Ever had a doughnut and wished there was like… Maybe just one more bite to it? Then felt totally robbed as you realized that doughnuts basically just come with a single bite pre-taken out of them in the middle? Then you might have felt double-robbed when they started selling doughnut holes. So while you’re filled with disappointment at your unfilled doughnut, why do doughnuts have holes?
Further Reading: What Is the Correct Way to Spell Donut/Doughnut?
It’s Not To Sell the Hole Back
Well selling the hole back to you as a separate pastry was probably a nice bonus for Big Doughnut. Either way, making the doughnut a ring came before selling doughnut holes back.
There are a handful of theories as to why doughnuts have holes in them, the first of which is pretty pragmatic. The earliest variants of the doughnut likely came from Germany, where fried dough cakes were kicking in 1485. When the Dutch brought doughnuts with them to America they brought olykoeks (oily cakes) with them. They were made of pork fat and originally ball shaped. Eventually the name “oily balls” caught on for them. Honestly, it sounds a little more fun than “doughnut.” Turns out frying a ball is an outside-in process, and the outside burns far faster than the inside. So the easy solution was to just punch a hole through the middle, then the whole pastry would be evenly fried.
Also in the 19th century a woman named Elizabeth Gregory apparently put hazelnuts in the hole, giving us the name “doughnut.” Also her son Gregory took credit for punching the hole into the doughnut in 1847. The first use of “doughnut” predates Gregory, first written down in 1808.
Some doughnut historians allege that our guy Greg actually just put a hole in the doughnut to use less dough. Others allege that, because he was a ship captain, he stuck doughnuts on the spokes of the wheel.
While doughnuts might have Dutch origins, doughnut machines made their way about thanks to Adolph Levitt in 1920. That’s really the point where people realized that making doughnuts on an industrial scale had the holes built into the doughnut. They weren’t just punching a hole through them.
The Great Doughnut Hole Frenzy
Doughnuts really popped off during World War I, owing to Levitt’s doughnut machines. It was Levitt who popularized the whole “watching doughnuts go through the machine” thing, and sent doughnut popularity skyrocketing through the 1940s–bringing doughnuts and the holes in them into the mainstream.
Speaking of watching doughnuts get made, you’re probably thinking of Krispy Kreme. See if you know which states don’t have one here.