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3 Reasons Not To Trust Dunkin’ Donuts

September 30, 2013

Before today’s food rant, I need to pause and acknowledge something important. This past weekend, the food world lost a luminary. Marcella Hazan passed away. She was, and thanks to her books will continue to be, a tremendous influence on how I think about food in general, and Italian food in particular.

If you don’t have Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, I suggest you pick up a copy today.

Earlier this weekend I was chatting with Marcella’s daughter-in-law on Twitter. We were going back and forth about donuts, and the horror that Dunkin’ Donuts has unleashed on the American culinary landscape. Honestly, I really think their donuts were much better twenty years ago, when each location fried their own donuts on site.

Sometimes the sacrifices an enterprise makes for uniform consistency across the brand aren’t worth the payoff. Dunkin’ Donuts isn’t unique in this regard. They are unique in that their category is now almost bereft of any local competition. One really has to look hard to find a good, old-fashioned donut shop.

And perhaps because they’ve cornered the market, Dunkin’ Donuts has been able to get away with a lot.

1. Bagels with Butter Aren’t

There’s a bigger problem when people are getting their bagels from a donut shop. Just because both are round with a hole in the center doesn’t mean they can be made in the same place. One gets boiled and baked, the other gets proofed and deep fried. It’s different equipment, different techniques and an entirely different set of expertise.

That said, when you order a bagel with butter, you should get a bagel with butter.

The Boston Globe reports, “Craig Polewaczyk of Worcester was recently disappointed after taking a bite of a bagel ordered with butter. He complained that it didn’t taste like butter and was told he was right. Even though 1) he asked for butter and 2) his receipt said ‘butter,’ the bagel was schmeared with margarine. No apology or refund followed.”

You can read the full article here. But the reported did some digging and reached a Dunkin’ Donuts spokesperson who had the following to say:

For food safety reasons, we do not allow butter to be stored at room temperature, which is the temperature necessary for butter to be easily spread onto a bagel or pastry,

I say hogwash. Stewarts Shops in upstate New York solves this problem by slicing a generous hunk of butter from a large brick to fill their bagels and rolls. But barring that approach, whipped butter spreads just as easily as whipped cream cheese and whipped margarine.

But, by a show of hands can I see how many people are surprised? Especially considering that…

2) Dunkin’ Donuts’ “Fried Egg” Contains 13 Ingredients

Okay. That doesn’t even seem possible. An egg is an egg. The fried eggs I make at home use an egg, some butter, a bit of salt, and a grind of pepper. That’s four ingredients. What are the other nine? Well, here’s the list:

1) Egg whites
2) Water
3) Egg yolks
4) Modified corn starch
5-7) “Natural Sauteed Flavor”
– Soybean oil
– Medium chain triglycerides
– Natural flavor
8) Salt
9-10) “Artificial Butter Flavor”
– Propylene glycol
– Artificial flavor
11) Xanthan gum
12) Citric acid
13) Coarse ground black pepper

I think that last one has to be a joke. Think about this for a moment. This isn’t an egg. It’s an assemblage of ingredients made from eggs, designed to look like a fried egg. It can’t be fried, though. If it were, it wouldn’t need the “Natural Sauteed Flavor.” And even if it were fried, it wasn’t fried in butter. Otherwise it wouldn’t contain “Artificial Butter Flavor.”

Plus there is more water in Dunkin’ Donuts “fried egg” than egg yolk? It makes my head hurt just thinking about it. But dammit, they want that egg to really sing, so they season it with coarsely ground black pepper.

But this isn’t the only mislabeling of a food product on the menu…

3. “Blueberry Cake Donuts” Contain No Trace of Blueberries Whatsoever

“But wait,” you say “I’ve had one of those before and it’s filled with blueberry specks.”

No, it’s not. Those things that you see that look like pieces of fruit have a surprising name. Dunkin’ Donuts calls them “Flavor Crystals”. Sometimes companies will replace expensive blueberries with some other cheap dried fruit, dyed and flavored to look like blueberries. Dunkin’ is actually guilty of that strategy too with their blueberry bagel, but in this blueberry donut they use no fruit at all.

Flavor crystals are made entirely from:
1) Sugar
2) Corn syrup
3) Corn cereal
4) Modified food starch
5) Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
6) Artificial flavor
7) Red 40
8) Green 3
9) Blue 1

Sounds delicious. But seriously, I have no idea how the donut maker is legally allowed to say they sell blueberry donuts when they don’t.

Butter isn’t butter. Eggs aren’t eggs. Blueberries aren’t blueberries. It’s like this classic American institution has transformed into an Orwellian nightmare. I grew up on Dunkin’ Donuts. They fueled my childhood. But now it’s just sadness and lies.

I’d rather eat no donut than sully the memories of my youth with one of the artificially flavored discs of sorrow and despair that line this chain’s shelves.

Dunkin’ Donuts has gone steeply downhill. I’d love for them to turn the brand around. But with throngs of people lined up dutifully every day, I see no incentive for change. The only hope is to expose the partial truths, the hidden ingredients, and the corners that are cut in the name of corporate profits.

It’s totally unacceptable, and I contend there is no reason for anyone to ever go.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. September 30, 2013 9:48 am

    This article is fascinating. Thank you so much for doing your research and reporting this to the general public! I am officially turned off from Dunkin Donuts.

  2. Michelle permalink
    September 30, 2013 9:59 am

    Ugh — thanks. My gut (and tastebuds) already told me not to eat or drink there, but now I have even more reasons not to.

  3. September 30, 2013 10:11 am

    Crappy food just got crappier.

  4. -R. permalink
    September 30, 2013 10:46 am

    Three reasons? You only need one: everything they “make” tastes like poisonous shit.

    But by all means, let lazy convenience dictate what you put into your body, and pay a handsome premium for it. Much like Starbucks, you’re getting financially raped every time you go there. Get you ass out of bed fifteen minutes earlier, brew a proper cup/mug/pot of coffee or tea, make yourself a bowl of oatmeal, or have an egg on an English muffin. You’ll save a ton of money, and feel better.

    Addicted to that Vanilla Chai?

    Skim Milk, Vanilla Chai Powder {Sugar, Creamer [Hydrogenated Coconut Oil, Corn Syrup Solids, Potassium Caseinate (a milk derivative), Sugar, Dipotassium Phosphate, Sodium Silicoaluminate, Propylene Glycol Monstearate, Mono and Diglycerides, Salt, Carrageenan, Soy Lecithin, Artificial Flavor], Brown Sugar, Sweet Cream Powder [Pasteurized Sweet Cream, Skim Milk Solids, Sodium Caseinate (a milk derivative), Soy Lecithin], Instant Tea, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Honey Powder, Cinnamon, Xanthan Gum, Cloves.

    Yummy, yum. How bout’ that Propylene Glycol?? Wikipedia says:

    Propylene glycol is considered generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and it is used as an humectant (E1520), solvent, and preservative in food and for tobacco products, as well as being the major ingredient in the liquid used in electronic cigarettes. It is also used in pharmaceutical and personal care products.
    Like ethylene glycol, propylene glycol is able to lower the freezing point of water, and so it is used as aircraft de-icing fluid. It is similarly used as automotive antifreeze. Water-propylene glycol mixtures dyed pink to indicate the mixture is relatively nontoxic are sold under the name of RV or marine antifreeze.

    Bottoms up!!

  5. September 30, 2013 11:14 am

    I have one reason to go — they have a reasonably healthy on-the-go breakfast. If I’m headed off on an early morning road trip, the kind where I’ll need to eat breakfast in the car ’cause we’re already running late, their breakfast wraps are the only thing I can find that’s quick, tastes decent and isn’t gonna make me gain a million pounds.

  6. Tonia permalink
    September 30, 2013 11:24 am

    What R said.

    Love it. And, so true: “But by all means, let lazy convenience dictate what you put into your body, and pay a handsome premium for it. Much like Starbucks, you’re getting financially raped every time you go there. Get you ass out of bed fifteen minutes earlier, brew a proper cup/mug/pot of coffee or tea, make yourself a bowl of oatmeal, or have an egg on an English muffin. You’ll save a ton of money, and feel better.”

    If anyone is ever in Brewster, MA (Cape Cod). BEST DONUTS!

  7. September 30, 2013 12:00 pm

    Great article. As a child Dunk’n Donuts was a treat. They made these chocolate cream filled powdered donuts that my whole family loved. Sure, even back then it was probably mostly chemicals – but we didn’t really know any better in those days. The good thing is that the donuts were made fresh in each store. They had this sort of crispy freshness to them. Try to find that now at a DD.

    I don’t know what happened to us over the years. Is it simply that we (as a society) have demanded too much? We want it to stay fresh longer, we want a lot for our money, and we want it cheap. This is what we get when we use that formula.

    There are still some great bakeries around. For the first time ever, I recently tried Crisan on Lark Street. We had the Porcelain Cake and I fell in love. It was very clear that this cake started with flour and butter. The quality of ingredients was very clear. These people are passionate about their baking. KUDOS

    Unfortunatley, I am also finding places like Crisan to be few and far between. I am a huge fan of simplicity at times, and therfore I am addicted to trying Chocolate Chip cookies EVERYWHERE I go. I have found some GREAT ones in and about the area – however, the majority of the time I end up with some soft (soft by means of chemicals not baking style) gritty, awkward texture excuse of what should have been a cookie.

    When I hear someone say “I don’t like frosting on cake, I scrape it off”. I cringe!! Frosting is my favorite part!!! But I get it. I would scrape it off my cake too . . if it was sugar and crisco.

    Again, I think this is a great article. DD is iconic to America. But I don’t blame them 100%. Maybe, in a round about way, they are giving us what we keep asking for. Cheap, fast, convenient.

    PS – I am also guilty of demanding cheap, fast and convenient. I own my part of creating this as well. I grew up in a family of two working middle class parents in a time period where processed meals were the answer to our prayers. It was not until I begn to recognizw cooking in my own kitchen was a way of relaxing and relieving stress that I began to explore better ingredietns and better foods. It has now become an addiction for me. I am still working on my parents (lovers of Fridays, Applebee’s, Red Lobster lol) . . . they are stubborn . . . but I won’t give up.

    If you think DD is disappointing – thry this one out: Just a few days ago, my mom called me on vacation and said “We just had the best KFC we have ever had, down here in North Carolina” GOOD GRIEF Charlie Brown!! But they are my parents. I Love them, regardless. But I won’t give up trying to help them see the light!
    :)

  8. DEN permalink
    September 30, 2013 12:02 pm

    I think I have posted it here before, but I drastically cut back my consumption of DD in the Capital District for a different reason. DD’s coffee prices have jumped up , (at least around here). A large DD coffee is the same price ($2.43) as a large at Starbucks or your local independent coffee shop. Part of DD’s model is value versus competitors (or so they say), but it is just not the case here. At these prices for DD, why not support your local shop?

  9. DEN permalink
    September 30, 2013 12:05 pm

    Speaking of baked goods we can trust, is All Good Bakers really closing forever?

  10. September 30, 2013 1:05 pm

    Taking your “fried egg” for example… I don’t really have a problem with the multiple ingredient thing in and of its self. I do completely agree with you that the “Natural Sautéed Flavor” and the “Artificial Butter Flavor” are pretty heinous so I would rather them be left out. But all of the other stuff is fairly benign. Let us not kid ourselves, DD is a fast food assembly line sort of assembly line that exists to get a cheap bag of calories into your hand in the minimum amount of time. They are never going to fry a real egg and getting all bothered about it is pretty pointless.

    So, maybe just demand that they leave all they dyes and chemicals out of stuff. All the other food science monkey business DD is up to doesn’t bother me so much. I don’t like this whole “culinary luddite” business that everyone fetishizes as of late. Food science is a part of culinary landscape. There are too many people in this world for everyone to get a farm-fresh, butter fried egg, out of a window in the side of building every morning at an affordable price. Thickeners and fillers and all of that don’t bother me so much in fast food level products as long as they aren’t outright harmful.

    As has been said in the comments here already, it is not exactly DD’s fault that their products are widely demanded and consumed and that consumers expect a certain level of “tastiness” and a certain price point. I don’t believe the whole “people just need to be educated bit.” I think you know what you are getting, maybe not specifically, but you know there is nonsense afoot…

    • -R. permalink
      September 30, 2013 2:42 pm

      Sorry Mr. Dave, but methinks you give the average human being way too much credit for actually thinking about the stuff they shovel down their gaping maws. Yes, price makes a difference and there’s always the corporate bottom line, but I’m having a really hard time swallowing the “it’s not exactly DD’s fault” logic either. As a corporate entity, their business is making money regardless of what they peddle. To do this, they make products that essentially last forever (preservatives); are cheap to manufacture (fillers/byproducts); tastes/looks palatable (not to me but that’s a lot of artificial dye and flavorings); are uniform from place to place. These products are then ruthlessly promoted as quick, tasty benign snacks (which they are not) and strategically placed in geographic locations (much like BK, McD’s, etc) to pander to a certain demographic. Nothing in this sick corporatized world is ever random, left to chance or unplanned.

  11. September 30, 2013 3:01 pm

    @KD – Home Baked Happiness, I hear you on the reality of getting something not high cal and quick. Check out McDonalds (I know, I know, very lowbrow of me…) Their Egg McMuffin is actually made with what is recognizable as “egg”, though it’s cooked in margarine, it’s definitely more real food than the DD options. And it’s only 300 calories. http://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en/food/product_nutrition.breakfast.275.egg-mcmuffin.html

  12. mike permalink
    September 30, 2013 10:17 pm

    not sure why this is surprising to anyone.

  13. Stop. Think. permalink
    September 30, 2013 11:33 pm

    Gina. KD. If you want the world to not have shitty food in it, don’t ever give money to people who sell it. You are making this continue. Choices like that are why DD isn’t what it used to be.

    Excuses like “I can’t find good, quick food to eat” are 100% lying to yourself. And if you think the calories of one meal will make a difference in your overall health, stop. Think.

  14. Welf permalink
    October 3, 2013 7:07 am

    At least you didn’t get Into why it’s Boston Kreme with a K instead of a C. That’s a whole other ball game

  15. October 4, 2013 8:17 am

    Hopefully no one finds any of this shocking.

    You should know what you put into your body.

    You should make educated choices as a consumer.

    And health is about more than low calories, the quality of calories counts. A lot.

    And I’m sick of hearing people talk about lack of time. Really? Three kids, partner, house to manage, full time student, part time employee, etc. etc. etc. and I eat real food. Pretty much all the time. So do my kids. It’s possible and not even all that difficult once you make it a priority.

  16. October 4, 2013 6:12 pm

    While we did eat some convenience food on our road trip across the country never once did we eat a DD or a McDs. Yuck yuck yuck. We did, however, eat at wonderful Mom & Pop donut shops that were delightfully worth every last calorie!! I even had FTO coffee at a gas station in Bozeman, MT! You can find good stuff in convenient places.Maybe not in Oklahoma or Kansas, but that’s alright, it was only a 5 hour drive from OKC to Kansas City, MO where the food and beverage situation was more respectable.

  17. Alane Hohenberg permalink
    October 6, 2013 7:28 am

    Re the donut discussion, take a ride out Hoosick St., Rt.7, outside of Troy and stop at Duncan’s Dairy Bar. They really really bake their own–not dump some pre-mix out of a bag and call it homemade. The donuts are outstanding–crispy, glazed, and big as a wheel–some misshapen so you know they’re not squeezed out of a big corporate machine. I have no business ordering a donut, so when I do, I take several healthy bites and toss the rest. I love this restaurant–family owned since ? They take 2 months off after Thanksgiving and return around Presidents’ Day. I hope they never change–no credit or debit cards, it’s cash, honey.

  18. October 6, 2013 7:55 pm

    Well now you’ve gone and done it. I really did not need to know this stuff. Ignorance is (was) bliss! I like their coffee. I drink it black because I assume they will mix it with some milk like substance, or worse yet – some real milk laden with antibiotics and hormones. Once every two months when I am starving I order a “buttered” bagel (to avoid eating the donuts) and it has always been quite obvious that the “butter” was a butter like substance. But I did not ask. I did not want to know. I just assumed that NY- AG Schneiderman had the truth in advertising law suit ready to go on the back burner and at some point I would get a big fat buttery check in the mail along with all other long deceived bagel eating DD customers. When that perfect looking fast food egg magically appears from the rotary burner / microwave / whatever / we should not be surprised that it has somehow been “enhanced” with whatever it takes to air brush a real egg to perfection. If you eat this stuff every day, shame on you. If you use it to fill you growling tummy on infrequent occasions, I see no harm, but PLEASE don’t read the ingredients, and if you do KEEP IT TO YOURSELF! I really don’t want to know.

  19. October 7, 2014 12:53 am

    I cant stand the so called butter used in dunkin donuts

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