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This Is The Doughnut You're Seeing Everywhere

The Japanese fusion treat known as a mochi doughnut is increasingly available nationwide.

Asian drinks and snacks have, in recent years, reshaped and redefined American food trends: boba tea, ramen, ramyeon, Korean corn dogs, soft scramble breakfast sandwiches, and salted egg yolk chips are just a few of the latest hits in North America. And now, although Dunkin' and Krispy Kreme have been American staples for decades, the next doughnut you buy might have roots across the Pacific, too.

Mochi doughnuts are credited to Mr. Donut, a Japanese chain that introduced them overseas in 2003 and came to the United States via Hawai'i. The Japanese version is sometimes called pon de ring, as the doughnut is made by connecting balls of dough into a circle. Many mochi doughnuts resemble flowers, and they come in a variety of flavors, often with colorful icing.

Unlike what western doughnuts have ballooned into, overloaded with toppings and sprinkles, mochi doughnuts are generally on the smaller side. The name comes from their use of mochiko sweet rice flour, the same ingredient used to make the stretchy, gelatinous mochi dough that is filled with ice cream or red bean paste.

In contrast to those sweets, mochi doughnuts have a crispy exterior, due to being fried or baked, and a chewy interior thanks to the use of this particular flour—think of Hawaiian butter mochi in doughnut form. Some recipes are gluten free, since they use rice or tapioca flour rather than the conventional wheat variety.

Why mochi doughnuts are popping in popularity

Long after mochi doughnuts made their way from Japan to Hawai'i, the treat over to the mainland, where franchises selling the treats are rapidly expanding.

Last week, industry trade publication Restaurant Business released its Future 50 list of franchises poised to take off across the U.S. The number one brand on the list is Mochinut, a California-based chain that was founded in March 2020 on the eve of the pandemic.


Mochinut so far has 148 locations and is branching from the West Coast to different parts of the country. My hometown, Ann Arbor, Michigan, is getting one any minute (it was supposed to open in September, but was delayed), and the brand is even opening an international shop in Seoul. Another chain, called Mochi Dough, also is spreading quickly and has opened a shop in Dearborn, Michigan. It will soon have locations in nine states.

Meanwhile, independent shops are adding mochi doughnuts to their lineups, too. UniTea, a locally owned boba tea and dessert spot in Ann Arbor, introduced mochi doughnuts this summer. I chose a matcha flavored one, which had nice hints of green tea folded into that familiar chewy texture.


Mochi doughnuts get their closeup

The first time I saw the process of making mochi doughnuts was on an episode of The Great Canadian Baking Show, which comes from the same production company that makes The Great British Bake-Off. Despite their shared roots, the Canadian version often has trendier recipes than the one across the pond (you wouldn't see cliches like GBBO's best-forgotten Mexico Week up north).


I wondered how the Canadian show came to feature mochi doughnuts, and learned that the challenges are a group effort. Throughout the year, the producers consult with the show's judges, kicking ideas around for potential challenges. Eventually, the lineup is finalized by the production team. Given that there is a sizable Asian population in Toronto where the show is filmed and North America's enthusiasm for Asian snacks, it makes sense to highlight this Japanese-inspired treat.

The winning recipe that week was a Bananas Foster mochi doughnut, layered with flambeed bananas and a peanut butter filling—a little fancier than many of the small mochi doughnuts that are more common, and not as "bubbly" in its presentation.


Making mochi doughnuts

If you'd like to make mochi doughnuts at home, you can find a number of recipes. This vegan one from The Picky Eater blog calls for the doughnuts to be baked rather than fried. A fried version from Epicurious combines rice flour with tapioca flour for extra chew. You can even make mochi doughnuts in an air fryer and the oven, as this video from Baking With Fat Cat demonstrates.


Whether you buy, bake, or fry them, mochi doughnuts are beginning to boom in the United States. Dollars to doughnuts they'll arrive nationwide at a big chain like Dunkin' or Starbucks before long. After all, they're already being market tested.