Think doughnuts are only for dessert? Think again. Bakers are getting experimental with doughnuts, adding fillings such as cheese, pulled pork and even eggs benedict.

Consumers might turn their noses up at the thought of a savoury doughnut, accustomed to the jam-filled sugary delights they grew up with, but industry experts insist they work.

“Doughnuts are just a vehicle for flavour,” Vladimir Hromek, executive chef at Cambridge-based barbecue restaurant Smokeworks told British Baker. “Doughnuts themselves are not sweet. They’re like pancakes and waffles in that they can be sweet or savoury. In France you have pancakes with cheese and ham, but in England you might have them with lemon and sugar.”

London’s Duck & Waffle was one of the first to pioneer the savoury doughnut in the UK with its Spicy Ox Cheek Doughnut served with apricot jam and smoked paprika sugar.

Smokeworks created a limited-edition savoury doughnut in celebration of National Doughnut Week (12-19 May). The doughnut, used in place of a burger bun, was stuffed with pulled pork and chilli jam then topped with paprika and sugar (see above right).

As shown with other classic pairings, sweet and savoury flavours go well together, noted Hromek. “We have quite a few sweet and savoury combinations like southern fried chicken with waffles and maple syrup. Sweetness with something salty works really well.”

Smokey flavours and heat also have potential. Hromek suggested using a sweet chilli sauce, jalapeño jelly or even some raw spice to kick things up a notch.

“Generally, savoury fillings that are on the sweeter side tend to work better for customers to get an association in their mind of it being a doughnut,” said Dan Kelly, director of food at London catering company Vacherin.

“Slow braised meats that are sweeter because of the cooking process, cheese which sweetens as it warms, fish and creamy sauces. In truth, as long as you balance the flavours, you are only limited by your own creativity.”

Vacherin chef Sean Chambers tapped these trends with the creation of a cheese doughnut that used aged parmesan and Ossau Iraty, a creamy ewe’s milk cheese that “gives a fantastic balance between sweet and salty”, while the parmesan on the outside provides seasoning.

Other examples include the Ham & Cheese and Chicken Curry doughnuts from Soboro Bakery in Cambridge.

Even Morrisons has got in on the action with Made to Share BBQ Chicken Doughnuts. And, over in the US, California’s Sidecar Doughnuts offers the ultimate brunch item – Basil Eggs Benedict doughnut. The doughnut is filled with a poached egg, ham and a basil hollandaise sauce.

But, as with many other doughnut purveyors, the savoury options form just a small part of Sidecar’s menu. Sweet is still king. But Kelly believes their appeal could become more widespread.

“They have been around for centuries in different guises or styles from other cuisines such as things like beignets and Gnocchi Parisian and we are just doing what is, in effect, a new version of these,” he added. “There is huge longevity and we will continue to see them in different forms for the foreseeable future.”