Doughnuts are everywhere. Over the last century, few pastries have inspired as much long-lasting enthusiasm, or as many film and television tributes, as the humble ring of fried dough.
Although we’ve been gobbling down doughnuts by the baker's dozens for years, most of us don’t know that much about their delicious history. Here are 15 tasty facts about the iconic pastry.
1. Over 10 billion doughnuts are made in the U.S. each year.
The American doughnut industry is huge, with numerous fast food chains dedicated to their production. Canada, meanwhile, produces fewer doughnuts (approximately 1 billion per year), but with its lower population, actually has the most doughnut shops per capita of any country in the world.
2. There are 10 people living in America with the last name "Doughnut" or "Donut."
At least that was the total in 2011. It's unclear whether "Doughnut" was their given last name, or whether they changed it out of passion for the pastry. Meanwhile, 13 people have the first name “Donut,” making it the 245,396th most popular name in the United States.
3. Washington Irving was the first writer to describe doughnuts in print.
Washington Irving, who is best known as the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, described the pastry as "balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog's fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks.” He is widely believed to be the first writer to wax poetic about these delicious concoctions.
4. Voodoo Doughnut used to sell "medicinal" doughnuts, which were coated with Nyquil or Pepto Bismol.
Portland, Oregon-based Voodoo Doughnut is famous for its wild doughnut flavors. For a while, the doughnut shop even offered NyQuil- and Pepto Bismol-coated doughnuts (the latter were dipped in Pepto Bismol, sprinkled with Tums, and marketed to customers who’d had too much to drink and wanted a snack that was easy on the stomach). The doughnut shop was eventually forced to retire its medicinal flavors after the FDA stepped in.
5. "Spudnuts" have dough made of potatoes instead of flour.
Made with mashed potatoes or potato starch, potato doughnuts were once so popular they had their own fast food chain: Spudnuts. The mostly defunct chain (there are apparently a few independent locations hanging on, but the parent company no longer exists) was founded by two brothers—an appliance salesman and drug store clerk—in the 1940s. They were the first fast food doughnut chain to open in Los Angeles.
6. Boston has the most doughnut shops per person.
7. The French used to call their doughnuts "nun's farts."
The airy fried dough fritters—slightly different from the American circular doughnut—are called pets de nonne in French, which translates to “nun’s farts.”
8. There's some truth to the "cops love doughnuts" trope.
Back in the 1950s, police officers on the graveyard shift would stop by doughnut shops—which were among the few establishments open late—to do paperwork and have a snack. Eventually a reciprocal relationship developed: Doughnut shop owners welcomed the protection of police officers, and police officers liked having a place to chow down late at night, so the association stuck around.
9. Renée Zellweger ate 20 doughnuts a day to gain weight for the Bridget Jonessequel.
Renée Zellweger needed to gain weight fast to reprise her role as the eponymous heroine in 2004's Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. The actress claimed to have eaten “a Big Mac and chips, potatoes swimming in butter, pizza, milkshakes, and 20 doughnuts” every day to hit her weight goal in time for shooting.
10. Doughnuts were once declared "the hit food" of the century.
At the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair—which was billed as "A Century of Progress"—doughnuts were given the lofty title of "Hit Food of the Century of Progress." Because they were fresh and the automated machines made them quickly, they were cheap and became "a staple of the working class" during the Depression, according to Sally Levitt Steinberg, whose grandfather invented the doughnut machine.
11. Clark Gable taught movie audiences how to properly dunk doughnuts in It Happened One Night.
In 1934's It Happened One Night, Clark Gable's character outlined the rules for proper dunking etiquette to co-star Claudette Colbert. "Dunking's an art," he explained. "Don't let it soak so long. A dip and—plop, into your mouth. If you let it soak so long, it'll get soft and fall off. It's all a matter of timing. I ought to write a book about it."
12. A New England ship captain claimed to have invented the hole in doughnuts.
Elizabeth Gregory, mother of 19th-century ship captain Hanson Gregory, would famously make fried dough pastries for her son and his crew to take on their voyages. Though the elder Gregory may have been an early doughnut innovator (she packed the pastries with nuts, and flavored them with cinnamon and nutmeg), it was Captain Hanson Gregory who claimed to have invented the actual doughnut hole, calling it "the first doughnut hole ever seen by mortal eyes."
13. Doughnuts were served to soldiers during WWI.
During World War I, Salvation Army workers would bring soldiers doughnuts and coffee in the trenches of France to cheer them up and remind them of home.
14. One California doughnut shop became a movie star in the 1980s—and still is.
Featuring a massive 32-foot doughnut sculpture atop its low, flat roof, Randy's Donuts is one of the most iconic Hollywood doughnut shops. The store, which opened in the 1950s as part of the now-defunct Big Donut Drive-In chain, has appeared in numerous movies, including Earth Girls are Easy (1988), Get Shorty (1995), The Golden Child (1986), Crocodile Dundee (1986), and Iron Man 2 (2010).
15. They were once called olykoeks.
Though many countries have independently developed their own version of doughnuts, the Dutch are widely credited with bringing the fried pastry to America prior to the Revolutionary War, originally calling them olykoeks, meaning "oily cakes."
This article originally ran in 2016.