We’ve eaten a lot of fried dough in our quest to find the best donuts in the world. This quest has taken us to four continents and even more countries. Which donut will be your favorite?
We love donuts.
We love cake donuts and yeast donuts. We love donuts filled with sweet cream and donuts topped with maple bacon. We love ring-shaped donuts with holes in the middle and ring-free donuts filled with sweet jam. Our love is boundless whether we we dunk donuts into coffee or eat them with fried chicken.
This love isn’t limited to the US. Donuts around the world are great too. And it’s far from a fresh phenomenon. Human beings have been frying sugary dough for millennia – way before the holy, puffy, caky pastry became an American icon.
Global donuts may have different names and come in various shapes and sizes but they have one one thing in common with their American cousins. They’re all delicious.
Donut vs. Doughnut
The only difference between a donut and a doughnut is the spelling of the two words. Many believe that the word was originally spelled in “gh” form, with the shorter word emerging from the popularity of Dunkin’ Donuts and Mister Donut in the mid 20th century.
Our donut love is nothing new. We started eating donuts at Dunkin Donuts in Philadelphia and Krispy Kreme in Atlanta when we were kids.
We took this love on a 10-week American road trip during which we ate dozens of donuts. We ate so many donuts that we initiated a donut ban at the end of that trip. Needless to say, the ban was temporary because, as you may have noticed, we love donuts.
Discover our picks for the best American donuts.
Our Favorite Donuts In The World
Our donut love affair didn’t end when we left America in 2016.
Without any set plan, we’ve eaten donuts in four continents and a list of countries that includes Canada, England, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Portugal, Scotland, South Africa, Spain and Vietnam. Without doubt, this list will grow as our travels continue.
While there’s no debate that donuts are delicious, the competition between cake and yeast donuts is a fierce one. Some donut fans (like Daryl) prefer cake donuts leavened with either baking powder or baking soda while others (like Mindi) are on team yeast.
As we share our favorite donuts in the world, it only makes sense to start with the basics – cake and yeast.
Cake Donut (Various Countries)
There’s not one type of cake donut. Some cake donuts are simple while others are topped with frosting, sprinkles and even bacon. The cake donut’s batter can be a blank slate with spices like cardamom or fruits flavors from apple cider added to the mix.
However, the best cake donuts have some things in common. Dense and buttery, they’re simultaneously soft on the inside and firm on the edges. And, unlike yeast donuts, they’re super dunkable with coffee.
Yeast Donut (Various Countries)
Yeast donuts may not have the dunkability of cake donuts but they have other merits. This should be no surprise to anybody who adores Krispy Kreme, America’s king of yeast donuts.
Spanning the centuries and fried in various configurations, yeast donuts get a good rise from yeast – hence their nickname of raised donuts. Whether they’re filled with jelly or glazed with sugar, yeast donuts are ridiculously easy to eat. Just don’t try to dunk them.
While JFK wasn’t claiming to be a donut when he famously stated “Ich bin ein Berliner,” we can understand any potential confusion on the matter. After all, Germany’s iconic donuts are called Berliner Donuts outside of their home country.
Similar to jelly donuts eaten around the world, Berliners are yeasty pastries filled with jam, fried in oil and sprinkled with powdered sugar. They’re work well for breakfast with coffee or as an afternoon snack.
Discover more great desserts in Germany.
If you think that donuts are a modern invention, think again. Greece’s Loukoumades date back to the first Olympics in 776 BC. Though the original Loukoumades were enjoyed by ancient athletes, everybody can enjoy them today regardless of athletic ability or lack thereof.
Traditional Greek Loukoumades are round balls of golden fried dough flavored with cinnamon and honey syrup. Some people sprinkle powdered sugar on their Loukoumades for an extra burst of sweetness but this is an optional add-on.
We first ate Loukoumades during an Athens food tour that introduced us to many of the city’s best food vendors. We couldn’t get the memory of these Greek donuts, made with orange blossom honey, out of our heads. We returned to popular local bakery Krivos to eat them again and they were as good as we remembered.
Discover where to eat in Athens.
Germany may have invented Krapfen (also known as Berliners) but Austrians made the German donut their own by stuffing the yeasty donut with apricot jam and the occasional cream filling. Bakeries sell them at bakeries all over the central European country throughout the year though they’re especially popular during Faschingsdienstag festivities each February.
Beignets (France And USA)
Beignets may hail from France but, as Americans, we associate them with Louisiana where Beignets are the state’s official donut. It’s not a competition since France and Louisiana have a connection and shared love for great food.
This connection started when Acadians and other French settlers move in Louisiana in the 18th century. They didn’t just speak their native tongue when they arrived – they also brought a food culture and a passion for frying dough.
Now that we’ve eaten Beignets in multiple Louisiana cities as well as in France, we can’t decide which version is superior. Yes, we’re equal opportunity Beignet eaters who like France’s version as much as we like the Louisiana version smothered with powdered sugar.
However, there’s something undeniably special about eating Beignets at Cafe du Monde, the New Orleans institution that’s been frying dough since 1862. But it’s also pretty cool to eat them in Paris too.
The Cronut became an instant pastry classic when it debuted at Dominique Ansel’s Soho Bakery in 2013 and hasn’t lost its luster yet. After training as a pastry chef in Paris, Ansel gained fame working for Daniel Boulud before inventing the croissant-donut hybrid at his now iconic New York City patisserie.
We have no regrets about joining the daily queue for the chance to sample Ansel’s famous layered pastry infused with cream. Though we’ve eaten tasty copycats in cities like Barcelona, Cape Town and Nashville, there’s nothing like eating a Cronut at the pastry’s ground zero. Scoring one is the equivalent of winning the donut lottery.
Doughssant (South Africa)
Don’t despair if you can’t get to New York City to try a Cronut – copycats abound around the world. The donut-croissant hybrid has even jumped the pond all the way to South Africa. However, to be clear, the South African version is called a Doussant.
We taste-tested a Doussant topped with pistachio and raspberry on a Saturday morning in Cape Town. It was big enough to share and sweet enough to make us smile between bites. We may have enjoyed this carbon copy as much as we enjoyed the NYC original but that’s debatable.
Discover where to eat in Cape Town.
Fudge Doughnuts (Scotland)
Fudge Doughnuts, with their light brown frosting and sweet cream filling, are a fun Scottish treat. However, we weren’t sure if that frosting was chocolate or caramel. Daryl was certain that it was chocolate while Mindi was equally certain that it was caramel.
We agreed on one thing. These donuts weren’t just delicious. They were also a dining highlight of our time in St. Andrews.
Holiday Theme Donuts (Various Countries)
Donut decor is no longer limited to simple frosting. This phenomenon is especially true during the holiday season in Asian countries where more is often more.
Although we have yet to experience Christmas donuts in Asia, we were happy to find and eat kitschy, funky Halloween-themed donuts in Osaka. We literally ate our donut purchase on the sidewalk in a few happy bites. The quirky green ring tasted like home but looked like Japan – a major donut win.
Discover where to eat in Osaka.
Rivaling Potato Latkes as Israel’s Hanukkah fried treat of choice, Sufganiyot weren’t invented in Israel. These seasonal donuts made their way to the Holy Land via Poland where donuts are called Pączki.
Usually filled with fruit jam and occasionally stuffed with cream, Sufganiyot don’t just shine bright during the annual Festival of Lights in Israel. American Jews have incorporated Sufganiyot into their holiday traditions too. Shops like Philadelphia’s Federal Donuts sell boxes of Sufganiyot every December.
Discover more great food in Philadelphia.
Popular at Italian cafes, Bomboloni are Italy’s version of Germany’s Berliner. They’re especially popular in Tuscany where they’re filled with cream or jam and are often found in the same case as Cornettos, Italy’s version of France’s Croissant.
We weren’t surprised to enjoy a terrific Bombolone in Florence. After all, it’s almost impossible to find a bad Bombolone in Italy. The entire country is a fantasy land for travelers with a sweet tooth or two.
Discover more great Italian desserts.
Finding donuts in Riga is easy since Latvian cuisine is notable for its German influences. The city has dedicated donut shops as well a Virtulis (Latvian for donuts) stand at the city’s main market.
We bought a plate of sugar-dusted Virtulis when we found the stand at the ginormous Riga Central Market. But we didn’t just buy the Virtulis. We also ate the freshly fried orbs which left a sugary residue on our fingers. Don’t worry – we licked our fingers clean before we wandered over to the pickle aisle.
Discover where to eat in Riga.
Mexican Donut (Mexico)
After somehow missing donuts in Mexico City when we visited the D.F. more than a decade ago, we made up for lost time when we later visited Tucson. Since the Arizona city celebrates all aspects of Sonoran cuisine, we easily found Mexican donuts at a local Mexican bakery.
Sure, we could have opted for a plain Buñuelo coated in cinnamon sugar during our visit but that would have been boring. Instead, we went to the next level by choosing a donut topped with chocolate icing and filed with custard. It was a good move for which we have no regrets.
Mochi Donut (Various)
While traditional donuts are made with flour, Asian American bakers use glutinous rice flour or tapioca flour to make Mochi Donuts. But they don’t stop there. They also make them in pretty shapes and colors.
We ate a Millet Mochi donut at Win Son, a Taiwanese bakery in Brooklyn. We didn’t miss the gluten when we bit into its crunchy sugar exterior and found a warm, soft, chewy interior. We didn’t miss it all.
Discover more great food in Asia.
Bola De Berlim (Portugal)
Traveling donut fans can satisfy their donut cravings in Portugal by eating a Bola de Berlim. However, these Portuguese pastries didn’t originate in Portugal. Instead, immigrants brought the donut concept from Germany almost a century ago. Yes, the Bola de Berlim is yet another Berliner descendant.
Portugal’s Bola de Berlim is bigger and sweeter than jam-filled Berliners sold in cities like Berlin and Hamburg. Although doce de ovos, a sweet cream made with egg yolks and sugar, is this donut’s typical filling, we prefer Nutella inside our fried bundles of Portuguese joy.
Discover more Portuguese desserts.
Varškės Spurga (Lithuania)
Although donuts are popular around the world, Lithuanian donuts called Varškės Spurgos are unique due to an extra ingredient – curd cheese, a product similar to quark. Shaped into balls, these tiny treats typically come dusted with powdered sugar and are occasionally filled with fruit jam.
Varškės Spurgos are relatively easy to bake and just require a handful of ingredients beyond curd cheese. If you’re lucky, you may be invited to a Lithuanian home where you can try fluffy curd cheese donuts straight out of the oven. Otherwise, you can find them at Lithuanian bakeries and donut shops.
Discover more great food in Lithuania.
Bánh Bơ (Vietnam)
We didn’t expect to find donuts in Vietnam but that’s exactly what we found at a Da Nang shop called Quán Bánh Bơ. Although Bánh Bơ literally translates to butter cake, we know donuts when we taste them. And these fried, puffy, yeasty treats were definitely donuts.
The shop’s staff fried the sweet yet savory treats to order and served them to us with chili sauce. Locals typically queue to buy bags of Bánh Bơ to take away, but we preferred eating them hot off the griddle. As a bonus, it was easier for us to drizzle the shop’s sweet chili sauce when we were sitting down.
Discover more great food in Vietnam.
Unicorn Donut (Ireland)
Ireland didn’t invent the donut nor did it create a unique donut variation that’s famous around the world. And, yet, the Emerald Isle is a mecca for donut eaters who want to eat artisan donuts in Europe. Even vegans can join the donut party when they visit Dublin.
To be clear, Dublin donut shops don’t just sell vegan donuts. The city’s upscale donut menus feature flavors like Hazelnut Rocher, Honeycomb Crunchy and Lemon Meringue. However, truly obsessed donut fans will want to eat Unicorn Donuts topped with ‘majestic unicorn icing sugar and magical sprinkles’ when they’re in Dublin.
Discover where to eat in Dublin.
Churros are proof that not all fried dough is round and that doughnuts can be shaped like sticks. They’re also one of the best Spanish desserts. Or are they?
Spanish people have been coating fried choux pastry with sugar and dipping the sweet cylindrical pastries in chocolate sauce for centuries but they might not be the first to do so. While it’s unclear who invented the combination, does it really matter if the credit belongs to Spain, Portugal or even China?
Regardless of who invented Churros, there’s no debate that cylindrical fried choux pastry dipped in sugar and served with chocolate dipping sauce is divine. This is the case whether you eat Churros in Spain, Portugal, Mexico or America.
Fried dough balls called Zeppole are popular in Naples but the one to look for is called Zeppole di San Giuseppe. Once you know what it looks like, it’s not hard to find the colorful choux pastry filled with custard and topped with more custard and cherries.
Traditionally eaten during the Feast of St. Joseph in March, the Zeppole di San Giuseppe is available at Naples bakeries all year long. The only challenge is deciding whether to eat this Neapolitan pastry with your hands or with a fork.
Discover more great food in Naples.
Despite its Persian roots, the Jalebi has become a popular Indian sweet. Over the past six centuries, Indians have adapted the Jalebi’s crisp, sticky, delicious recipe to fit India’s street food culture.
Visitors to Old Delhi will find no better Jalebi than the one that the Jalebi Wala stand has been frying since 1884. Saturated with a sugary syrup and prepared with ghee over a coal fire, this fried dough treat is famous beyond its humble Delhi location.
Discover more great food in Delhi.
Koeksisters (South Africa)
Don’t be confused if somebody offers you a Koeksister. Despite its odd shape and even odder name, this Afrikaner sweet treat is a must-eat for donut fans who travel to South Africa.
It was love at first bite when we bit into our Koeksister in Stellenbosch. This should be no surprise since we like fried dough. However, this fried dough is better than most since each sticky, sweet Koeksister is soaked in honey or syrup before it hits the frying pan.
Discover where to eat in Stellenbosch.
Cider Donut (Various)
Cider Donuts transform simple cake donuts to gourmet status with an ingredient list that includes apple cider as well as allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg. While it’s possible to eat Cider Donuts all year long, autumn is the best time to find them at outdoor markets and festivals.
Although Cider Donuts have roots in America’s northeast region, we most recently found the autumnal treat at a festival in Alto Adige, Italy’s most northern region. It’s so far north that it’s practically in Austria.
Malasada (Portugal And USA)
Although the Malasada has roots on Portugal’s islands, the donut varietal is easier to find in Las Vegas than in Lisbon. This oddity is related to the Malasada’s popularity in Hawaii. Las Vegas has so many Hawaiian residents and tourists that it’s earned the nickname of the ninth island.
Portuguese workers introduced Malasadas to Hawaii when they traveled halfway around the work to work on island plantations.
In our experience, it’s far easier to find a Pastel de Nata in Lisbon than it is to find Malasadas. But, the hunt is worth the extra effort since the yeasty fried treat flavored with lemon zest is a delightful treat. As a bonus, Malasadas pair well with coffee too.
Discover more great food in Lisbon.
Although humans have been frying dough for millennia, modern donuts have roots in Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.
The only difference between a donut and a doughnut is the spelling of the two words. In other words, a donut is the same thing as a doughnut and vice versa.
It’s a big world with a lot of donut variations. The only way to find your favorite is to eat them all.
No. Donuts have high amounts of fat, sugar and calories.
This is a silly question since everybody knows that donuts taste great.
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About The Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on their website 2foodtrippers. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers a unique taste of the world.
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Original Publication Date: November 20, 2022