What is the difference between a doughnut and a donut?

Doughnuts, or donuts, are fried sweet dough, which are are either yeast leavened (yeast-raised doughnuts) or chemically leavened (cake doughnuts). These are just different spellings but refer to the same thing.

Doughnuts is the traditional spelling, but by 1900s, the shorter form ‘donuts’ began to appear in written form, starting in “Peck’s Bad Boy and his Pa”, a book by George Peck, [1].

In the 1920s, Adolph Levitt, the creator of the first donut machine, sold doughnuts and prepared flour mixes under the brand of “Mayflower Donuts”. [2]

Doughnuts spelled as ‘donuts’ became more and more common, particularly in the United States. During the 1939 World’s Fair, both spellings were used in a series of articles about doughnuts, beginning Oct 9, which appeared in The New York Times. In 1950, the first Dunkin’ Donuts shop opened in Quincy, Massachusetts[3], and is the oldest surviving company to use the ‘donut’ variation. 

Mayflower Donuts advertisement at the 1939 World's Fair. Image copyright of Chris Barrus. http://www.flickr.com/photos/quartzcity/ 418592767/in/photostream/

References:

1. Peck, George W. (George Wilbur) Peck’s bad boy and his pa W. B. Conkey Co, Chicago, 1893.

2. Doughnut King was head of several chains, in The Canadian Jewish Review. 1954.  

3. https://www.dunkindonuts.com/aboutus/company/

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