In our Taste Test series, BA editors conduct blind comparisons to discover the best supermarket staples (like vanilla ice cream or frozen pizza). Today, which supermarket bagel is worth buying? And if you’re wondering which not-supermarket bagels are worth buying, we have lots of thoughts on that too: Swing by the Great Bagel Boom, where we’re celebrating the vast expanses of bagel culture across America.
Bagels, like people, come in many shapes, sizes, and densities. But unlike people, some bagels are just innately better than others. Hold on. I have just been informed that I’ve been named poet laureate for those two opening sentences! What an honor.
The ideal bagel, of course, is fresh out of the oven, with a crust that crackles, an interior with serious chew, and toastiness in every bite. Typically, these incredible bagels are found at specialty bagel shops, where bakers have perfected their recipe over years or, if you’re lucky, generations.
The thing is, these idyllic bagel spaces are not always accessible, and that’s where the supermarket bagel comes in. Supermarket bagels are distinctly not bagel shop bagels, and comparing the two will only leave you distraught. For one, the crust on a bagel shop bagel, created by boiling before baking, is much more substantial than that of the supermarket bagel, which is often merely steamed before the baking process. Sugar often makes an appearance in supermarket bagels as its hygroscopic qualities can help maintain freshness, but it’s noticeably absent from many bagel recipes, which could account for the difference in taste. Supermarket bagels also have to stave off staleness for weeks at a time, which means they’re usually made with preservatives.
But the bagels you can find in bread aisles across the country have their own distinct charm, and there’s something about their springy textures and delicate wheaty flavor that make them, well, loveable. Perhaps supermarket bagels were your family’s Sunday morning staple—a pile of sliced, toasted bagels in the center of the table, as everyone reached for peanut butter or jelly or Nutella. Or maybe they remind you of rushing out the door to catch the schoolbus, cream-cheesed bagel in hand. However you enjoyed them, supermarket bagels are delicious in their own nostalgic right.
To find the best supermarket bagel, we blind-taste-tested five popular brands, judging toasted and untoasted versions on their texture, smell, and taste. Popular classic brands like Thomas’ went toe to toe with relatively newer supermarket bagel contenders like Dave’s Killer Bread. And the results? Shocking, if I do say so myself. Without further ado, here’s how five popular brands stacked up.
All Out Abysmal: Trader Joe’s
The ingredients: unbleached enriched flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, sugar; contains 2% or less of salt, wheat gluten, cultured dextrose (to preserve), monocalcium phosphate, wheat starch, yeast, distilled vinegar, enzymes, monoglycerides