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Bagelgate: Are Ray’s NY Bagels Really Boiled?

Ray's NY Bagel'sMrConsumer is a native New Yorker and knows there is nothing like a New York bagel. In part, real New York bagels are boiled before they are baked. And many bakers there claim it is the New York water that makes them special. Even the New York Times just last week said:

Water has long been part of New York’s bagel mythology. The city’s tap water is particularly low in magnesium and calcium, which makes it “soft,” in water speak. But bakers can adjust their dough for a boil in soft or hard water to achieve the desired effect.

The typical frozen bagels you get in the supermarket are round and have a hole in the middle, but other than that, they are generally a very poor imitation of a real bagel. One brand, however, for the past two decades has tried to distinguish itself as being the real McCoy — Ray’s New York Bagels — because they are kettle-boiled in New York water.

Ray's NY Bagels website
Ray's water    Website screenshots as of March 9, 2021    

Since they were on sale two weeks ago in the Boston area, MrConsumer decided to try Ray’s and stocked up buying four packages. I did notice that nothing on the package said they were boiled (unlike the package above shown on their website) but there was still a small mention about New York water on the back of the new bag.

Ray's NY Bagels currently

While each bagel is a good size and tasty, I frankly didn’t notice any texture difference compared to typical prepackaged fresh supermarket bagels such as Thomas’ or store brands. There was no shiny crust, and while dense, they were not extra chewy inside.

*MOUSE PRINT:

After not getting an answer to an email inquiry, I called Ray’s in New York to ask if they were still being boiled. The man who answered the phone said they were not. Ah ha, I knew it.

To get to the “crust” of the matter concerning bagelgate, I spoke to Jared Bell, now the third-generation owner of Bagels by Bell, LTD in Brooklyn. He is in a co-venture with Ray’s New York Bagels (of Massachusetts) to produce and distribute Ray’s. Jared confirmed that they no longer boil their bagels, but instead have developed a secret process that simulates boiling so well that most people can’t tell the difference (except you know who). He also said that the website was about to be updated.

So, while Ray’s may be the best frozen bagel on the market, its “kettle-boiled” claim to fame is now half-baked.

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11 thoughts on “Bagelgate: Are Ray’s NY Bagels Really Boiled?”

  1. How convenient that the website is “…about to be updated…” when you talk to someone on the phone. This is a pretty glaring issue. Whilst I can understand they share some benefit in that their packaging doesn’t refer to them as boiled, this is still a little on the devious side.

    I would also venture a guess that the switch to a non-boiled bagel is entirely based on cost savings. Pre-boiling the bagels adds a lot of time into the cooking process. I also would guess that if it were possible to “simulate” boiling, someone else would have figured it out.

  2. The secret process may be as simple as spraying steam or fine water on the bagels as they are baked in a tunnel oven. This is how Portuguese and Italian rolls get their crust.

  3. You must not really have tried Thomas’s Bagels. If you had, you would have immediately seen they are more like bread than bagels, and if Ray’s were like that, you would have been deeply disappointed.

  4. It’s almost lunchtime, and all this talk is making me crave a bagel! I might have to drive to Brookline and visit my favorite fresh bagel haunt since I was in college – Kupel’s! It seems that a good, fresh bagel that’s local might be a better bet (though more expensive).

    Edgar replies: I have not been to Kupel’s in YEARS. Somehow, though, I wasn’t in love with their bagels.

    • Mary… Last spring, I used the $5 off $10 offer from AMEX and got a baker’s dozen from Katz’s. Certainly better than any supermarket bagel, but they were a little small. In recent years, I have had a NY friend bring me “Brooklyn Bagels” sesame bagels on 8th Avenue at about 24th Street in Manhattan. They are HUGE — 7 to 8 ounces each…. and just wonderful. Don’t know if they survived the pandemic.

  5. Seems like the packaging needs to be changed.

    I like bagels.

    I do like Trader Joe’s Pretzel bagels..

  6. I used to work (back in the ’90s) with a woman who was originally from New York & complained that she couldn’t get a decent bagel here in the PNW. She also said it was the water. I personally don’t get the love, bagel’s are too doughy/chewy for my taste.

  7. I sympathize! As a native New Yorker (Long Island) now living in North Carolina, I was excited to learn that a local bagel shop was opening and touting real New York bagels. They don’t have the chew a NY bagel is famous for, let alone the right density. Side note: there are people who have tried them and swear they’re the best bagels ever. It’s probably a good thing they don’t know what they’re missing.

  8. Late to this party, but I’m a native NY-er displaced in New England for decades. Even bagels in NYC aren’t the way they used to be – I eat them all the time – a market near me gets them driven up every day from well known bagel shops in NYC. They are softer now than they were 50+ years ago. My parents’ generation used to call bagels “cement doughnuts” for a reason. They were much harder back then than now. As a kid in the 1960s I used to watch them boiling in the window of a local bagel shop in the Bronx. So there’s really no “authentic” bagel left anymore. Somewhere along the line people decided they liked their bagels softer and after a few decades few people anywhere remembered what they used to be like. Except you know who.

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