Doughnuts are soft, spongy, and mostly come with their characteristic hole at the centre. We must have at some point in time wondered about this hole. Why would the makers of the delicacy want to keep us away from a chunk of goodness at the centre? It turns out that it was a deliberate action by a certain Captain Hanson Gregory, a 19th century American sailor from Maine, and we all have much to thank him for the novel idea.

Incidentally, the original doughnuts were whole pieces of sweetened flour dough, fried deep in oil, and referred to as fried cakes. The ‘cakes’ were shaped into rounds, diamonds and long strips, bent in half, and then twisted (called twisters). When the cakes were fried, they turned up fine around the edges, but in the middle the dough would remain raw.

This raw dough got Captain Gregory thinking, and he soon found a solution to rid the cakes completely of their centre.

As the cruise ended, he returned home and showed his mother how to cook the doughnuts in the new manner he just discovered. For his later voyages, she made them how he had showed her, and they subsequently became popular. Soon no one made the doughnuts in any other way.

An outlandish theory also suggests that Gregory loved his doughnuts as much as his sails. It states that he needed both hands to steer his ship during a storm, and so he skewered some of the fried cakes on the spokes of the ship’s wheel. In 1916, the theory was rested when Gregory himself confirmed the first theory.

Some other historians claim the doughnut hole was a Dutch discovery in the United States, that the Pennsylvania Dutch cut the centres to ensure even frying and easier dunking.

While the ease in even frying of the doughnuts seems to be plausible, the theory of adapting to the doughnuts with a hole can also be linked with the rising popularity of bagels, which were frequently sold on sticks on the Lower East Side of New York City. The ‘hole-y’ doughnuts cashed in on the success of the fried bagels and carved a niche for themselves on the streets of New York, and eventually the whole world.

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