didn’t really get traction until the late 20th century. We have the rise of the Dunkin’ Donuts chain to thank for that. It’s ironic that this whole debate really only got started as a matter of branding, but since it’s recent change to just Dunkin’, maybe we’ll see the traditional spelling creep back.

As a side note here, since Dunkin’ is primarily U.S.-based, most international doughnut aficionados use the correct spelling. However, as the donut spelling becomes more common, we’re starting to see it leak over. Generally, it appears to be a ⅔ ratio for doughnut versus donut for writers outside of the U.S.

Quiz yourself: Dunkin’ Logos Through the Ages

The History of Donuts/Doughnuts

The origin of the doughnut/donut debate may be a relatively recent development, but there is a long and rich tradition for this yummy treat. Let’s talk a little bit about how doughnuts became a favorite food across the country. 

Part of what makes this confusing is the fact that no one culture has a monopoly on fried dough. From China to Italy to Mexico, just about every country has its own take. With that being said, the closest progenitor to the doughnut as we know it is probably the Dutch olykoeks, also known as “oil cakes.” Originally, these were simply balls of cake fried in pork fat until reaching a golden brown. One common issue with these is the fact that the center of the cake doesn’t cook as fast as the rest. The Dutch got around this by putting in fillings that didn’t require any cooking, like fruit or nuts.

As is the case with so many other American staple foods, olykoeks were brought to Western shores by Dutch immigrants, and they began to evolve further into doughnuts as we know them today. One major step comes at the hands of Hansen Gregory, an American ship captain, in 1847. Grappling with the same issue of the center not cooking as fast as the rest of the cake, Gregory decided simply to punch a hole in it. Some urban legends say the vision came to him in a dream or that he punched the cake onto the spokes of his wheel, but what we know for sure is that he claims to have invented the doughnut hole. By exposing more surface area to the hot oil, this eliminated the cooking issue.

Why Are They Called Doughnuts?

Why Are They Called Doughnuts?

Now, we can take a brief revisiting of the doughnut name. There’s a bit of contention as to when exactly Dutch olykoeks started being known as doughnuts. Some believe it’s a reference to the nuts originally placed in the center. Others think it was a corruption of “dough knots,” a common shape the olykoeks took at the time. Regardless, the first record we have of doughnuts getting their name is in Washington Irving’s 1809 publication, A History of New York.

Fast forward to today, and whether you call them doughnuts or donuts, this food has become more popular than ever. While you have major chains like Dunkin’ and Krispy Kreme, there are also smaller specialty doughnut shops pushing the flavor combinations and designs to new heights. It will be exciting to see where things head next.

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