Doughnuts are ubiquitous in the United States: whether you're at party, a coffee shop, or the break room at work, you’re likely to find a box of iced rings covered with sprinkles. But some kind of deep-fried dough blob is a treat found in cultures around the world—so why have doughnuts become uniquely American? And what’s with the name, when there’s rarely a nut found in this dough? This episode, we're taking a roll around the story of these sweet circles, from their debut in Dutch New Amsterdam to the momentous origins of the doughnut hole. Listen in now, as we meet the Salvation Army volunteers who cemented the doughnut's popularity on the battlefields of both world wars, the Massachusetts middle-school dropout who created a doughnut empire, and the Cambodian-American Donut King of California.
Left, recovering soldiers are served doughnuts during one of the World Wars; right, the poster for the song inspired by these doughnut girls. (Photos courtesy of the Sally L. Steinberg Collection of Doughnut Ephemera, National Museum of American History)
Food writer and culinary historian Michael Krondl is the author of The Donut: History, Recipes and Lore from Boston to Berlin.
Bonnie Miller is a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, where one of her specialties is in the study of American food culture.
An early patent, filed in 1929, for an automatic doughnut-making machine. These machines became ubiquitous after World War II and helped further bolster doughnuts' popularity in the US. (Photo courtesy of the Sally L. Steinberg Collection of Doughnut Ephemera, National Museum of American History)
Bob Rosenberg was the CEO of Dunkin' Donuts—now known as Dunkin' Brands—for 35 years, and recently published a book about his experiences called Around the Corner to Around the World: A Dozen Lessons I Learned Running Dunkin Donuts.
Michelle Sou is one of the co-founders of, and contributors to, Pink Box Stories, an online collection of the stories of the Cambodian-Americans whose families ran doughnut shops in Southern California.
Huge thanks to Phing Yamamoto and the team at Colonial Donuts in Oakland, California, for welcoming us for a tour and doughnut feast while we were in town! For more on them, check out the Pink Box Stories entry about Phing and her family's business.