Who makes the best bagels?

Our trained tasters tried eight plain and four ‘everything’ bagels

Consumer Reports magazine: May 2012

There’s nothing quite like a New York bagel—or is there? Although a bagel from a shop near our headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y., set the bar high, a few big brands came close.

Our trained tasters tried eight plain bagels and four with “everything”: onion, garlic, sesame seed, poppy seed, and other toppings. They also tried Thomas’ Bagel Thins, which cut calories and let you eat a bagel sandwich without unhinging your jaw. Per bagel, prices ranged from 31 cents to $1.44 (for a gluten-free bagel).

Taste. Bagels should have a slightly crispy crust, notable “pull” when bitten into (like good Italian bread), chewy innards, and a freshly baked flavor. Plain bagels from Dunkin’ Donuts (fresh), Lender’s (frozen), and Costco’s Kirkland Signature (packaged, at room temperature) and an everything bagel from Dunkin’ Donuts were all very good overall.

After rating the bagels untoasted, we toasted them and tasted again. Toasting sometimes changed the texture. Lender’s Original Plain, for example, lost some desirable chewiness, but Udi’s Gluten Free Plain improved: Its crust became less tough, and its crumbly texture became chewier. For others, toasting sometimes reduced off-flavors such as bitterness. Scroll down the page to find our Ratings.

Nutrition. It varies with size (Dunkin’ Donuts bagels were biggest; Lender’s, smallest) and with toppings (everything bagels tend to have more fat, probably from seeds). The full-sized bagels have 260 to 350 calories, usually 1 to 4.5 grams of fat, 330 to 660 milligrams of sodium, and 2 to 5 grams of fiber. Thomas’ Bagel Thins have 110 calories per bagel, 1 gram of fat, 210 milligrams of sodium, and 4 grams of fiber, more than most full-sized bagels.

If you have gluten intolerance and choose Udi’s bagels, be aware that they have far more fat, 9 grams, than most others because of the ingredients that replace wheat flour.

Topping a bagel with two tablespoons of cream cheese adds 100 calories and 10 grams of fat; an ounce of smoked salmon adds just 35 calories and 1 gram of fat.

Bottom line. Dunkin’ Donuts, Lender’s Original, and Costco are the best choices, but be careful which Lender’s you choose: Its refrigerated Bagel Shop version was just so-so. Thomas’ Bagel Thins are a decent option if you’re watching your weight, though they taste more like rolls than bagels.

Did you know?

A proper bagel isn’t just bread with a hole in the middle. It’s chewy (because of high-gluten flour) and dense (because of a low percentage of water). Malt or sugar, yeast, and salt may be added. The dough usually rests for a long time and then is most often boiled, which creates a glossy crust and helps the bagel keep its distinctive shape in the oven, where it is usually baked at temperatures higher than is used for most other breads.
Editor's Note:

A version of this article appeared in the May 2012 issue of Consumer Reports magazine with the headline "Best Bagels".

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