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15 Delicious Facts About Doughnuts

March 22, 2016
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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. But though 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 to whet your appetite.

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 one billion per year), but with its lower population, actually has the most doughnut shops per capita of any country in the world.

2. AS OF 2011, 10 PEOPLE IN THE UNITED STATES HAVE THE LAST NAME “DOUGHNUT” or “DONUT.”

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 according to White Pages.

3. WASHINGTON IRVING IS WIDELY CONSIDERED THE FIRST WRITER TO DESCRIBE DOUGHNUTS IN PRINT.

Irving, who is best known as the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollowdescribed the pastry as "balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog's fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks.”

4. AN OREGON DOUGHNUT SHOP USED TO OFFER MEDICINAL DOUGHNUTS, COATED WITH NYQUIL OR PEPTO BISMOL.

Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oreg. is famous for its crazy 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.

A Spudnuts in Amarillo, Texas. darylfurr via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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 “Pet de Nonne” in French, which translates to “Nun’s Farts.”

8. THERE’S SOME TRUTH TO THAT "COPS LOVE DOUGHNUTS" STEREOTYPE.

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 SAID SHE ATE 20 DOUGHNUTS A DAY TO GAIN WEIGHT FOR THE BRIDGET JONES SEQUEL.

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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 claims 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 Progess." 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.

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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. But 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 HAS APPEARED OVER AND OVER IN MOVIES SINCE THE 1980S.

Getty

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 attributed with bringing the fried pastry to America prior to the Revolutionary War, originally calling them "olykoeks," meaning "oily cakes."

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This Week's Best Amazon Deals You Can Still Get
April 30, 2017
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As a recurring feature, we share some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. These items were the ones that were the most popular with our readers this week, and they’re still available.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers (including Amazon) and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

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When the FBI Went After Mad Magazine
April 29, 2017
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In a memo dated November 30, 1957, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified as “A. Jones” raised an issue of critical importance: "Several complaints to the Bureau have been made concerning the 'Mad' comic book [sic], which at one time presented the horror of war to readers."

Attached to the document were pages taken from a recent issue of Mad that featured a tongue-in-cheek game about draft dodging. Players who earned such status were advised to write to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and request a membership card certifying themselves as a “full-fledged draft dodger.” At least three readers, the agent reported, did exactly that.

Mad, of course, was the wildly popular satirical magazine that was reaching upwards of a million readers every other month. Published by William Gaines, who had already gotten into some trouble with Congress when he was called to testify about his gruesome horror comics in 1954, Mad lampooned everyone and everything. But in name-checking the notoriously humorless Hoover, Gaines had invited the wrong kind of attention.

The memo got several facts incorrect: Mad had switched from a comic book to a magazine format in 1955, and it was Gaines’ E.C. Comics that had “presented the horror of war” in other titles. Despite getting these crucial pieces of information wrong, Jones didn’t hesitate to editorialize: "It is also of interest to note that…it is rather unfunny.”

The agent recommended the Bureau’s New York offices “make contact” with Mad’s headquarters to “advise them of our displeasure” and to make sure “that there be no repetition of such misuse of the Director’s name.”

Less than a week later, the Feds entered the hallowed hallways patrolled by Alfred E. Neuman. Their New York office would later report to Hoover directly that they had met with John Putnam, the magazine’s art director. (Conveniently, Gaines was not in that day.) Putnam told the agents he regretted the magazine using Hoover’s name and that nothing malicious was intended:

Putnam said that the use of the membership card and the name and address of the Director at the end of the game was referred to in their business as a 'gag' or 'kicker' in the same way that a comedian like Bob Hope or Milton Berle might use it.

Putnam swore that Mad would never again take Hoover’s name in vain; Gaines sent off a letter of sincere apology to the Director.

The Smoking Gun

Just two years later, in January 1960, Agent A. Jones was forced to file a second notice about the shenanigans at Mad. A recent issue had made not one, but two derogatory mentions of Hoover, including one in which he is blatantly and disrespectfully portrayed as being associated with a vacuum cleaner, “The Honorable J. Edgar Electrolux”:  

Obviously, Gaines was insincere in this promise…and has again placed the Director in a position of ridicule…it is felt we should contact Gaines…and firmly and severely admonish them concerning our displeasure…

It was by now clear Mad was not only polluting young minds, but that Gaines had absolutely no regard for the honorable Hoover’s position.

In June 1961, the FBI’s worst fears had been realized. Detailing an investigation into a Seattle-area extortion attempt led to the following:

Investigation … resulted in gaining admissions from the victim’s 12-year-old son and an 11-year-old companion that they had gotten the idea of preparing an extortion letter after reading the June issue of 'Mad' magazine.   

Working in concert with the Buffalo field office, the FBI determined another letter had been sent by a young boy demanding money in the style of a recent issue’s extortion advice. And there was a third under review that was sent to the agent of some professional wrestlers.

Mad was quickly becoming the scourge of the federal government. The FBI suggested the magazine be brought to the attention of the Attorney General for “instructing [readers] to deliberately violate the Federal Law.” They tried reaching out to Gaines, who was on vacation. (Time and again, Gaines simply not being in the office when called upon seemed to confound the FBI.)

Agent A. Jones, having exhausted all attempts to reason with these irresponsible anarchists, filed one last memo:

Despite assurances, they have continued to publish slurring remarks about the Bureau. In view of this situation, it was deemed useless to protest all such irresponsible remarks to a magazine of this poor judgment and capriciousness … we will have to wait and see if our action will result in increased discretion by this publication.

Poor A. Jones was unable to put an end to Mad’s reign of terror. But the magazine redeemed itself somewhat. In the 1970s, when the Bureau was trying to suppress the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, an agent suggested they copy and distribute a sticker from the magazine that read, “Support Mental Illness—Join the Klan!”

Hoover said no.

Additional Sources:
The Smoking Gun.

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