variety of doughnuts

Few foods are as ingrained in our national culinary fabric as doughnuts. Whether they’re enjoyed as a quick breakfast, an afternoon office snack (thank you, generous co-worker, for bringing in that Krispy Kreme haul!), or a sweet post-dinner treat, they manage to satisfy practically every time.

Yet it’s not all perfect. Beyond being an admittedly unhealthy fried indulgence, the other doughnut downside (if you can even call it that) is the sheer variety of them out there. There is your fluffy yeast or sturdy cake rings, which are served plain, glazed, or powdered. Then you have your bite-sized doughnut holes and cream or jelly-filled pucks. Of course, you can’t forget about all those oversized variations such as the bear claw, apple fritter, tiger tail, and maple bar. And then there are the trendy new-fangled hybrids like the cronut and donnoli, along with whatever trendy chains like Voodoo Doughnut are doing.

If the incredible breadth of domestic offerings seems overwhelming, then you’d better brace yourself. That’s because there is quite literally a whole other world of doughnuts out there. From Paris to Nairobi, Madrid to New Delhi, Berlin to Beijing, there are countless variations around the globe. Some of these doughnut varieties you may have tried before, while others are bound to be unfamiliar. Either way, have your passport ready because we’ve mapped out an international tour that covers all sorts of shapes, sizes, and flavors of the almighty doughnut.

France

plate of beignets

Anyone who has set foot in New Orleans is almost certainly familiar with beignets, the indulgent fried puffs of choux pastry topped with powdered sugar. There is a good chance you enjoyed the messy treat at Cafe Du Monde, located in the city’s French Quarter, and that should give you a rather obvious hint where they hail from. If it’s still not clear, beignet means "fritter" in the treat’s native land of France.

So how did the beignet end up as Louisiana’s state doughnut? According to National Geographic, 17th-century French colonizers brought the recipe across the Atlantic when they migrated to the Eastern coast of Canada and settled a region known as Acadia. Fast forward 100 years, the English are now in power, the French Acadians get the boot, they migrate down to Louisiana, and the rest is history. If you can’t make it down to ‘Nawlins or across the pond to France, consider frying up a batch of beignets at home.

For a doughnut hole variation of the beignet, give pets de nonne a try. Popular in Eastern France, the balls of choux pastry are deep-fried and sprinkled with sugar (via Baking Like a Chef). The only thing more enjoyable than the taste is the English translation of "pets de nonne" which happens to be nun’s, uh, "gas." We’ll spare you the details of how that came to be (the origin isn’t entirely clear), but rest assured that taste and aroma have nothing to do with the moniker.

Israel

jelly and chocolate sufganiyot

Say "shalom" to sufganiyot, the powder sugar-dusted doughnut stuffed with jelly (and occasionally other treats such as chocolate, Nutella, or custard) that is traditionally served during Hanukkah. While potato latkes may be the most notable fried food item that is prepared during the Festival of Lights, sufganiyot also gets plenty of love. That’s especially true in Israel, where, according to Time, over 18 million of these treats are served up during the holiday season.

If you’re considering frying up a batch at home, you may want to think twice. Leitie’s Culinaria notes that the popularity of sufganiyot is the result of a 1920s push from the Israeli Labor Federation, Histadarut. The decision to highlight the doughnut was twofold: The fact that it is fried in oil gave it a connection to Hannukah, which celebrates the miracle of using a small amount of oil to keep the Holy Temple’s menorah lit for eight days. And unlike latkes, these are notoriously difficult to make, so their popularity would provide work to culinary professionals.

Finland

munkki with coffee

Not to be confused with monkey bread, munkki is an equally craveable sweet treat that needs to be on your radar. The popular Finnish doughnut seems fairly standard, given that it’s yeast-risen, deep-fried, ring-shaped, and rolled in sugar. But it’s the addition of a sprinkling of cardamom which sets it apart from the familiar offerings at your stateside doughnut shop. While it may seem like an odd spice addition for a Finnish food staple, according to Scandinavian Standard, cardamom was brought to Scandinavia by returning Vikings a long, long time ago and it’s now incorporated into multiple regional dishes during Christmas time.

Munkki, however, is traditionally served during May Day, Finland’s festive annual holiday that takes place on the first of the month. As for its name, "munkki" translates to "monks," according to The Food Dictator. There are two theories as to why that is the case. Some people suspect that it has to do with the resemblance of the ringed doughnut to the shape of a monk’s tonsured hairstyle. Others believe that the connection is rooted in the similar brown color of some monastic orders’ robes.

Spain

churros and chocolate

Whether you’ve tried them at Disney World or enjoyed one that’s been freshly fried from a street cart in Los Angeles, churros are now fully ingrained in the American doughnut landscape. While their popularity here is the result of passing Latin American culinary traditions across our Southern border, the crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside cinnamon sugar-dusted wands of dough (specifically made out of choux pastry), originated in Spain where they remain popular today.

According to the BBC, while the recipe for churros goes back hundreds of years, its name, a reference to the curly horns of Churra (also known as Navajo-Churro) sheep, dates to the 19th century. One aspect of churro consumption that unfortunately hasn’t yet migrated to the United States, at least not yet, is serving a plate of them fresh out of the fryer along with a cup of hot chocolate. THis is pairing is particularly popular in Madrid, where diners can dunk their churros into their drink. It’s a breakfast of champions that certainly rivals our maple syrup-drenched French toast and pancake feasts, and we need to adopt it ahora.

India

pair of gulab jamun

Long before Dunkin’ Munchkins, there was gulab jamun. If you’ve been lucky enough to stick around for dessert at an Indian restaurant, you’ve probably come across these delectable fried orbs drenched in a flavor-packed syrup. According to Serious Eats, despite the similarity in shape, the dough is quite different from what you use to prepare your typical Western doughnut hole. Typically made in India, the gulab jamun recipe is anchored by a type of dried milk known as khoya, which is simmered, allowing the water to evaporate while the solids remain. If you’re wondering why gulab jamun is especially tender, this inclusion of milk is the reason, along with the addition of semolina which is used to prevent glutens from forming.

As for the syrup, it starts with a simple blend of water and sugar which is then combined with ingredients such as cardamom, saffron, on cloves for multiple layers of spice-infused flavor. A final and signature addition of rose water adds a sweet, fragrant touch to the classic dessert.

If you need a doughnut fix but want to go the savory route, consider medu vada. Packed with spices and lentils, the Southern Indian staple is perfect for breakfast or as a snack during afternoon tea (per Chili and Mint). For a full flavor uppercut, enjoy your medu vada with spicy sambal or coconut chutney.

Portugal

plate of masaladas

Let’s explore another American doughnut favorite with international roots. Malasada may now be most recognized as Hawaii’s doughnut of choice, but they’re originally a Portuguese invention. According to Eater, they ended up in the Pacific region as a result of a Hawaiian labor shortage in the 19th century. Workers from the Azores and Madeira were prime candidates to make the island-to-island transfer because they had experience dealing with sugarcane back home, and so they found passage to the islands, carrying their food culture with them.

Beyond bringing over their work expertise, they also imported the recipe for malasadas, which translates to "poorly cooked." However, the many fans of this variety of doughnut certainly don’t hold that to be true. Over in the Azores and Madeira, making malasadas involves a fairly simple preparation: yeast dough is rolled into a tiny bowl and then plopped into the deep fryer. Once it emerges from the oil, it’s topped with granulated sugar and served piping hot (via Eden Azores). They’re available year-round but most commonly served during Terça-feira Gorda, also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras.

China

plate of youtiao

While we tend to enjoy our doughnuts on their own (with the occasional coffee dunk), in China, dipping is a must. At least, that’s the case when it comes to youtiao. Its name translates to "oil stick" in English which is refreshingly to the point, since it is indeed a basic slab of dough fried up in oil (via Living in China).

The forearm-sized cruller is most commonly served during breakfast, primed for a morning bath in congee, a filling rice porridge that is served plain or topped with a mix-and-match assortment of vegetables, proteins, and sauces. The filling combination will ensure that you will have plenty of energy for work. According to Living in China, a hot cup of freshly pressed soy milk is also a popular pairing for youtiao. You can even add some sugar or maple syrup to your congee or soy milk if you prefer to enjoy a sweet start to the day. While Chinese food tends to vary from region to region, youtiao happens to be a snack that can be ordered across the vast country.

Kenya

basket of mandazi

Popular in Kenya and throughout East Africa (to the point where they’re often referred to as East African doughnuts), triangle-shaped mandazi are as delicious as they are versatile. They’re essentially the love child between a standard American doughnut and a French beignet, with an airy middle and golden brown exterior. The standard ingredients are sugar, flour, yeast, and milk (or coconut milk, especially if you want to go vegan), along with a pinch of cardamom to spice things up. According to Bon Appétit, continually agitating the dough during the frying process can help to ensure your mandazi will achieve that signature hollow interior.

Mandazi are often served with coffee, tea, or chai as a side snack while you sip. You can dust them with cinnamon sugar and slather them with honey or Nutella, but they also work well as a savory companion (Allrecipes suggests dipping them in a curry sauce).

Armenia

plate of ponchiki

The addition of cheese, usually farmer’s cheese or ricotta, is what separates the crispy and chewy ponchick from other doughnut holes (via Los Angeles Times). Popular in Armenia, as well as Russia, where they originated ("ponchik" translates to "doughnut" in Russian), they’re a holdover from decades of Soviet occupation.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the dough, made with flour, salt, yeast or baking soda (for leavening), and plenty of eggs, is extra sturdy. That makes it perfect for encapsulating an ample filling, be it sweet custard, Nutella, fruit jam, or even dulce de leche. If a trip all the way over to Armenia isn’t in the cards, Los Angeles County still has you covered when it comes to fulfilling your ponchik craving. There are a number of bakeries in the city of Glendale (which has a population of 200,000, 40% of which is Armenian) that serve ponchik hot and fresh.

Japan

four pon de ring doughnuts

You may have recently become acquainted with the mochi doughnut, which became a sensation in Hawaii and is quickly growing in popularity across the lower 48 states. Not only does it have a delightful chew thanks to the inclusion of glutinous rice flour, but it’s also quite the feast for the eyes. Featuring a ring of eight tiny, pull-apart balls, the shape, known as a pon de ring, was actually inspired by the signature offering at the popular spot known as Mister Donut (via Chowhound).

Essentially the Dunkin’ or Krispy Kreme of Japan, the prolific doughnut chain introduced the world to the pon de ring design in 2003 and it has been a hit ever since. While these doughnuts are visually identical to the mochi doughnuts that are being offered in the U.S., there is a slight difference regarding how they are made. While the Mister Donut pon de rings are also quite chewy, it’s not due to the addition of glutinous rice flour, but rather tapioca flour. If you’ve enjoyed boba or tapioca pudding, then it will come as no surprise to learn that the starch offers a pronounced springiness when it’s incorporated into a doughnut. If you find yourself in Japan, a stop at Mister Donut for the original pon de ring is an absolute must.

Italy

Four bombolini

It’s no surprise that the country that has mastered the art of pizza and pasta making is also well-versed in the carby ways of the doughnut. One likely familiar riff is the zeppole, which has become a popular dessert in stateside pizza parlors, which is no surprise considering there is plenty of dough to work with. Here, they’re essentially fried egg-sized puffs dusted with powdered sugar (via Food Republic). But according to Fine Dining Lovers, over in Italy, the preparation is a bit different. The doughnut, which is most popularly served during the Feast of Saint Joseph on March 19, is made of choux pastry. The dough is shaped like a coil, deep-fried, and then topped with seemingly everything from honey and ricotta to jam and zabaglione (an eggy custard).

If you want to seek out a sugar-topped American-style ringed doughnut in Italy, ask for a ciambelle. For something more substantial, bomboloni, which are rounds of fried dough stuffed with cream or jam, are the way to go. When in Rome, be sure to enjoy one with a morning cappuccino and start your day off right.

Germany

Full berliner and split open berliner with jelly

If you haven’t tried a Berliner, then we absolutely think you’re ready for this jelly … doughnut. Though they’re popular across Northern and Western Germany, Berliners are actually tough to find in Berlin itself, according to German Girl in America. Don’t worry too much, as they’re still there. It’s just that, in the capital, these treats are more often referred to as "pfannekuchen," while in Southern Germany they tend to go by "krapfen." No matter what you end up calling them, you’ll be in for a treat. What separates a Berliner from your standard doughnut is the fact that the dough is enriched with a trio of butter, milk, and eggs, including an extra yolk.

They’re offered up in abundance at Karneval (otherwise known as Carnival), which kicks off six weeks prior to Easter (via Ester kocht). During the raucous celebration, the doughnuts are traditionally served with a rosehip or currant-flavored jelly, further separating it from your standard American jelly doughnut. If jelly isn’t your jam, you can also find versions of the Berliner stuffed with other fillings such as chocolate mousse or vanilla pudding.