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By Mike Muroff

Residents of New York City have long touted the superiority of their bagels over alternatives in other regions of the United States. Morgan Cutolo of Reader’s Digest writes, “the Empire state is most famous for… their crunchy-yet-chewy bagels” and that “they [other bagel shops] can never make them [bagels] quite like New York does.”[1] Indeed, the history of bagel-making stretches far back in New York to the arrival of Eastern European Jews in the late nineteenth century. Ever since, bagels have remained a fixture of the New York, hustle-and-bustle, deli-style cuisine. Many have attributed the secret to the New York bagel success story not to the ingredients like flour and yeast but to the water itself. Cutolo writes, “the chemical makeup of water affects the gluten in the dough”—essentially crediting the highly regarded New York water to the bagels’ first-order taste.[2] Some bagel shop owners have taken this theory to the extreme by importing water from New York City to other parts of the United States, as one bagel shop in Florida did in 2010.[3] It is safe to say, then, that this theory of local water being the source of New York’s bagel success has significant traction. 

My analysis exploits the water quality data gathered in response to 311 non-emergency calls made in regard to water quality issues in New York City. The independent variable in my analysis is the number of complaints made by zip code in New York City as a proxy for water quality (i.e., more complaints considered less desirable water quality). The dependent variable, on the other hand, is gathered by Brooklyn’s own Mike Varley from everythingiseverything.nyc, who rated over two hundred bagel shops in New York City using a sophisticated scoring rubric to assess the quality of bagels from 0 – 5 bagels (or stars). 

After running a multiple regression experiment on the data that I gathered from Mike Varley and other public, private, and non-profit sources, I found that there is no statistically significant relationship between water constitution and bagel quality; that is, there is no causal effect assessed in this experiment of water constitution on the quality of bagels in New York City by zip code. This experiment was completed after carefully stringing together a dataset that included nearly 19,331 complaints made through 311 non-emergency calls in regard to water quality and merging that with nearly 218 bagel ratings all within New York City by zip code. After controlling for Jewish peoples, median income, and population, all by zip code, I arrived at a coefficient value of -.00008, which can be interpreted as every one-complaint increase in the number of calls made in regard to water quality within a particular zip code results in a -.00008 decrease in overall bagel rating stars. Though I cannot entirely dismiss the notion that New York City tap water is the main contributing factor for superior bagels, I can dismiss the notion that water quality has a causal effect on bagel quality based on the results of my experiment. Absent of any existing dataset that includes the mineral hardness and chemical contents germane to baking bagels, I cannot conclude that mineral hardness has any causal effect on bagel quality. More research and data would need to be completed and compiled to truly debunk the New York City bagel mystery. 


[1] Cutolo, Morgan, “Here’s Why Bagels Are So Much Better in New York,” Reader’s Digest, February 28, 2023

[2] Cutolo, Morgan, “Here’s Why Bagels Are So Much Better in New York,” Reader’s Digest, February 28, 2023

[3] “Florida Bagel Shop, Pizzeria Spar Over NYC Water,” CBS New York, October 26, 2010 https://www.cbsnews.com/newyork/news/florida-bagel-shop-pizzeria-spar-over-nyc-water/

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