It’s no great secret that I am a fan of donuts. The local bakery in my home town made orange twists; sugary, greasy, yeast-raised figure eights. I can still taste them even though the baker is long dead. We would sneak out of school in those pre-Tim Horton days for a quick illicit sugar fix. Since then I have built a little collection of happy donut memories, from the perfect donuts at Lees on Granville Island to late night Krispy Kreme trips in San Francisco.
I’m by no means alone; the donut plays a special role in Canadian history; we gave the product its modern appearance, and we eat more of the little fried “o”s than any other nation on Earth. And of course there is the hockey player, his chain, and the controversy over fresh baked or frozen. In Ontario in particular, the donut is serious business. We even have a donut scholar, Steve Penfold, and his book The Donut: A Canadian History highlights how donut shops were an important entry for many Canadian families into the world of business. The machinery was reasonably priced, the work was simple if very tiring, and many a donut empire was built on Central Canada’s highways.
But here in British Columbia, we are a little less easy with this iconic Canadian food. The donut is, after all, placeless and industrial. They are notoriously hard to make at home; the perfect donut is much more likely to come from a mid-size bakery than a home kitchen. And, of course, they aren’t exactly healthy.
I was thus pretty excited to hear that the Ethical Bean was making fair trade, organic donuts in West Coast flavors. I didn’t quite know what to expect; (salmon, raindrop, yoga?) I headed over to their main plant on Kootenay Street to test them out. I settled on ginger, lavender, and espresso chocolate, all flavors that definitely have West Coast associations.
I started with the ginger, which seemed interesting but not overly intimidating. The flavor was subtle but very crisp and spicy. The cake was moist but not greasy, and the glaze wasn’t too sweet. Ethical Bean donuts immediately shot up my list of donut experiences. I moved to the lavender, and I admit I was skeptical; I’ve eaten several things with lavender and I am always reminded of bath salts. This donut, however, made it work. The lavender was extremely faint, just a gentle note of flavor. I finished it, which was a surprise; I’d expected to choke down a bite or two for science but it was really good. Finally I finished with the espresso chocolate, which, to be honest was a bit dry. It might have just been a bad batch, and the flavor was excellent, but they lose points for overly hot oil on those ones.
So I enjoyed eating the donuts; in fact they were great, but did this notoriously placeless food convey place? Did they feel west coast? In my opinion yes, and I would go back again, if only to try the maple glaze.