Biting Into the Whole Truth: Why Do Doughnuts Have Holes?

Is there anything quite like fried dough? From churros in Mexico to Balushahis in Indian to a classic glazed doughnut in the United States, various versions of fried dough can be found across the world.  


Well… why not? 

Fried dough has numerous advantageous:

  • Cheap ingredients
  • Quick to make
  • Easy to eat
  • Pretty freakin’ delicious.

Fried dough takes various shapes across the globe, but my US-raised brain immediately jumps to a perfect circle with a hole in the middle. Glazed, cinnamon-sugar, strawberry frosting with sprinkles, apple cider… Mmmmmmm!

After sinking my teeth into the history of National Donut Day, my curious brain started pondering…..

“What’s the deal with donut holes?”

The search for the hole truth proved to be more complicated than a “hey Siri, why do donuts have holes?”

I whipped out my detective gear and found 4 popular theories explaining the curious doughnut hole…

Theory 1

Let’s start out our holey speculations with a simple theory. As doughnuts were growing in popularity in the 19th century,  so were bagels. Bakers shrewdly stacked bagels on a stick or a long rope, making it easy to transport them around for sale. Why not do the same with doughnuts?

(Click HERE and HERE for the sources)

Theory 1 is a bit boring, but fairly believable.

Nothing spices up history like having a hero… so let me introduce Hanson Gregory (1832 – 1921), an American seafarer, and the star of theory 2 and 3.

Theory 2

Hanson Gregory began hitting the seas in his teens, and his loving mother would send him off with plenty of doughnuts for sustenance and a taste of home. Sailing wasn’t always so smooth, and one day, the sea was particularly tumultuous. Our pal Hanson was battling the wheel to safely guide the ship with a doughnut in hand. Not wanting to sacrifice the ship or the doughnut, he rammed it onto one of the steering wheel spokes.

Voila! The birth of the doughnut hole!!!

He is quoted in the Washington Post saying, “—I cut into the middle of that donut the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes!”

(Click HERE and HERE for the sources)

Theory 3

Same time, same place, different story.

Rather than enjoying doughnuts made by him mom whilst onboard, in Theory 3, Gregory whipped up the treats himself. However, the blob of dough never cooked through completely. The doughy center didn’t taste particularly wowing and it was hard on the digestive system.

Gregory shrewdly punched a hole in the center. Voila! A perfectly cooked doughnut all the way through! He told his mother about his geniuses, and the shape boomed in popularity.

Other internet sources reveal that there is more to the Washington Post quote from above… “I took the cover off the ship’s tin pepper box, and—I cut into the middle of that donut the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes!”

(Click HERE and HERE for the sources).

Gregory is given credit as the official inventor of the doughnut hole. In fact, there is a plaque that reads “In Commemoration This Is the Birthplace of Captain Hasnon Gregory Who First Invested the Hole in the Donut In The Year of 1847”.

But wait! There’s more!

Theory 4

To start theory 4, let’s go to Philadelphia and meet Eliza Leslie (1787 – 1858). An upperclass girl who’s father rubbed elbows with the likes of Thomas Jefferson. He fully encouraged her inquisitive mind and writing talents, which wasn’t common for the time. After her father’s death in 1803, she headed to cooking school and discovered she had quite the knack for it.

Leslie strayed away from classic French recipes and techniques and towards recipes more suited for fellow Philadelphians. Leslie proceeded to become one of the most popular cookbook authors of the time, writing 9 cookbooks that sold like wildfire (along side some novels, too!) She coined the term “cup cake” and published the first ever chocolate cake recipe (my hero!), and she also published a doughnut recipe….

This doughnut recipe can be found in her best seller Directions for Cookery in its Various Branches , which was published in 1839. Around this time, bakers were adding egg yolks into their fried dough recipes, which meant the dough couldn’t properly cook through. To solve the conundrum, Leslie clearly instructs the baker to cut a hole into the middle of the dough to ensure an even cook.

(Click HERE for the source)

But wait! Hanson Gregory has a plaque indicating he invented the doughnut hole 8 years later!!!!

Here’s the thing….

There was a time when the internet and easy communication didn’t exist… shocking, I know. If an idea was good, it makes sense that more than one person would think of it. Gregory could have certainly come up with the idea of a doughnut independently. But did he? While most sources credit Hanson Gregory as the official inventor of the doughnut hole, there is clear evidence that Eliza Leslie had the idea first!

Hungry for more?

One Comment Add yours

  1. yes ok but putting JAM inside a doughnut. now thats genius.


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