I study maths and torii come up a bit, and same goes for physics with tokamak fusion reactors, for instance. In popular science talks, sometimes people say "torus" but most people are familiar with them as "doughnuts" or occaisonally "rings". So I'm wondering, is it just a brilliant coincidence that there is a mainstream "western" food of such value to maths communication?

Apparently Jews eat Sufganiyah during Hannuka, and from my research the spheroidal shape is advantageous as filling can be injected to a higher pressure with less chance of a leakage, such as would occur at corners on something with faces. Ok, I can acquiesce for that, but as far as my (very limited, Australian) doughnut experience goes, there is rarely any filling inside the toroidal doughnuts.

Potential advantages that come to mind is that the hole could've allowed food-stall/vendors to put the doughnuts onto a rack/skewer. Other than that, the only reasonable answers I can think of concern aesthetics, and surface area. A toroidal doughnut has slightly greater surface area than a spheroidal one, and is more compact than a rectangular/linear form, such as that of a churro, but I'm not sure how vital this is.

Do the historians have any insight?

Wikipedia states that Hanson Gregory claims he invented the toroidal doughnut in response to the center of a flatter, spheroidal doughnut not being cooked. Does this explain the popularity? Later the article claims that the "nut" part of "doughnut" was added to the center as it didn't need to be cooked, which feels a little.... contradictory.

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    Since this is essentially asking why "ring" doughnuts are made, you might get better answers over on the Seasoned Advice stack.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 9:44
  • 2
    I don't know if Gregory invented it, but I always though cutting a hole in the middle so it's evenly fried makes good sense. Either that or so you could poke a stick through them in the centre and dip them in the fryer.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 10:16
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    I am skeptical that history has an answer for this. I'll be happy to be wrong, but I second the notion that a food based SE might be more useful.
    – MCW
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 11:11

1 Answer 1


An article from the Smithsonian magazine titled "The History of the Doughnut" also states that Captain Hanson Gregory invented the toroidal doughnut. The reason for the invention seems less clear. The article notes that:

Some cynical doughnut historians maintain that Captain Gregory did it to stint on ingredients, others that he thought the hole might make the whole easier to digest. Still others say that he gave the doughnut its shape when, needing to keep both hands on the wheel in a storm, he skewered one of his mom’s doughnuts on a spoke of his ship’s wheel.

In 1916, Gregory gave an interview to the Washington Post (printed on 26 March 1916) to give his side of the story. He said:

"Now in them days we used to cut the doughnuts into diamond shapes, and also into long strips, bent in half, and then twisted. I don’t think we called them doughnuts then–they was just 'fried cakes’ and 'twisters.’

"Well, sir, they used to fry all right around the edges, but when you had the edges done the insides was all raw dough. And the twisters used to sop up all the grease just where they bent, and they were tough on the digestion.”


"Well, I says to myself, 'Why wouldn’t a space inside solve the difficulty?’ I thought at first I’d take one of the strips and roll it around, then I got an inspiration, a great inspiration.

“I took the cover off the ship’s tin pepper box, and–I cut into the middle of that doughnut the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes!”


Well, sir, them doughnuts was the finest I ever tasted. No more indigestion–no more greasy sinkers–but just well-done, fried-through doughnuts.

"That cruise over, I went home to my old mother and father in Camden, ... I saw [my mother] making doughnuts in the kitchen ... I says to her: 'Let me make some doughnuts for you.’ She says all right, so I made her one or two and then showed her how.

"She then made several panfuls and sent them down to Rockland, just outside Camden. Everybody was delighted and they never made doughnuts any other way except the way I showed my mother.

As for the reasons for adding the hole, you can either take his word or not. It seems there is no definitive evidence beyond that (the arguments of "cynical doughnut historians" notwithstanding).

As pointed out by @DavidHammen in the comments, there are also other claims that rival that of Hanson Gregory. In her book Doughnut: A Global History, Heather Delancey Hunwick observes that:

"... [Mrs Abell's Skillful Housewife's Book] mentioned ring-shaped doughnuts in 1847, the same year as Captain Gregory's claim."

Furthermore, she goes on to suggest that:

"The earliest hole is better attributed to the Pensylvania Dutch fastnacht"

although these seem, from her description, to have been square or diamond shaped, rather than toroidal.

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    And who knew that "doughnut historian" (cynical or otherwise) was a thing? ;-) Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 14:01
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    Getting something like that on my business card is gonna have to go on my list of life goals.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 15:01
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    Re There doesn't seem to be any dispute about the fact that Hanson Gregory invented the shape. Yes, there is. In "Doughnut: A Global History", Heather Delancey Hunwick dismisses Gregory's claim, saying instead that "The earliest hole is better attributed to the Pennsylvania Dutch fastnacht." I ran across other articles that also dispute this claim. Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 20:17
  • @DavidHammen Thank you for that. I had missed that book. I've updated the answer accordingly. :) Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 21:27
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    Did anyone else read that entire story with a Maine accent?
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 17:07

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