Rolls of hon­our: our bagel taste test

They were once a Jewish sta­ple. Now bagels are ev­ery­where and avail­able in a huge num­ber of va­ri­eties. But which are tasti­est? Vic­to­ria Pr­ever con­ducts a sur­vey

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features 23 -

SOME CALL IT a bagel, some a beigel, but it is hard to imag­ine life with­out this dough­nut shaped, chewy, boiled-bread roll. The very first bagel was sup­pos­edly pro­duced in 1683, by a Pol­ish Jewish baker as a trib­ute to the King of Aus­tria for pro­tect­ing his na­tion against Turk­ish in­va­sion. Its shape was said to be mod­elled on a Ger­man rid­ing stir­rup called a “bugel”.

The ver­ity of this tale is ques­tion­able as, in 1610, reg­u­la­tions in Krakow stated that “beygls” be given as gifts to women in child­birth. The ring shape was said to sym­bol­ise life. Mod­ern day wives might not be too im­pressed with a bagel af­ter 48 hours of labour.

In the 1880s, East­ern Euro­pean im­mi­grants took their “beygls” with them to the USA. How like us Jews to take a snack. Its name was Amer­i­can­ised to “bagel” and a Union of Bagel Bak­ers formed to en­sure stan­dards were main­tained. Bagel recipes were fiercely guarded.

It was not un­til the 1960s that the Thompson Bagel Ma­chine was de­vel­oped, mak­ing 200–400 bagels an hour.

Thompson claimed: “I was born to in­vent a bagel ma­chine. My fa­ther” — clearly a ro­man­tic chap — “was think­ing about a bagel-mak­ing ma­chine when I was con­ceived.”

As our her­itage clearly qual­i­fies us to judge a good bagel, the JC’s crack bagel tast­ing team were given the vi­tal job of judg­ing the rolls. Eight plain bagels were tasted blind and scored on taste and tex­ture.

As well as the high street brands — Wait­rose, Sains­bury’s, Tesco and Marks & Spencer, the widely avail­able New York Bagel brand was in­cluded, as well as a se­lec­tion of kosher bak­ery prod­ucts — from Tem­ple For­tune’s Daniel’s, Gold­ers Green’s Carmelli and the his­toric East Lon­don Brick Lane Beigel Bak­ery. Our judges marked a se­lec­tion of flavoured bagels — from su­per­mar­ket and tra­di­tional bak­eries as well as a healthy Food Doc­tor ver­sion.

With one sur­pris­ing ex­cep­tion, the su­per­mar­ket bagels could not com­pete.

The panel were par­tic­u­larly damn­ing of Sains­bury’s or­ganic ver­sion, which at­tracted com­ments like “deeply un­pleas­ant”, “card­board with a hole”, “taste­less” and “like car­pet”. Un­sur­pris­ingly, this was the bot­tom ranked bagel.

The Wait­rose and Marks & Spencer ver­sions were 6th and 7th, with both la­belled “bor­ing”, “too dry” and “bland”.

Un­ex­pect­edly, the New York bagel was in joint fourth place with Carmelli’s of­fer­ing — a shocker for Carmelli.

In an­other e mbar r a s s - ment for the kosher bak­eries, Daniel’s could only man­age third place, al­though it was praised as be­ing “firm” and “tasty”. The run­ner-up was a huge sur­prise and should have the kosher bak­eries hang­ing their heads in shame. It was the Tesco ver­sion, which the panel found “much more like it”, “chewy in a good way” — but also “bland”.

The win­ner — by a long dis­tance — was the Brick Lane bagel. The judges were al­most unan­i­mous in judg­ing it best. One judge ex­claimed: “At last some­thing with taste”, while more than one praised if for be­ing “firm and tasty”.

In the flavoured bagel cat­e­gory, the kosher bak­eries per­formed bet­ter.

Show­ing that we are a tra­di­tional bunch, the favourite was Carmelli’s onion bagel, fol­lowed by its se­same ver­sion. M&S man­aged third place with its caramelised onion and poppy seed ef­fort. In­ter­est­ingly, the Food Doc­tor high bran and seed man­aged fourth place, beat­ing the Carmelli wholegrain.

Bot­tom per­form­ers were the New York cin­na­mon and raisin and Wait­rose cin­na­mon, ap­ple and raisin bagels, in part due to more than one judge re­fus­ing to try them.

This poll in­di­cates that if you are not near to the Brick Lane Beigel Bak­ery, Tesco may be the best bet for your bagel fix.

PHOTO: ZEKE BLITZ

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