The bagel—like pizza, egg creams, and the dirty water hot dog—is an iconic New York City food.

It’s probably true that the breadstuff has seen better days; just look around at the bagel shops of modern-day NYC and you will (mostly) find gargantuan balls of doughy fluff. But, the traditional, old-school NYC bagel is a thing of beauty.

Common knowledge holds that New York bagels taste better because of the water that goes into them. But Travel Channel host Rob Pralgo is here to debunk this common misconception. In the video above, he explains that a lot more goes into a perfectly chewy, tender, and flavorful bagel than just quality H20. Pralgo says,

“New York does have very soft water. And the general rule of thumb is, the harder the water, the tougher the bagel. But, the mineral make-up of your solution only has a tiny impact on whether your bagels turn out all tender and chewy.”

The secret lies in the fermentation process. New York bagel makers (if they’re legit, anyway) ferment their dough in wood containers overnight. During that long fermentation, the yeast is allowed to work its magic and create flavor compounds that lend the bagels their signature taste. The dough is then boiled and baked in an oven. The result? The ultimate New York bagel, complete with crispy exterior and warm, chewy inside.ferm

 

Roberta vet and bagel expert Melissa Weller explains,

“Whenever you shorten the fermentation time of a bread, you take away some of the flavor. Modern-day bagel shops shorten the process to get the product out quicker. One of the things that I like to do is retard the bagels overnight in the walk-in refrigerator before they are boiled and baked the next day. Just in doing that, you add a lot more flavor to the dough.”

Retarding is a process in which a baker uses refrigeration to control and slow down fermentation, which Pralgo and Weller both agree is the key to superior bagels.

[via Eater, Travel Channel]