What Makes New York The Bagel Capital Of The World?

Monticello, New York declared itself The Bagel Capital in 2012. In Monticello, the family-run Monticello Bagel Bakery cranks out around 25,000 bagels weekly, and the town hosts an annual Bagel Festival that draws thousands of attendees. Bagel Capital is a bold claim, particularly in New York where bagel-making has become something of an art form rooted in science.

The first bagel recipes can be traced to Poland where a king went against the grain (see what we did there) after a successful battle and reintroduced white bread into daily living. In the 19th century, bagels made their way to America by way of Jewish bakers, and in the '60s, New Yorkers' demands for bagels led to an increase in production. As the city's population grew, so too did hunger for the doughy orbs.

To be considered a New York bagel, a bagel must meet specific textural requirements. Peter Shelsky, owner of Shelsky's Brooklyn Bagels in Brooklyn, clarifies to Vogue, "A New York bagel is defined by its competing textures: a profound crust that shatters when you bite into it and its dense, chewy interior." Though Shelsky keeps his bagel recipes a secret, he explains that cold-fermented dough is a big part of the equation, and sourdough starter mixed with old dough sits in the fridge for days before it is shaped into bagels. The process, according to Shelsky, results in the crackly crust and light tangy taste that New Yorkers love.

Preferences in bagel taste

Though many are quick to point to New York's water as the reason for the delicious bagels, Peter Shelsky and others have alternate theories. "New Jersey and New York have very different water qualities, and they are producing some fantastic, 'New York style' bagels, if you want to call it that," Shelsky scoffs to Vogue. Even America's Test Kitchen set out to evaluate New York's water, concluding that while pH levels and trace minerals can vary among cities, the difference is slight after fermentation takes place. Once bagels are tasted, it would be a stroke of luck to detect differences between bagels made in Boston and those coming from Brooklyn.

What we can say for certain is that New York style bagels are hand rolled and boiled to yield a shape that protects the bagels' texture, density, and chewy consistency New Yorkers crave. Ask any New Yorker where to buy the best bagels in the city, however, and opinions will differ. With dozens of different types of recipes, bagel lovers surely can claim their own. Don't live on the East Coast? It is possible to find store-bought bagels that taste like ones picked up from a New York City shop, so you, too, can sample what gives The Empire State top ranking among bagel bakers worldwide.