It’s National Donut Day today, which means that thousands of people across the country will be lining up to score some sweet deals and take pictures of their favorite fried dough treats to paste all over the Internet. Donuts have extensively evolved across America, from the time-honored original glazed donut to exorbitant and decorative creations at places like Voodoo Doughnut.
On a day that commemorates such an iconic pastry, it’s important to recognize the history behind one of the US’s favorite sweets. If you’re hoping to get a taste of history’s first-ever donut on National Donut Day, you’re in luck because several restaurants still cook and sell that tasty piece of history.
I’m talking about what may possibly be the oldest dessert on the entire planet: Loukoumades (Λουκουμάδες). These Greek donut holes are made from deep-fried yeasty dough that gets drizzled or soaked in honey. The result is an explosion of syrupy sweet goodness every time you bite into one. Now frequently sold at Greek restaurants and Greek festivals across the country, these decadent bites were actually developed over two thousand years ago.
Back then, loukoumades were known as “charisoi” (χαρίσιοι), which translates in modern English to “charisma” (their more modern name coming from the Arabic word لقمة or luqma, which means small bite). According to the ancient Greek poet Callimachus, they were one of the first-ever prizes awarded to winners of the Olympic Games, which began back in 776 B.C. Depicted in his writing as “honey tokens,” Callimachus’s description of them in his writings marks the earliest mention of any kind of pastry or dessert in literature from around the entire world. That means that loukoumades, and therefore donut holes, are likely the first-ever recorded dessert in the history of our planet.
Since that time, the recipe for loukoumades spread throughout Turkey, Egypt, Persia, and even Italy, which eventually led to the development of zeppole, and then donuts, throughout the entire world. So when you order that donut for your Instagram feed, take some time to remember where these glazed treats came from, and that when you bite into one, you’re also biting into a piece of history.