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A History of New Orleans' Iconic (And Delicious) Beignets

Travelers Today       By    JC Santos

Updated: Mar 20, 2017 05:32 AM EDT

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Delicious deep fried dough coated with sugar and icing sounds like a fried doughnut-- but New Orleans calls them beignets. When traveling New Orleans, one must eat at their perceived best cafe their very best beignets.

Before it became an iconic dessert of New Orleans, beignets were from Europe and they carry with them a distinct history.

According to What's Cooking America, the history of the beignet could be Islamic in origin. From the 16th century exists many French beignet recipes but the website cites Food Historian Cathy Kaufman who said evidence that beignets originated from Andalusia and made its way into Spain and France indicated the Islamic origins of the dish. "Spanish beignets" also existed and were well-known during the Middle Ages, Kaufman's article states.

Colonists from France brought beignet to New Orleans during the 18th century. The 1902 Picayune Creole Cook Book indicates this event in detail as beignets, compotes, souffles, and gelees became common among local coffee shops served with dark roast coffee or hot milk. In detail, cites several Picayune periodical posts including an early 1927 that said beignets were "not the conventional doughnut" yet "they are better."

Before they were called beignets, they were known as "French Market doughnuts" from the 20s until the early 60s. An article by Times Picayune writer Howard Jacobs made clear that some French shops called their "doughnuts" beignets -- further elaborating that a beignet is a "Belgian donut" and is known as "fritters" in America.

According to 10best, the best beignet venues in New Orleans incorporate some unique twists to beignets. One is SoBou where chef Juan Carlos Gonzales serves a modern-style sweet-potato beignet combined with fondue and duck. Another is La Petite's crab-fused beignets served with malt vinegar aioli. For less unique and more traditional beignets, the website recommends the New Orleans Coffee & Beignet Co. that serves the original sugared version of beignets with coffee -- along with other non-radical variants.

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