Doughnut-Muffin Hybrid Causes Controversy in UK

British bakery scolds Starbucks coffee chain for stealing 'Duffin.'

Oct. 8, 2013— -- A food fight has erupted in the UK, after Starbucks announced it had created a new hybrid dessert last week that many argue actually originated at a small London bakery.

The "duffin" is a doughnut-muffin cyborg sweet that combines buttermilk and nutmeg in the batter before being baked, is stuffed with raspberry jam, dunked in melted butter and then dusted with sugar.

Bea's of Bloomsbury, which operates four cafes in London known for afternoon tea services, have been serving the treats under the nickname since at least 2011. But when Starbucks debuted its own similar version of the dessert on Friday, they made no mention of any forbears in promotional copy -- and they trademarked the name.

"Inspired by our muffins, we sat together with our bakers and pondered how you could make a muffin go one step further," reads the Starbucks copy introducing the baked good. "Step forward the Duffin: taking the best of a muffin: that moist texture, the iconic shape and then mixing it up with elements of a traditional jam filled doughnut."

But instead of hunger pangs, the announcement inspired the ire of British locals who took Starbucks to task for not crediting Bea's. A hashtag #duffingate began to trend on Twitter.

"I didn't really give it too much thought until I found out their version of the duffin also contains raspberry jam, nutmeg and buttermilk," said Bea Vo, owner of Bea's on Bloomsbury, in an e-mail to ABC News. "My recipe, which was published in my cookbook back in August 2011, is the only one out there to carry all of those traits. Doughnut muffins have been around for a while, Nigella Lawson even has them in her first cookbook -- but the style of mine, that is what makes it unique."

The fact that Rich Products, Starbucks' wholesaler/distributor of baked goods, had trademarked the name "duffin" troubled Vo, who worried she would now be prohibited from selling her own creations at the Bea's cafes.

"I thought 'this is absurd,'" Vo said. "It's like trademarking 'cupcake.'"

In an initial statement by Ian Cranna, VP Marketing & Category for Starbucks UK, the chain expressed vague ignorance that other versions of a doughnut-muffin hybrid existed prior to their own.

"As always before we launch a new product we conducted an extensive search online and a full trademark search on the name and on this occasion we found no indication that anyone else was using the name, nor retailing a similar product," he said.

But Vo wasn't buying it.

"That is obviously laughable," she said. "With a quick Google search you would find tons of styles of duffins, people selling duffins, our own press about duffins, and people's recipes for duffins, including mine."

Vo contends that with as many versions of the duffin floating around as there are, no one should own the name and Starbucks should not have claimed to have invented it.

"I'm a pastry chef by trade, and it's a craft," she said. "It's all about building on and creating new ideas. Trademarking something that clearly isn't yours not only stifles innovation but is an attempt to rewrite history. And if every person were forced to have trademarks for food inventions, we'd have 100 different names for Caesar Salad right now."

As the controversy surrounding the dessert spread across media and Internet channels, Starbucks has since changed its original stance and seems to be waving an apron in the air as a sign of truce.

"Since launching the Starbucks Duffin we have discovered there are other Duffins out there," said Ian Cranna in a statement to ABC News. "Rich Products, who created our Duffin, have trademarked the name in the UK. However, neither Starbucks nor Rich Products has at any time suggested that we will attempt to stop Bea's of Bloomsbury selling their own Duffins."

But there was still a sour aftertaste left by the entire exchange.

"What makes a duffin characteristic is that it's dipped in melted butter and then rolled in sugar," Vo said. "The Starbucks version doesn't even bother with the dipping in melted butter. By all accounts it isn't even a true doughnut-muffin -- it's a jam-filled muffin."