By Mike Pomranz
Updated May 19, 2015

It’s fine to have the best bagels in America; but unlike, say, the best pizza, the best beer or the best legalized marijuana, no one is traveling across the country just to tour bagel country. Thus, no one has ever called Lower Manhattan “the Napa Valley of bagels”—though maybe they should. I know a nice little B&B that’s walking distance to all the hottest bagel spots. Airbnb, that is.

Regardless, there is definitely something different about the NYC bagel. But what exactly is the difference? Bagel connoisseurs have laid out many theories over the years. “Some say it’s the tap water, others say it’s the dough and a few say it’s purely attitude,” wrote Reactions, the YouTube project from the American Chemical Society, which is the latest group determined to solve the bagel mystery.

After a bit of scientific analysis of NYC’s water, Reactions turned to chef Richard Coppedge of the Culinary Institute of America to help them answer all their questions. According to Coppedge, the key are two steps some bagel makers overlook: proofing and the kettle. “Proofing” is letting the bagels chill for a couple days so the yeast can begin to ferment. “The kettle” is where bagels are boiled for a couple minutes before they’re baked.

As Reactions points out, even though New York City water is unique, other waters can be filtered to end up with similar properties. But wait, can’t other bagel makers proof and boil their bagels as well?

It seems like this mystery is still up in the air.