The donut is a classic American confection that's transformed into a foodie favorite. Gone are the days when basic glazed donuts reigned supreme—with places like Dough, Doughnut Plant and Montclair Bread Co. cranking out crazy rounds in irresistible flavors like Tres Leches and Peanut Butter and Jelly, there's always something new happening in the donut sphere. Here, we take a moment to look back on how the treat first came to be, and other surprising things you might not have known—until now.
1. They were originally called 'oily cakes'.Fried dough was introduced to New York back when the area was known as New Amsterdam and Dutch was the predominant language. The early Americans took the fact that the treats were fried in oil quite literally, naming them olykoeks, translating to "oily cakes." The word 'donut' came soon after when a woman is said to have put nuts in the dough before frying it. Today's biggest debate is whether the word is spelled 'donut' or 'doughnut.' Which one is technically correct? No one really knows!2. A sailor invented the modern day shape.As the story goes, a New England woman named Elizabeth Gregory fried some dough to send with her son for his voyage at sea during the 19th century. Elizabeth was the one who fried the dough with nuts, leading to the name 'donut,' but her son was the one who put a hole in the center, giving us the classic donut shape. The young sailor is said to have skewered the donut through one of the spokes on the ship's wheel to hold the donut while using both hands to steer the ship.
3. The modern-day donut has ties to World War I.We owe our addiction to donuts to a Russian man named Adolph Levitt, the inventor of the donut machine. The contraption launched donut production from local bakeries to mass production facilities, leading to a boom in donut popularity and sales. The Salvation Army caught wind of the trend and decided to use donuts as a part of their promotion to honor soldiers fighting in World War I. "Donut lassies" fried up the treats and served them to members of the U.S. military in France and Germany. 4. Krispy Kreme was the first national chain.Vernon Rudolph bought the secret recipe for the Krispy Kreme donut from a frenchmen in New Orleans and brought back the recipe to North Carolina where Krispy Kreme Donuts was born. The cult-classic donut shop first opened its doors on July 13, 1937 in Winston-Salem and has been booming in business ever since. The company recently celebrated 75 years in 2012 and its 1,000th store in 2015!5. Americans are donut-crazy.Over 10 billion donuts are made in the US every year, and 17 million of those are produced at one single donut chain! (Lamar's Donuts, in case you're curious.)
6. They can get pretty pricey.The most expensive donut in the world was made by Krispy Kreme and sold for more than $1,000. The 23-carat, gold-dusted donut was filled with Dom Pérignon Champagne jelly, sprinkled with 24-carat gold leaf and edible diamonds. Now that's one rich dessert.
7. And they can be quite the mouthful.The biggest donut ever made was an American-style jelly donut, weighing in at 1.7 tons and measuring 1 foot tall.
8. They're great for getting into character.Renee Zellweger ate 20 donuts every day to gain weight for her role in Bridget Jones' Diary, according to the Daily Mail. She claims, "one doughnut doesn't do a thing. You've got to eat 20 a day for five weeks before you get results." Where do we sign up?
9. You can burn one off with a bike ride.Half an hour of vigorous biking burns an average of 200 calories—the equivalent on one glazed donut. Does it count if we eat as we peddle?
10. You can get them for free!Chains across the country offer promotions throughout the year, but National Donut Day is time time to get your fix without dropping a dime. Check out our roundup of National Donut Day deals to find out where you can get a free donut to celebrate!