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Is New York City’s Water The Secret To Its Bagels?

Ah, the bagels of New York. So soft and chewy, with a full-bodied, nuanced flavor. Add a dollop of cream cheese, a shmear of dill, sprinkle on some poppyseeds and you’re in business.

So what makes them so exceptional?

One common theory is that the particular molecular combinations of New York tap water are just right for creating these boiled-then-baked masterpieces. The state of New York actually calls water from the NYC watershed “the champagne of drinking water.”

So the filthy tap water you’ve eschewed your whole life is actually some truly gourmet H2O? How?

First, New York boasts the largest unfiltered water supply system in America, from the NYC watershed in the Southeastern part of the state. It might be in need of some repairs, but the hundred-year-old system of pipes and funnels and rivers that New York water travels just to make it to New York bakeries and then New York mouths (a journey which can take anywhere from three months to twelve) is full of history and interesting chemicals. The water can pick up all sorts of interesting additives, like sulfate, radium, thorium, radon, fluorine, magnesium, lead, bromine, calcium, chlorine, bromate and chloramines.New York water is considered exceptionally “soft,” yielding sticky, squashy dough and exceptionally crunchy, chewy bagels.

One New York start-up is betting their future on exactly that. Promising to mimic “the exact hardness, molecular structure and chemical composition” of New York water, the New York WaterMaker is planning to make some pretty big changes in the restaurant game.

There’s actually a science behind all this. All the extra minerals in New York water (think magnesium and calcium) can help proteins in flour fuse together more closely, forming a stronger gluten structure, giving the dough strength and elasticity. The more minerals water has, the better the dough it is used to form will be. Theoretically, of course.

Is authentic New York food still authentic if it’s cooked with New York water but created in Texas or Sacramento? What makes a New York bagel a New York bagel? The world is about to find out.

Shira Feder is a writer for the Forward. You can reach her at [email protected]


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