Let's Eat

Rolls of honour: our bagels 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

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 embarrassment 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.

The verdict

(Marked out of 140 by the JC’s team of testers)

1.  Brick Lane Beigel Bakery 106
2.  Tesco 74
3.  Daniel’s 70
4.  Carmelli 62
4.  New York 62
6.  Waitrose 57
7.  Marks & Spencer 51
8.  Sainsbury’s organic 33

1.  Carmelli onion 90
2.  Carmelli sesame 87
3.  Marks & Spencer onion 70
4.  Food Doctor 62
5.  Carmelli wholegrain 62
6.  New York Cinnamon and Raisin 51
7.  Waitrose Cinnamon, Apple and Raisin 40

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