On a Very Bad No Good Donut Trend

Donut TrutherI have been desperate to find something non-political to write about. So I was thrilled to find this article by Phil Edwards, Have Donut Holes Gotten Smaller? This Compelling Vintage Chart Says Yes. But I guess I should be clear: we are no talking about “donut holes” — the delicious spherical pastry that is cheekily said to be the part missing from a regular donut. We are talking about the entire shape of the donut. In the image on the left, you will see that a donut looked more along the lines of a pretzel in surface to volume ratio in 1927, and more like a bagel just two decades later.

This is an important issue. Why? Because I’m not that fond of donuts. And this all comes back to the surface to volume ratio. I like more surface area. The less surface area in a sweet, the more gummy and the less delicious. One of the few Seinfeld episodes I’ve seen is “The Muffin Tops.” In it, Elaine opens a bakery that only sells muffin tops, because that is the best part. It’s true: that is the best part. But the episode made no sense because they were baking whole muffins and then throwing the rest of it away. But clearly: I am not alone in wanting a high surface to volume ratio in my sweets.

So why is this happening? No one really knows. People have their theories, of course. But in order to understand what is going on, you have to understand why donuts have holes in them at all. It’s all about even cooking. If they didn’t holes, there would just be a muck of uncooked dough in the center. Over time, as processes became better, the hole wasn’t as necessary. And I suspect that the manufacturers liked the idea that they could create more donuts in the same amount of space.

But I think the best bet for why donuts changed can be seen in the 1934 classic, It Happened One Night. In it, Peter (Clark Gable) shows Ellie (Claudette Colbert) how to dunk a donut in a cup of coffee. And it requires breaking the donut in half. So I suspect that it really all does come down to the way that donuts were consumed. As Edwards noted, “As donuts became a treat, their shape may have changed to accommodate that, making them less about holding coffee and more about holding sugar, jelly, and even chocolate.”

It’s also true that donuts themselves seem to have changed. Now they are less often the cake donuts of old and these weird “glazed” and “sugar” and “chocolate” donuts that don’t even taste good apart from their coverings. If you ask me, the best donut is the plain old fashioned. And you will noted of them that the holes are still quite big.


Recently, I was buying some ice cream. I’m pretty picky about ice cream and usually stick to Häagen-Dazs or, when I can find a flavor that isn’t totally bizarre, Ben & Jerry’s. Well, I grabbed a pint of Dulce De Leche, but I noticed something. You see: I’m pretty blind and generally out of it when it comes to interacting with the real world. But my sense of touch is very great. And I noticed this “pint” was small. And sure enough, I looked on the label and it said “14 ounces.” What a con! Luckily, Ben & Jerry’s is still producing proper 16 ounce pints. So I purchased a pint of Americone Dream, which is delicious.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

10 thoughts on “On a Very Bad No Good Donut Trend

  1. Remember when a pound of coffee was 16 ozs? The brand I now buy is only 12 ozs, but they still use the 16 oz. can. Good catch, I will check out the ice cream pints from now on. I prefer B & J anyway as they back liberal causes. Haagen Daz is from a very conservative family.

    • I didn’t know that about coffee — I’m a tea guy. But I do remember when I was living in Portland, Oregon, I took a trip to New York, and I found out that the “pints” of beer were 12 ounces. I even asked and a bartender said, “Yeah, 12 ounce pint”! It’s a post modern world: 12 ounce pints, the sun circles the earth, whatever you want to believe.

      I’ll remember that about ice cream politics. I’m constantly amazed at how much I allow politics to shape my purchasing decisions. It’s not like I think it does any good, but I would feel bad drinking a Coors, even if it tasted good. B&J used to have a seasonal blueberry ice cream that I loved. Now I’m pretty damned fond of Americone Dream. But for the record: Jimmy Fallon’s type sucks. I was open to the idea of potato chips in ice cream, but it just doesn’t work.

  2. Coffee still comes in a 16oz can that you can save and use as a container? Count your blessings Norm, I just assumed that was a thing of the past (not a coffee drinker).

    Unfortunately HaagenDaz still tastes better than B&J (not as sweet). The only non-luxury ice cream that was still edible was Blue Bell and they have gone to HFCS now (and may yet go out of business due to stingy business practices).

    Half-gallon ice cream cartons are pretty much all only 3 pints now too. Yesterday I was quite excited to find some tuna fish in the old 7oz cans — in a discount store. I wonder if it was produced for a non-US market. That’s what I look for in jams & jellies now so as to get sugar instead of HFCS.

    • You are correct about the “half gallon” ice cream. In fact, I don’t think there is anything but the 3/8th gallon ice cream anymore.

      My fear with the tuna is that it simply dates back to the 1970s. Be careful!

      • “My fear with the tuna is that it simply dates back to the 1970s.”

        Heh. No, it’s recent, not salvaged from a fallout shelter. Packed in vegetable broth, which I also haven’t seen in decades. Part of the label is interesting: “Caught in Pacific Ocean_Product of China_Canned in USA” (it’s a major US brand, though).

          • Turns out that the dollar store house-label tuna I usually buy is “Product of Thailand”. It isn’t good, but it’s better average quality than the vile mush that is now the usual for major US brands of chunk-light tuna. Sadly, US major branding is no longer a guarantee of anything except a higher retail price.

            I’m wondering now where the fish is actually processed. Quite possibly on board ship. Haven’t yet opened any of the 7oz Chinese stuff to determine if it’s me-food or kitty-food.

            • When I was in graduate school in Portland, OR a lot of people went up to Alaska to process fish in the summer. I don’t know what it was they were processing.

              That reminds me: there are a lot of “made in America” things in the dollar store. I think it is because they are the result of small manufacturing runs, where the transportation costs aren’t worth it for the small quantity. Anyway, good luck with your tuna!

  3. I agree on Haagen Daz tasting better than B & J. And I do use the empty coffee cans for a variety of reasons. Also large margarine tubs for plastic containers.

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