Made in the Isle of Wight?

Observations on doughnuts

It is strange that in America, a country known for its individualism, doughnut culture obliges you to buy a dozen at a time to share with friends or colleagues. But the Krispy Kreme craze has swept America, where more than 2.7 billion doughnuts are produced each year. Now Harrods in London has just opened its own Krispy Kreme outlet.

Americans often eat doughnuts first thing in the morning. British breakfast tastes tend to err on the savoury side and doughnuts are not a British favourite. The Americans have tried to convert us before. In the 1990s, Dunkin' Donuts came but failed to conquer, and has disappeared from the high street. This may change now that doughnuts are seen to be cool - even the Sex and the City girls have embraced them, with Miranda in one episode having a date at a Krispy Kreme outlet.

The most famous of doughnut aficionados is Homer Simpson. Most episodes of The Simpsons include his refrain of "Mmmm, doughnuts". In one show, he makes a pact with the devil - his soul for a doughnut. In another, he asks his daughter Lisa whether she would like a doughnut. "Uhh . . . got any fruit?" she asks. Homer selects a doughnut: "This one has purple in it - purple's a fruit."

Doughnuts also come in regional variations. In Boston, Massachusetts, there's the Boston Cream doughnut. Loosely based on the Boston cream pie, it is a yeast-raised doughnut with vanilla filling and chocolate icing. However, a state legislative committee would not have it as an "official doughnut", though it approved an official cookie (chocolate chip), muffin (corn) and berry (cranberry).

But did the Americans really invent doughnuts? The Dutch claim they took olykoeken - oily cakes - with them to the New World. Americans, on the other hand, credit the invention of doughnuts with holes in them to a Maine man, Mason Crockett Gregory, in 1847. The Isle of Wight rests a claim on a doughnut recipe found in a 19th-century book about the island. With a dish that uses something as simple as excess dough and cooking oil to create a quick and cheap source of energy, it is likely that the food developed independently in several places.

But it is not immigrants from the Netherlands or the Isle of Wight who make their living selling doughnuts. In Migrations and Cultures: a world view, Thomas Sowell noted that in the 1990s more than four-fifths of all the dough- nut shops in California were owned by people of Cambodian ancestry.