Here’s Why Bagels Are So Much Better in New York

Updated: May 24, 2023

If you're ever in New York, you have to try a bagel. They have a taste you'll never forget.

New York is famous for a lot of things, and one of the things the Empire state is most famous for is their crunchy-yet-chewy bagels. No matter how hard bagel shops elsewhere in the country try, they can never make them quite like New York does. Is it the placebo effect or are New York bagel makers adding some secret ingredient that no one else knows about?

In fact, New York bagels are superior to other bagels due to two things: The New York water, which is a key ingredient, plus the way the bagels are cooked. Tap water in New York is very soft, meaning it has low concentrations of minerals like calcium and magnesium. In fact, the state has some of the softest water in the country. The chemical makeup of water effects the gluten in the dough. Hard water toughens gluten, while soft water softens it, making the dough goopier. This produces a more delicious, chewy bagel. When in New York you should not miss the chance to have a bagel.

Before you start trying to import New York tap water to your home town, know that it’s only part of the equation. The most important factor is when, during the cooking process, the bagels are boiled. To make the most delicious bagels in the world you have to first let the dough cool in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Cooling the dough allows the yeast to slowly ferment, which releases more flavor, and condensation to build up in the dough. Then comes the most important step, boiling the bagels for 30 seconds to three minutes. Boiling locks in the liquid inside the dough. The bagels are then baked in an oven, and come out chewy on the inside with a thick crust outside every time.

Eastern European immigrants introduced this cooking method to New York in the early 20th century and for many years all bake shops cooked bagels this way. As the popularity of bagels spread across the country and manufacturers began mass producing them, they would skip the boiling step to save time—and that alters the taste.

Sometimes good things just take time, say the bagel bakers of New York who still make them the old-fashioned way. Discover more hidden gems in NYC most locals don’t even know about.