Since the first donut shops began lining the streets of major U.S. cities during the 1920s and ’30s, the fried donut (which originated from the Dutch name olykoeks, or oily cakes) has served as one of America’s favorite breakfast foods. That is, until today.
The new cream of the crop has elevated the humble donut into a gourmet dessert, as evidenced by examples like the specialty donuts at Los Angeles-based California Donuts, which sell for $2, $2.50, or $3 apiece. The menu includes their signature Panda donut made with Oreo pieces, Blueberry Toast Crunch, Strawberry and Nuts, Samoa, and Lucky Charms.
“Paying attention to trends and what’s happening in the food world is what helps us be in the know,” says Danette Kuoch, manager of California Donuts, which opened more than 35 years ago as a tiny shop but catapulted into fame based on its eye-catching, photo-worthy creations. “We have now become a late-night dessert spot in Los Angeles.”
It is becoming quite evident that donut shops like these are picking up where the cupcake movement left off, using a bakery item as a platform to create a menu full of fun and interesting tastes. Forget “31 flavors.” Donut shops like Strange Donuts in St. Louis make more than a hundred.
Donut offerings can be kept fresh and evolving with unique flavor pairings, integrating flavors from around the world or by capitalizing on current trends such as mashups.
Hurts Donut Co., based in Springfield, Missouri, calls itself “the rebel of all donuts” and boasts 20 locations. Examples of its extreme flavors (there are more than 70 on the menu) include Oreo Cheesecake and the Cosmic Brownie.
Inspired by National Pickle Day on November 14, Hurts Donut in 2018 developed the Pickle Donut, a yeast donut that is stuffed with a pickle cheesecake filling, dipped in vanilla icing, sprinkled with dried dill, and then topped with pickle juice cubes. Hurts Donut co-owner Tim Clegg recalls the early trials and errors of offering any crazy topping — potato chips, Cheetos, all types of sugar cereals — they may imagine.
“At first, it didn’t matter what we put on a donut. It sold,” he says. Top sellers now include maple bacon bars, cotton candy donuts, and any assorted toppings ranging from breakfast cereal to Nutella.
One recent study revealed that more than 80% of Gen Z (ages 18-21) and millennial (22-34) consumers are interested in trying unique and adventurous donut flavors. The inaugural Donut Day survey from Dawn Foods found that 82% were willing to taste outside-the-box donuts.
Duck Donuts welcomed spring 2019 with the return of a seasonal favorite, Key lime icing. The specialty citrus icing is made with fresh lime zest and juice. It will be available on donuts through the summer season at all Duck Donuts locations.
“It was a combination of the fresh ingredients used in our Key lime icing paired with a warm donut that had Duck Donuts fans nationwide asking us to bring back this spring-inspired flavor after its debut last year,” says Russ DiGilio, chief executive officer and founder of Duck Donuts.