10 Things You Didn’t Know About Bagels

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A bagel is a whole lot more than a round roll with a hole in the middle
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Real bagels, like real pretzels, are briefly boiled before heading to the oven.

Any bagel lover will tell you that comparing a well-made bagel to a regular old roll is like comparing caviar to canned tuna. A roll is just some bread with a crust on it, while a bagel — a real bagel, not one sold next to the English muffins at the supermarket — is a true work of culinary art. There’s much more to a great bagel than meets the eye, so come along and learn 10 things you probably didn’t know about this legendary baked good.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Bagels (Slideshow)

First of all, let’s get one thing out of the way. When it comes to bagels, there are two very different variations: the mass-produced ones wrapped in plastic on grocery store shelves (think Lender’s), and the real ones, made from scratch in bagel shops and sold (if you’re lucky) still piping hot. The former are, unfortunately, how most of us are introduced to bagels, and the latter are (also unfortunately) found mostly in the New York metropolitan area and a few scattered hotspots throughout the country. But if you ever find yourself in a place with great handmade bagels, don’t pass up the opportunity to try one.

A great bagel is denser than your average roll, slightly chewy, with some tug when you bite into it; the exterior is well-browned, shiny, and even crisp. It should taste malty and possibly slightly sweet (especially the Montreal-style bagel, made with honey), and any additions, from cinnamon and raisin on the inside to poppy or sesame seeds or dried onion or garlic on the outside, shouldn’t overwhelm that essential flavor. And if your bagel comes from a classic bagel shop (meaning that it’s been freshly-baked and is ideally still warm), then toasting it should be a serious no-no.

There are few savory baked goods more delicious than a hot bagel, right out of the oven. If you find yourself in an old-fashioned bagel shop, the first question you should ask is “What’s hot?” Spring for one of those (it won’t cost you much!), eat it right out of the bag, and you’ll see what all the fuss is about. Yes, bagels are high in carbohydrates, but when topped with a schmear of cream cheese and some thinly sliced smoked salmon, and maybe washed down with a mimosa or two, there are few more delicious ways to start off a weekend morning. But behind this delicious breakfast is a long and storied history, and we bet that there are a whole lot of things you didn’t know about this humble and storied baked good.

Its First Mention Dates Back to 1610

The bagel was invented in Krakow, Poland, and was a staple of the Polish diet in the 1500s and 1600s. The first written mention of the bagel (spelled “bajgiel”) comes from the 1610 Krakow “city regulations,” which states that bagels were a popular gift for women in childbirth. The earliest appearance of the word in English, spelled as we now spell it, on the other hand didn't come until 1932.

Its Name Has a Very Lengthy History

The word bagel has a fairly lengthy etymology. The word apparently derives from the Yiddish beygel, which in turn can be traced to words in Middle and Old High German and Old English. The word's ancestors in various languages include būgan, bēagböugel, and beygl, all of which mean approximately the same thing: “ring.”

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