The evolution of the donut from indulgence to breakfast



The Evolution of Doughnuts from Indulgence to Breakfast staple is the story of how doughnuts have evolved from an occasional indulgence into a common breakfast food in many parts of the world, especially in the United States.

The journey to this status as a morning staple is both intriguing and complex.

This article will delve into the rich history, technological advancements, and marketing strategies that have contributed to the doughnut’s prominence.

The Evolution of Doughnuts from Indulgence to Breakfast Staple
Turkish Tulumba, and example of how doughnuts have been adapted in different cultures.

Historical Origins: More Than Just the Dutch

Contrary to popular belief, the concept of a fried dough treat has multicultural roots and can’t be solely credited to the Dutch.

Variations of fried dough exist in many cultures, such as the ‘youtiao’ in China, ‘churros’ in Spain, and ‘beignets’ in France.

The Dutch did contribute to the history of the American doughnut with their ‘oliekoeks’ or oil cakes—fried dough often filled with fruits, nuts, or other fillings.

These were indeed more akin to a dessert or a special treat.

However, it’s essential to recognize the multi-cultural influences that have shaped the doughnut over centuries.

Fried Dough Treats Around the World

CountryFried Dough VariantCommon Fillings/Flavorings
SpainChurrosSugar, Cinnamon, Chocolate dip
FranceBeignetsPowdered sugar, Jam
The NetherlandsOliekoeksFruits, Nuts

Americanization and Early Popularity

Although Dutch immigrants did bring their fried dough recipes with them to the United States in the 18th century, the popularization of what we now recognize as the doughnut came later.

The first recorded doughnut shop in the U.S. was not definitively established until the early 20th century, contrary to the often-cited but unverified date of 1847 in New York City.

During World War I, doughnuts were served to American soldiers by Salvation Army volunteers, which significantly boosted their popularity.

Upon returning from the war, the soldiers brought back their fondness for this sweet treat, creating a surge in its domestic popularity.

Technological Innovations: The Doughnut Machine

The development of the automated doughnut machine in the early 1920s was indeed a game-changer for the industry.

Adolph Levitt’s invention made it easier to produce consistent, high-quality doughnuts at scale.

This standardization lowered the cost, making doughnuts accessible to a broader segment of the population and opening the possibility of them becoming an everyday food item, including for breakfast.

Coffee Shop Culture and the Rise of Breakfast Doughnuts

The proliferation of coffee shops in the 1940s and 1950s in the United States played a significant role in cementing the doughnut’s place at the breakfast table.

The synergy between coffee and doughnuts was undeniable, and the combination became an iconic American breakfast duo.

Marketing and Branding

The mid-20th century witnessed the rise of doughnut chains like Krispy Kreme (founded in 1937) and Dunkin’ Donuts (founded in 1950).

These companies embarked on aggressive marketing campaigns, complete with catchy slogans, to promote doughnuts not just as a snack but as a viable option for breakfast.

Their marketing strategies played a considerable role in changing the perception of doughnuts from an indulgence to a more regular food item.

Modern Trends and Health Considerations

In today’s era, doughnuts come in an astonishing array of flavors, toppings, and even alternative ingredients to cater to varied consumer preferences and dietary needs.

However, the health implications of regular doughnut consumption—given their high sugar, fat, and calorie content—have led to increasing scrutiny.

To adapt, some bakeries offer “healthier” options featuring:

The ongoing debate around doughnuts and health is part of the food item’s evolving narrative and its attempts to adapt to contemporary dietary concerns.


The transformation of doughnuts from an occasional indulgence into a standard breakfast offering is a captivating story of culinary evolution, cultural influences, technological innovation, and marketing acumen.

The doughnut’s status appears secure as it continues to evolve in response to changing consumer preferences and health considerations.

Key Takeaways

  • Doughnuts have a multicultural origin, not solely Dutch as commonly believed.
  • The popularization of doughnuts in the United States received a boost post-World War I.
  • Technological advancements in the early 1920s significantly impacted doughnut production and accessibility.
  • Coffee shops played a pivotal role in the doughnut’s ascendancy as a common breakfast item.
  • Marketing campaigns from major chains have heavily influenced the perception of doughnuts as suitable breakfast foods.
  • Modern trends are challenging the traditional doughnut by introducing alternative ingredients and health-conscious options.

By examining the doughnut’s complex history and current trends, we can better appreciate its ubiquitous presence in contemporary cuisine.

As long as there’s a cup of coffee looking for a companion, the doughnut seems set to continue its culinary journey.