The Secret Ingredient That Makes NYC Cream Cheese So Delicious

New Yorkers live in the city that never sleeps, which means they have a lot of time to perfect their signature foods — cheesecake, pizza, and bagels among the most famous ones. While it's rumored that the water in the city is what makes the bagels so delicious, what's less talked about is the high quality schmear, aka the cream cheese that accompanies those bagels. In a typical NYC bagel shop, the spread isn't just scooped out of a container straight onto your bagel. Everywhere from high end specialty shops to your neighborhood deli will usually have a counter with a plethora of different cream cheese flavors (everything from sun-dried tomato to wasabi), and there's often a secret ingredient involved in making them all taste so good. According to TikTok user @brooklynbagelblog, that ingredient is seltzer water.

So what exactly does seltzer accomplish? "[It] helps whip hard cream cheese into a smooth, creamy texture," the TikTok video explains. The only ingredient in plain seltzer is carbonated water, so bagel shops are just adding bubbles and a little liquid to the cream cheese. Especially when add-ins like veggies and herbs are being incorporated, it's important to be able to mix large quantities of the schmear easily, and form it into a spreadable, whipped consistency. Seltzer water does just that.

How to incorporate seltzer water into your cream cheese

If you don't live in the Big Apple but want to enjoy your bagels with light, fluffy cream cheese, it's easy to whip up New York-style schmear at home. First, place your regular, store-bought cream cheese in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Then begin whipping, adding seltzer water slowly — you can either incorporate it from the start or towards the end of the process. Once the spread has reached your desired consistency (light and airy), stir in your flavor additions like veggies and herbs. You could also simply stir seltzer water into a hunk of cream cheese in a bowl, but it will be harder to achieve the same whipped quality by hand.

It's important to note that you'll want to use seltzer water (aka sparkling water). Don't substitute it with club soda or tonic water, which both have added ingredients. And stick to the unflavored stuff, or else you'll be altering the overall taste of your cream cheese. On the flip side, don't use just plain water, as you'll need the carbon dioxide for maximum fluffiness. A few bubbles later, you'll have a deliciously spreadable schmear worthy of any NYC deli.