The Hole Truth: Together, Bagels & the OU Have an Unbeatable Personality

There is a definite connection between New Yorkers and the New York City bagel. New Yorkers are tough and firm on the outside but gentle and caring on the inside. A real New York City bagel too, is hard and crispy on the outside but moist and chewy on the inside. New Yorkers are shiny and flamboyant on the outside but good old down-to-earth and friendly on the inside. A real New York City bagel too, is burnished and slick on the outside but mushy and snug on the inside.

New Yorkers are resilient and exhibit great determination by coming back and trying again if at first they don’t succeed. A real New York City bagel too has a rubbery texture and needs to be relentlessly chewed before swallowing. New Yorkers are the epitome of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. So too, a real New York City bagel is small, but ever so flavorful.

It’s hard to imagine that so much of New York City’s personality can be encapsulated in a bagel. But New York is not alone. Other great American cities too, such as Chicago and Boston, have etched their personalities on their bagel versions. Indeed there is hardly any other food in the world that has as much personality as the bagel. Furthermore, barring baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet, there is hardly anything more American, than the bagel. This holds true in spite of the fact that the bagel most probably originated in Poland and was brought to the shores of this country by Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the 1880’s.

As diverse as the personalities that eat them, the different ways in which bagels are manufactured will ultimately determine the personality they take on. It’s almost as if bagels are individuals and that no two bagels are created exactly alike. The reason for this is that the variations for making bagels are virtually infinite. This is especially so after the initial bagel dough is made with the traditional flour, water, yeast, oil, conditioner and malt syrup and/or sugar for sweetness.

The dough is then divided, cut and shaped. Genuine New York dough is hand rolled as opposed to machine rolled and should weigh four ounces. Needless to say, there are those that weigh much more and a few that weigh less. The size of the bagel is critical in order to determine the ratio of dough to crust. As people’s palates are different, some prefer a doughier bagel and others prefer a crunchier variety.

After the bagel dough is formed, it is proofed or left in a warm place to rise. The temperature and amount of time of the proofing will all impact on the outcome of the final product. It is at this point that a critical juncture is reached in the manufacture of the bagels. Most commercial bakeries that are primarily concerned about the shelf life of their product continue processing the proofed and formed bagel dough by steaming it. The old fashioned way however, which is the hallmark of a genuine New York City bagel, is to deposit the proofed and formed bagel dough into a huge vat or kettle of boiling water. Although the boiled bagel will not stay fresh for as long as the steamed one, at least for the short run the boiled bagel will be far more crispy, shiny and bouncy than the steamed version. Several neighborhood bakeries still employ this traditional method of boiling the bagels.

At last, the formed, proofed, steamed or boiled bagel dough is ready to be baked. Here too there are variations in the baking that can drastically change the personality of the finished product. Most commercial bakeries bake the dough in either tunnel ovens or rotating rack ovens. The old fashioned way, which is again the hallmark of a genuine New York City bagel, is to place the dough on top of canvas covered wooden slabs or trays and bake it in a revolving shelf oven. Oven temperatures and baking times will also alter the personality of the end product.

The above provides a brief synopsis of the way real bagels are to be made. There is product to be found in the market that pretends to be bagels but is really pseudo-bagels, because it is made with shortcuts by bypassing one or more of the aforementioned steps. One case in point is when the dough is immediately baked in the oven without either being steamed or boiled first. The end product is shaped like a bagel and looks like a bagel, but is not a bagel at all.Anyone eating this pseudo- bagel will immediately recognize the difference between it and the real thing. This pseudo-bagel has hardly any crust, is not at all crunchy and needs very little jaw to chew it. In short, it hasn’t the personality of a real bagel.

I am reminded of a small neighborhood bakery that made pseudo-jelly donuts. Real donuts have their dough fried. This neighborhood bakery had no capacity for frying. It then pretended to make jelly donuts by taking small dinner rolls that it had baked and coating them with confectioner’s sugar while injecting them with jelly. In effect, this pseudo-jelly donut was really bread filled with jelly.

For kosher consumers this is important, since bread is treated differently from cakes and donuts in Jewish law. Many kosher consumers, as mandated by Jewish law, recite a benediction over food before and after indulging. Different benedictions are recited depending upon the category of the food. Accordingly, bread has a different benediction than cake and pastry. Therefore the pseudo-jelly donuts, that are really bread, need to have recited over them the bread benediction as opposed to the cake benediction. Another important distinction between bread and cake as it relates to kosher dietary law, is that cakes can be kosher certified even when they contain dairy ingredients. In stark contrast, bread cannot be certified kosher if it contains dairy ingredients.This is because that bread, as a main food staple, can readily find itself available for either a dairy or meat meal.As a necessary precaution to avoid eating dairy bread at a meat meal, which is in violation of kosher law, the bread must be pareve.

It has been rumored that there is one personality trait that all bagels have that they are all kosher. This misconception stems from the fact that historically Jewish immigrants introduced bagels to New York’s Lower East Side. However, nothing could be further from the truth; it must be stated unambiguously that not all bagels are kosher. In order for bagels to have a kosher personality, they must be certified by a reputable kosher agency.

The reasons why bagels are not inherently kosher and must require kosher supervision are many. First and foremost, there are several ingredients that can potentially be not kosher, including oils and shortenings, dough conditioners/ improvers, flavors, emulsifiers, enzymes and certain yeast, raisins, spices and sweeteners.

Additionally, bagels are categorized as bread as far as kosher dietary law is concerned. Therefore, they cannot be certified kosher if they contain any dairy ingredients, as this would constitute dairy bread. There are many popular flavored bagels that are dairy and as such, cannot be certified kosher. Among them are cheddar and asiago bagels that contain real cheddar and asiago cheese respectively. Although there exist kosher acceptable varieties of cheddar and asiago cheese, the existence of these dairy ingredients disqualifies these flavored bagels from becoming kosher certified.The only way a cheddar and asiago bagel can become kosher, is if they use an imitation kosher pareve certified cheddar or asiago flavor instead of real cheese.

Pesto, or Italian sauce flavored bagels, are another popular variety that present a challenge to kosher certification. This is because real pesto, according to the original Italian recipe that claims its roots from the city of Genoa, calls for the addition of cheese as an ingredient. Once again then, this would result in a dairy bagel, which is precluded from kosher certification. There are however, vegan versions of the pesto recipe that are kosher pareve certified.These can be used instead to make the pesto bagel. Since most pesto is dairy, purchasing and receiving must remain vigilant to make sure that the pesto being used in the bagel is checked at all times so that it matches its kosher pareve approved status.

Chocolate chip bagels have also recently gained celebrity status. Here too since the preponderance of chocolate chips are dairy, many chocolate chip bagels would not be able to be kosher certified because of the dairy bread status. Notwithstanding, there are plenty of chocolate chips that are acceptable as kosher pareve.Any of these can be used in order to make a kosher certified chocolate chip bagel. Once again, purchasing and receiving must always remain alert to the proper pareve status of the chocolate chips.

One more area that needs to be carefully monitored, especially when it comes to bagels, is the yoshan status for some bagel products. Kosher dietary law makes certain provisions for the consumption of products that contain flour from wheat, barley, oats, rye, and/or spelt. An elevated level of kosher that falls into this category is called “yoshan.” The word in Hebrew means “old.” This was adopted from a provision that kosher law makes to only consume any of the aforementioned five grains that were harvested before the second day of Passover. Hence, any of these five grains harvested before the second day of Passover are branded as ‘yoshan’ or “old” since they originate from an old harvest, and those that are harvested afterwards are branded as “chadash” or “new” since they come from a more recent harvest.

This year, the second day of Passover was April 14. It follows then that any of the five aforementioned grains harvested before April 14 are yoshan, as opposed to those harvested after April 14 which are considered chadash until the second day of Passover in the year 2007, at which time they too will be considered yoshan. Translated into practical terms, this generally means that all winter grown grain meets the superior kosher status of yoshan, since it was harvested in the winter season before April 14. In contrast, spring grown grain is generally considered to be of the inferior kosher chadash status, since these were harvested after April 14.

Many bagels, as evidenced by the classic New York City bagel, take great pride in allowing for a supremely blissful chewing experience. In order to create this desired effect, it is necessary to provide high gluten flour as an essential ingredient component in the recipe.This is because high gluten flour has greater elasticity and thereby provides for a much more chewy bagel. However, most high gluten flour is derived from spring wheat and is thus considered chodash. It turns out that the high gluten spring wheat flour, which is superior for the bagel, is inferior for some kosher consumers who would only eat yoshen. Purchasing and receiving at the few bagel companies that have kosher certified yoshen bagels must take great care to ensure that they use only marked kosher certified yoshen flour to make these products.

So as we have seen, the notion that all bagels are kosher is a myth. A bagel must earn the right to have a kosher personality and especially an kosher personality. The OU is very proud to kosher certify several prominent and highly celebrated brand name bagels whose packaging bears the symbol. These include: Lender’s, Thomas’, Harlan’s, Einstein’s, Fleischer’s, Sara Lee, Bakery Counter, Dakota, Cobblestone Mill, Bell, Cottage, Pepperidge Farm, Dunkin Donuts, Brueggar’s, Petrofsky’s, Bubba’s, Lilly’s, Palagonia, Just Bagels, Bagelmania, Arnie’s, Neri’s, and Cuisine De France among others. Our offices are ready, willing and able to assist bagel manufacturers in expanding their kosher market by adding the world’s premier kosher emblem to enhance their products’ personalities. Taken together, bagels and kosher certification make a personality that can’t be beat.

OU Kosher Staff