The ingredient list is downright puzzling, so we did some digging.
Credit: Vesna Jovanovic / EyeEm/Getty Images

Hot, crisp homemade doughnuts are heavenly—and surprisingly simple. There are really only seven ingredients: Yeast, milk, flour, butter, sugar, salt, and eggs. However, these magical, deep-fried doughy treats can take some time to make.

Driving through your nearest Dunkin' Donuts can serve as a much speedier and convenient solution for your doughnut cravings. And whether you're a Strawberry Frosted or Boston Kreme kind of person, it's easy to think that all doughnuts—whether homemade or store bought—are created equally. Take a look at the ingredient lists, however, and you’ll start to think differently.

Despite Dunkin's recent decision to eliminate artificial dyes from their menu by the end of 2018, a simple glazed doughnut still contains over 30 ingredients

Some, like salt and eggs, are basic doughnut ingredients, but others, like dextrose and soy lecithin, are more puzzling. Here’s what’s happening: many of these puzzling ingredients are actually food additives, intended to extend shelf life, add color or texture, change the flavor, or even add nutrients. It begs the question: Are these ingredients safe to consume?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration permits the use of additives in foods if they are what the agency calls “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS. The FDA has published a set of GRAS guidelines to help food-makers comply.

And while the FDA’s “Everything Added to Food in the United States” database makes identifying these additives easy, understanding what they actually are proves more challenging.

While controversial research exists over the safety of some food additives, we feel consumers have the right to know what they’re eating. With the help of Cooking Light’s Food and Nutrition Director Brierley Horton, we decoded several of the more confusing ingredients found in a simple Dunkin' Donuts yeast doughnut.

New Year. New Food. Healthy eating starts here, with the Cooking Light Diet.

Here is the full ingredient breakdown with our explanations. Keep in mind that ingredient lists are always organized by weight, meaning the largest quantity will always be listed first. Oh—and we left off a few ingredients: Water, skim milk, yeast, salt, and eggs. We figured you know what those are.

Credit: Photo: Jennifer Causey

Enriched Unbleached Wheat Flour (including wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron as ferrous sulfate, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, and folic acid)
“Wheat flour” simply means wheat that has been milled (meaning the hard shell, or bran, and germ have been rubbed off) and ground into flour. Unfortunately a lot of the healthy nutrients are in the bran and germ (which is why unmilled, or "whole" wheat is better for you). So this flour has been "enriched" with those other ingredients—a mix of B vitamins and iron. While it's better for you than unenriched flour would be, as you might imagine, it's not quite the same. 

Sometimes flour is bleached, so it looks nice and clean and white. But that's less necessary if you're adding in colors and other additives, so in this case, they're specifying that the flour is “unbleached.” 

Palm Oil
A type of vegetable oil, palm oil has been controversial for the harmful environmental effects that come with farming and making it, as well as its effects on human health. The World Wildlife Fund reports that palm oil production results in the devastation of large forests and natural habitats in Indonesia and Malaysia. Additionally, palm oil is higher in saturated fats than other oils, making it less heart-healthy.

Dunkin' Donuts has said they now use 100% sustainable palm oil, though this does not address its poor nutritional value. However, since the FDA’s announcement to phase out trans fats by 2018, palm oil has become an increasingly popular replacement for in processed foods.

This is a common sweetener found in baked goods. Dextrose is a simple sugar derived from corn. In other words, it’s added sugar.

Soybean Oil
Soybean oil is another type of vegetable oil and a common fixture on the ingredient lists of a variety of food products from salad dressing to baked goods to snack crackers.

Why? Soybeans are easy and inexpensive to grow. In fact, they're the second most-planted crop in the United States. Whether soybean oil, soy flour, or soy letchin, all of these ingredients are derived from the versatile soybean.

Remember little miss Muffett eating her curds and whey? Whey (like curds) is a byproduct of cheesemaking. It looks like a thin, watery milk, and is basically a milk protein.  Whey contains lactose, so those with dairy allergies should avoid foods with this ingredient.

There are 2% or less of these:

Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Baking Soda)
Sodium acid pyrophosphate, which is sometimes called disodium  pyrophosphate, is a dry powder acid. It reacts with the baking soda (which is a base) to make a chemical-based  leavener—it's basically what baking powder does. This helps baked goods rise while also lending a light and airy texture.

Defatted Soy Flour
Made from ground soybeans, this protein-rich flour can enhance the flavor, texture, moisture, and color of baked goods. “Defatted” simply means the soybean’s natural oils have been removed during processing to minimize fat.  

Wheat Starch
Like corn starch, wheat starch is used to thicken and stabilize foods.

Mono and Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Cellulose Gum, Soy Lecithin
All of these are considered emulsifiers that help bind ingredients together. In baked goods, they can give doughs a smooth and uniform texture.

Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum
Both of these are thickeners also used to enhance the texture of baked goods.

Artificial Flavor
Unlike natural flavors, which are derived from plants, artificial flavors are chemical mixtures. They are often manufactured to mimic the characteristics of natural flavors, but at a lower cost.

Sodium Caseinate (a milk derivative)
A milk protein that acts as a thickener in foods, sodium caseinate may be in foods labeled as non-dairy. Because it contains small amounts of lactose, the FDA warns that those with milk allergies should avoid foods with this ingredient.

An additive that extends shelf life of baked goods.

Colored with (Turmeric and Annatto Extracts, Beta Carotene)
Turmeric, Annatto, and Beta Carotene are natural food dyes derived from fruits and vegetables.

The Bottom Line: Nothing tops a fresh, scratch-made doughnut.

So, the next time a sugar craving strikes you, skip the preservatives and take a trip to your local mom and pop doughnut shop or make one of our healthy doughnut recipes instead.

Yes, Dunkin' Donuts is convenient and consistent, but their doughnuts still need cleaning up. We’re not just talking about ingredients—most of Dunkin's offerings run high in calories, fat, and saturated fat, too. Opt for homemade and you’ll see how easy it is to save in these areas. Need proof? See how our delicious Cider Doughnuts with Maple-Tahini Glaze recipe stacks up against Dunkin' Donuts’ Apple Crumb Donut.

Dunkin' Donuts Apple Crumb Donut

  • Calories: 320
  • Fat: 15g
  • Sat Fat: 7g
  • Sugar: 20g
  • Number of Ingredients: 66
  • Calories: 171
  • Fat: 6g
  • Sat Fat: 1g
  • Sugar: 14g
  • Number of Ingredients: 15

Our doughnuts save you 49 calories, 9 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, and 6 grams of sugar. Plus, you also get a healthy dose of fresh, whole ingredients. (Even better, you can pronounce all of them!)