Why Do Bagels Have Holes In The Middle? Real Reason Explained

Deepthi Reddy
Dec 21, 2022 By Deepthi Reddy
Originally Published on Oct 12, 2021
Edited by Luca Demetriou
Fact-checked by Pradhanya Rao
Round sesame bagel on yellow background.

Bagels make a delicious recipe, but have you thought, why do bagels have holes in them?

Bagels are one of the 'must try' foods, with bagel pizza, cream cheese bagels, and many more combinations to choose from. Is having holes in bagels a tradition, or does it have a genuine reason?

The mystery of why bagels have holes goes a long way back in our history. Numerous speculations and stories are trying to explain why there are holes in the middle and many fun explanations that might or might not be accurate.

Some say that the history first goes back to when a baker from Poland invented bagels in the 1600s (around four centuries ago) to celebrate the birth of the queen's son.

They were called by the word 'bajgiel' at that time. The baker honored her by mimicking the many bangles she wore and shaped the bagels that way.

The German word 'bagels' also means 'bangles', which makes this story a bit credible.

In the Jewish faith, bagels are seen as round symbols describing the ever endless circle of life and death; it is also said to fight against the evil eye. Hence, this food was also given to women in labor!

According to bakers, aside from historical stories, the shape and hole of the bagel also have a scientific meaning. Let's find out some of these reasons and understand the history of the crowd-pleasing bagel!

Do you want answers to more such exciting questions? Check out why do judges wear wigs and why do Canadians say 'eh' to gain new insight on Kidadl.

Do all bagels have holes in them?

Bagels are one of the most common foods eaten by millions around the world. They are eaten as breakfast or snacks and are available in a variety of fillings and toppings! When we imagine a bagel, we think of the traditional circular bread with an empty center.

It is not surprising that the tradition of having holes in the center of dough goes back into history for some practical reasons as well. Traditionally, all bagels have holes in them.

There is a similar polish-baked bread called bialy, but unlike bagels, it is made with leaner dough and is not boiled before it is baked. Bagels have very thick and sticky doughs as well and are especially known for being boiled in water with honey or sugar before being baked.

This unique feature of bagels gives us the glazed and perfect taste we long for! So we can say that bialy is like a sister bagel without holes.

A bagel can have big holes, like in traditional Montreal bagels, or it can have smaller holes as found in New York City. Depending on the bakers and their specialties, they can also be found with different toppings like poppy seeds, jalapenos.

The popularity found in the bagel community has led people to experiment with various different bagel recipes. Some of the most common bagel fillings is the cream cheese filling or salmon and cheese filling.

What are the reasons why bagels have holes in the middle?

It has been speculated that this history of modest bread is complex, and there could be a few reasons as to why bagels have holes in the middle.

There are some practical purposes that were helpful for the vendors to carry and sell these bagels and some other reasons relate to it getting baked and cooked better by the bakers in a bakery.

Since the bagel dough is very heavy, having a hole in the center helps it to cook and bake better and thoroughly. The hole also increases the surface area of the round bagel and helps to get the chewy exterior.

Bagels are also boiled for around a minute before baking, and hence, get more cooking time.

Another reason for bagel shapes to have holes in them is because, in ancient times, vendors used to carry the bagel on dowels for more accessible transportation and selling. Hence, having holes made this kind of transaction easier.

It is also surprising to note that bagels have different kinds of holes in different parts of the world! The Montreal bagel has a bigger hole and also uses eggs in its flour. Hence, the Montreal bagel has its unique taste.

They also come in a twisted shape. It is said that the whole-wheat bagel is one of the healthiest bagels.

It provides minerals, vitamins, and nutrients which reduce inflammation, improves digestion, and lowers cholesterol. At the same time, the white bagel, which is made from refined wheat, has fewer nutrients and loads of sugar. This one bagel can just complete half of your daily required nutrients!

What is the hole in the bagel called?

The bagel that we all are so fond of has a classic taste and texture. They also have a hole in the middle, but is there a name for that empty center? There is no specific name for the hole at the center of the bagel, as far as we know.

It is said that Polish bagels were primarily made in the Jewish community in the past. The first German immigrants moved to Poland with pretzels, and with time, those turned into a more circular-shaped bagel we know today.

As the king and queen of Poland, the powerful monarch in the 14th century, started to eat this bagel bread, it gained popularity among the masses. They were called as obwarzanek at that time, and this obwarzanek has found love in popular culture today as well!

Some also believe that the church at that time had allowed Jewish people to make bread as long as it was different from traditional Christian bread. Hence, they invented a process where the bread made from yeast was boiled and had a hole in the center and called it a bagel.

It is sometimes believed that bagel comes from the Yiddish word 'beygal' which means a 'ring' or a 'bracelet'.

Another possible theory given by historian Maria Balinska is that a chef had made bagel to honor the savior king by portraying his love of horses through a bagel shape. He made this bread circular, unlike the traditional bread, and this bagel was named after the German name for stirrup.

The hole in the middle of bagels makes it easy to cook the bagel dough evenly from the inside to the crust. The holes increase the surface area and allow the bagel to cook all the way through, and created the perfect chewy texture and crispy crust combination we desire.

Moreover, the round hole was beneficial to vendors when they sold them on poles. This made it easy for the vendors to carry them on dowels to sell them on streets and bakeries.

Bagels are relatively easy to make and use only a few ingredients like flour, water, yeast, and salt. The holes are handmade, but commercial bagels are made using machines to cut the dough into a perfect shape.

Why are bagels boiled?

Bagels, the centuries-old ring bread, are thought to be a Jewish delicacy. They have long spread all across the world, and people eat bagels for breakfasts and snacks. New York City is also known for its classic bagel! Surprisingly, the process of such a famous food item is relatively simple.

The bagel from Poland is made with just a few ingredients comprising flour or wheat flour (which might contain gluten), salt, yeast, and water. The process includes heavily kneaded dough for the perfect texture.

Boiling this dough in a round shape is the next step. They are boiled in water with honey or saccharin or the signature flavors of each bakery.

After this, this glazed and boiled bagel with a hole in it is placed in an oven to bake to the right amount for the smooth texture and delicious flavored bread. As some bakers say, if it's not boiled, it's not a bagel!

Moreover, it is said that back when Jewish people were in the Christian community in Poland, the church only allowed Jewish people to make bread under circumstances that they were entirely different from Christian bread.

Hence, the bakers created a bread that was boiled and had a hole at the center, which might give us an answer as to why we started boiling bagels.

Nonetheless, we wouldn't have these scrumptious bagels any other way!

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for why do bagels have holes, then why not take a look at why do we need elections, or why do beans make you fart?

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Written by Deepthi Reddy

Master of Business Administration

Deepthi Reddy picture

Deepthi ReddyMaster of Business Administration

With an MBA under her belt, Deepthi has discovered her true calling in content writing. Her writing repertoire is diverse, covering travel, movies, pet care, parenting, animals and birds, and more. Her joy of learning and creating has helped her craft well-written and engaging articles. When she isn't writing, Deepthi enjoys exploring new cultures, trying different foods, and spending quality time with her two children aged 7 and 12.

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Fact-checked by Pradhanya Rao

Bachelor of Commerce specializing in Marketing and HR

Pradhanya Rao picture

Pradhanya RaoBachelor of Commerce specializing in Marketing and HR

With a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce from Christ University, Bangalore, Pradhanya's passion for the English language and literature led her to explore the field of content writing, where she has gained extensive experience in writing, reviewing, editing, and fact-checking. She has also earned certifications in Google Ads Search, Google Ads Display, and Social Media Marketing, showcasing her proficiency in digital marketing.

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