A bagel is a bread product, traditionally shaped by hand into the
form of a ring from yeasted wheat dough, roughly hand-sized, which
is first boiled for a short time in water and then baked. The result
is a dense, chewy, doughy interior with a browned and sometimes
crisp exterior. Bagels are often topped with seeds baked on the
outer crust, with the traditional ones being poppy or sesame seeds.
Some also may have salt sprinkled on their surface, and there are
also a number of different dough types such as whole-grain or rye.
Bagels have become a popular bread product in the United States,
Canada and the United Kingdom, especially in cities with large
Jewish populations, many with different ways of making bagels. Like
other bakery products, bagels are available (either fresh or frozen,
and often in many flavor varieties) in many major supermarkets in
The basic roll-with-a-hole design is hundreds of years old and has
other practical advantages besides providing for a more even cooking
and baking of the dough: the hole could be used to thread string or
dowels through groups of bagels, allowing for easier handling and
transportation and more appealing seller displays.
Contrary to common legend, the bagel was
not created in the shape of a stirrup to commemorate the victory of
Poland's King Jan Sobieski over the Ottoman Turks in 1683. It was
actually invented much earlier in Krakow, Poland, as a competitor to
the bublik, a lean bread of wheat flour designed for Lent. In the
16th and first half of the 17th centuries, the bajgiel became a
staple of the Polish national diet.
There was a tradition among many observant Jewish families to make
bagels on Saturday evenings at the conclusion of the Sabbath. Due to
Jewish Sabbath restrictions, they were not permitted to cook during
the period of the Sabbath and, compared with other types of bread,
bagels could be baked very quickly as soon as it ended.
That the name originated from beugal (old spelling of Begel, meaning
bail/bow or bale) is considered plausible by many, both from the
similarities of the word and because traditional handmade bagels are
not perfectly circular but rather slightly stirrup-shaped. (This,
however, may be due to the way the boiled bagels are pressed
together on the baking sheet before baking.)
Also, variants of the word beugal are used in Yiddish and Austrian
German to refer to a round loaf of bread (see Gugelhupf for an
Austrian cake with a similar ring shape), or in southern German
dialects (where beuge refers to a pile, e.g.: holzbeuge, or
woodpile). According to the Merriam-Webster's dictionary, 'bagel'
derives from the transliteration of the Yiddish 'beygl', which came
from the Middle High German 'beugel' or ring, which itself came from
'bouc' (ring) in Old High German, similar to the Old English 'bēag'
'(ring), and 'būgan' (to bend or bow).
Similarly another etymology in the Webster's New World College
Dictionary says that the Middle High German form was derived from
the Austrian German 'beugel', a kind of croissant, and was similar
to the German 'begel', a stirrup or ring.
In the Brick Lane district and surrounding area of London, England,
bagels, or as locally spelled "beigels" have been sold since the
middle of the 19th century. They were often displayed in the windows
of bakeries on vertical wooden dowels, up to a metre in length, on
Bagels were brought to the United States by immigrant Jews, with a
thriving business developing in New York City that was controlled
for decades by Bagel Bakers Local 338, which had contracts with
nearly all bagel bakeries in and around the city for its workers,
who prepared all the bagels by hand. The bagel came into more
general use throughout North America in the last quarter of the 20th
century, at least partly due to the efforts of bagel baker Harry
Lender and Florence Sender, who pioneered automated production and
distribution of frozen bagels in the 1960s.
In modern times Canadian-born astronaut Gregory Chamitoff is the
first person known to have taken a batch of bagels into space on his
2008 Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station. His
shipment consisted of 18 sesame seed bagels.
The two most prominent styles of
traditional bagel in North America are the Montreal-style bagel and
the New York-style bagel. The Montreal bagel contains malt and sugar
with no salt; it is boiled in honey-sweetened water before baking in
a wood-fired oven; and it is predominantly either of the poppy
"black" or sesame "white" seeds variety. The New York bagel contains
salt and malt and is boiled in water prior to baking in a standard
oven. The resulting New York bagel is puffy with a moist crust,
while the Montreal bagel is smaller (though with a larger hole),
crunchier, and sweeter.
Poppy seeds are sometimes called by their Yiddish name, spelled
either mun or mon (written מאָן) which is very similar to the German
word for poppy, Mohn, as used in Mohnbratchen. The traditional
London bagel (or beigel as it is spelled) is harder and has a
coarser texture with air bubbles.