15 Delicious Facts About Doughnuts

istock
istock

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.

Bostonians really love their doughnuts: The city has one doughnut shop for every 2480 people according to AdWeek.

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.


iStock/kievith

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.


iStock/DarcyMaulsby

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.


Getty Images

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.

6 Tasty Facts About Scrapple

Kate Hopkins, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Kate Hopkins, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Love it or hate it, scrapple is a way of life—especially if you grew up in Pennsylvania or another Mid-Atlantic state like New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, or Virginia. And this (typically) pork-filled pudding isn’t going anywhere. While its popularity in America dates back more than 150 years, the dish itself is believed to have originated in pre-Roman times. In celebration of National Scrapple Day, here’s everything you ever—or never—wanted to know about the dish.

1. Scrapple is typically made of pig parts. Lots and lots of pig parts.

Though every scrapple manufacturer has its own particular recipe, it all boils down to the same basic process—literally: boiling up a bunch of pig scraps (yes, the parts you don’t want to know are in there) to create a stock which is then mixed with cornmeal, flour, and a handful of spices to create a slurry. Once the consistency is right, chopped pig parts are added in and the mixture is turned into a loaf and baked.

As the dish has gained popularity, chefs have put their own unique spins on it, adding in different meats and spices to play with the flavor. New York City’s Ivan Ramen even cooked it up waffle-style.

2. People were eating scrapple long before it made its way to America.

People often think that the word scrapple derives from scraps, and it’s easy to understand why. But it’s actually an Americanized derivation of panhaskröppel, a German word meaning "slice of rabbit." Much like its modern-day counterpart, skröppel—which dates back to pre-Roman times—was a dish that was designed to make use of every part of its protein (in this case, a rabbit). It was brought to America in the 17th and 18th centuries by German colonists who settled in the Philadelphia area.

In 1863, the first mass-produced version of scrapple arrived via Habbersett, which is still making the product today. They haven’t tweaked the recipe much in the past 150-plus years, though they do offer a beef version as well.

3. If your scrapple is gray, you're a-ok.

A dull gray isn’t normally the most appetizing color you’d want in a meat product, but that’s the color a proper piece of scrapple should be. (It is typically pork bits, after all.)

4. Scrapple can be topped with all kinds of goodies.

Though there’s no rule that says you can’t enjoy a delicious piece of scrapple at any time of day, it’s considered a breakfast meat. As such, it’s often served with (or over) eggs but can be topped with all sorts of condiments; while some people stick with ketchup or jelly, others go wild with applesauce, mustard, maple syrup, and honey to make the most of the sweet-and-salty flavor combo. There’s also nothing wrong with being a scrapple purist and eating it as is.

5. Dogfish Head made a scrapple beer.

The master brewers at Delaware’s Dogfish Head have never been afraid to get experimental with their flavors. In 2014, they created a Beer for Breakfast Stout that was brewed with Rapa pork scrapple. A representative for the scrapple brand called the collaboration a "unique proposition." Indeed.

6. Delaware holds an annual scrapple festival each October.

Speaking of Delaware: It’s also home to the country’s oldest—and largest—annual scrapple festival. Originating in 1992, the Apple Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville, Delaware is a yearly celebration of all things pig parts, which includes events like a ladies skillet toss and a scrapple chunkin’ contest. More than 25,000 attendees make the trek annually.

What's the Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes?

Julia_Sudnitskaya/iStock via Getty Images
Julia_Sudnitskaya/iStock via Getty Images

This Thanksgiving, families across the country will enjoy a traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes ... or are they yams? Discussions on the proper name for the orange starchy stuff on your table can get more heated than arguments about topping them with marshmallows. But there's an easy way to tell the difference between sweet potatoes and yams: If you picked up the tuber from a typical American grocery store, it's probably a sweet potato.

So what's a sweet potato?

Sweet potato and yam aren't just different names for the same thing: The two produce items belong to their own separate botanical categories. Sweet potatoes are members of the morning glory family. Regular potatoes like russets, meanwhile, are considered part of the nightshade family, which means that sweet potatoes aren't actually potatoes at all.

Almost all of the foods most Americans think of as yams are really sweet potatoes. The root vegetable typically has brown or reddish skin with a starchy inside that's orange (though it can also be white or purple). It's sold in most supermarkets in the country and used to make sweet potato fries, sweet potato pie, and the sweet potato casserole you have at Thanksgiving.

Then what's a yam?

Yams.
Yams.
bonchan/iStock via Getty Images

Yams are a different beast altogether. They are more closely related to lilies and grasses and mostly grow in tropical environments. The skin is more rough and bark-like than what you'd see on a sweet potato, and the inside is usually white or yellowish—not orange.

They're a common ingredient in parts of Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. Because the inside of a yam is less moist than the inside of a sweet potato, they require more fat to make them soft and creamy. They're also less sweet than their orange-hued counterparts. In many regions in the U.S., yams aren't sold outside of international grocery stores.

Where did the mix-up come from?

Also sweet potatoes.
Also sweet potatoes.
Kateryna Bibro/iStock via Getty Images

So if yams and sweet potatoes are two totally different vegetables that don't look or taste that similar, why are their names used interchangeably in the U.S.? You can blame the food industry. For years, "firm" sweet potatoes, which have brown skin and whitish flesh, were the only sweet potatoes grown in the U.S. In the early 20th century, "soft" sweet potatoes, which have reddish skin and deep-orange flesh, entered the scene. Farmers needed a way to distinguish the two varieties, so soft sweet potatoes became yams.

Nearly a century later, the misnomer shows no signs of disappearing. Many American supermarkets still call their orange-fleshed sweet potatoes yams and their white-fleshed ones sweet potatoes, even though both items are sweet potatoes. But this isn't a strict rule, and stores often swap the names and make things even more confusing for shoppers. So the next time you're shopping for a recipe that calls for sweet potatoes, learn to identify them by sight rather than the name on the label.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER