That’s Not Food; I’m Not Sure What That Is

When we were in the initial planning stages for the Bāgery, we made some hard lines in the sand that we refused to cross. We wanted to serve food with integrity, not just rest on trendy buzzwords and catchphrases. The four corners of that foundation are that:

  • We must be honest about our ingredients
  • We will use high-quality ingredients
  • We would use organic and natural products when possible
  • All ingredients would be necessary to produce our offerings

Being that we are a bagel shop, it was crucial that our bagels represented this philosophy. Before large-scale industrialization took over how most of our food is produced, the food we ate used simple ingredients. The link between industrialized cheap foods and our health is just starting to be understood. We don’t eat that way at our home and certainly wouldn’t feed it to others. To profit off that would be immoral.

So we went old-school. Most breads are made with flour, water, yeast, sugar and a bit of salt. Our plain bagels also include diastatic malt which is a sprouted grain that is dried and ground. This process is done to activate the enzymes in the grain which aids in rise, crumb and crust development.

That’s it. That’s all you need to make a plain bagel. That’s what we use and are proud of that fact. We do take it a step further and use organic flours. Again, it’s how we choose to eat at home. It is more important now since glyphosate (Roundup) has been turning up in grain products as of late. Some of our customers may not care about organic products and that’s ok, we’ve still got your back.

So today I was in a local store, which I’ll be kind enough not to name, and noticed a cheap bag of plain “bagels” (see If It’s Not Boiled, It’s Not a Bagel) that they allegedly make in the store. I stress that they were allegedly made there because I looked all over their bakery and they don’t have the equipment to produce the product they were selling. Maybe the equipment was hidden somewhere or more likely, it was produced somewhere else, par-baked (partially baked) and shipped frozen to be finished off in the store. This is done very often in chain restaurants and grocery stores and promoted as made in-house. My grandmother would have called phooey while in the military we had another term for it… Bravo Sierra.

Debate about provenance aside, I flipped over the bag to look at the ingredients. I can’t say I was surprised but they were as follows:

Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Sugar, Salt, Cultured Wheat Flour, Monoglycerides, Diglycerides, Degerminated Yellow Corn Meal, Yeast, Wheat Flour, Inactive Yeast, Enzymes, Vinegar, Cellulose Gum, Guar Gum, Malted Barley Flour, Soybean Oil, Ascorbic Acid.

We had another term in the military for how I felt after reading that… Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!

So I asked myself, what is included in all the other fake bagels in town? I drove around to several venues and discovered ingredients such as:

Exhibit #2
Unbleached Enriched Wheat Flour (Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Brown Sugar, Salt, Dough Improver (Malted Wheat Flour, Wheat Flour, Inactivated Yeast, Acerola Extract, Fungal Enzymes), Yeast (Yeast, Sorbitan Monostearate, Ascorbic Acid).

Exhibit #3
Hi Gluten Enriched Unbleached Unbromated Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Folic Acid, Enzyme), Water, Granulated Sugar, Salt, Dough Conditioner (Wheat Flour, Salt, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate (Ssl), Soybean Oil, Ascorbic Acid, L-Cysteine, Enzymes), Yeast, Cornmeal.

Exhibit #4
Enriched Wheat Flour [Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Reduced Iron, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], Water, Sugar, Yeast, Wheat Gluten, Salt, Cornmeal, Calcium Propionate & Sorbic Acid (To Preserve Freshness), Monoglycerides, Cellulose Gum, Citric Acid, Xantham Gum, Soy Lecithin.

About half of those ingredients I’m not sure anyone would call food. Hungry? How about a big serving of Calcium Propionate? It’s a toxic mold inhibitor. Umm, no thanks.

While we are the only organic bagel shop within, oh, 300 miles or so, we don’t want to freak you out and say that you must only eat our product. We only ask that you stop eating that other stuff because it isn’t food.

If It’s Not Boiled, It’s Not a Bagel

People ask us every day if we boil our bagels and the answer is “of course we do”. Often the customer will respond with a remark that those are the only ones they like or satisfied with our response, they will place an order for their favorite variety and schmear.

I will often joke with the customer and tell them that if it isn’t boiled, it isn’t a bagel. That’s just my opinion, or is it?

According to, Merriam-Webster and the Oxford dictionaries, that is a factual statement. To homogenize and paraphrase their definitions, they state that a bagel is a ring or donut-shaped roll that is first boiled and then baked.

Why do we get the question so often if it is accepted as fact? Big box bakeries and chains don’t invest in all of the specialized equipment it takes to produce an authentic bagel. They take shortcuts where they can and by removing boiling from the equation, they treat their “bagel” as they might other bread products. They place them on oiled sheet pans in rack ovens and inject a bit of steam into the oven to firm up the crust a bit.

This is very different from the boiling process. When we boil the bagel for just the right amount of time, we are setting the outside as well. However in our case, we do so to force gelatinization of the outside of the bagel and make it stronger. This strength keeps the bagel from rising in the oven too much and keeps the crumb dense and chewy. The alternative with steamed bagels produces a more bread-like crumb. Boiling produces a nicely browned crust too and unless a steamed bagel has colorings added to it, looks quite anemic.

We boil our bagels because to do otherwise is false advertisement. Steamed “bagels” are nothing but rolls with a hole in the middle. We also use organic products in our bagels but we’ll save that explanation for another day.

Whenever you crave a bagel, it is ok to ask how that bagel is prepared. Just remember, if it’s not boiled, it’s not a bagel.