Across the world, bread and bread products often make up a significant part of one’s diet. Because of the wide variety of grains, as well as different geographical regions and ethnic groups that have their own preparation techniques, there is a very wide variety of different bread products. One type is a bagel, which is distinctly different than what one would consider bread. The differences are illustrated below.
Description of each
A basic definition of bread is that it is a food prepared from a dough consisting of flour and water that is generally backed. It is one of the most popular foods and has been a staple since the beginning of agriculture. Bread can vary in the type, shape, size, and texture. It can also be leavened with additional ingredients such as sourdough microbes, chemicals, industrially produced yeast, or high-pressured aeration. Bread may also include other flavorful ingredients such as fruits, nuts, or fats.[i]
A bagel is a very specific type of bread that is dense, chewy and doughy on the inside, and sometimes has a crisp exterior. They may sometimes have poppy, sunflower or sesame seeds baked into the outer crust, but more commonly they just have a sprinkle of salt. Common dough types are made from whole grain or rye.[ii]
Bread plays such a substantial role in history that it is considered to be central to the formation of early human species. Once wheat was domesticated to enable production of bread, the cultivation of it spread across the western half of Asia, through Europe and into North Africa. The shift into agricultural lifestyles led to a change in human life, from a nomadic existence into the development of towns and eventually, cities. Artifacts used to make bread have been found in Ancient Egypt and at the time the process for leavening consisted of retaining a piece of dough to be used as a start for the next day. The Gauls and Iberians used beer form to fermentation while other areas used grape must as a source for the yeast necessary to make bread. The Greeks developed a free-standing oven used to make bread, although theirs was typically made from barley. Bread became a commodity in Greece in the 5th century and by the 2nd century different varieties were commonly available. Throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern era, bread, in many varieties, has remained a staple food. In the early 20th century, sliced bread became commercial available. It is now common to add chemicals that will speed up the production process and lengthen the shelf-life of bread.[iii]
The history of the bagel is a little bit more mysterious. The first known reference to it was in the “Community Regulations” of the city of Krakow in 1610. At the time, it was a gift given to women after childbirth. The word finds its roots in the German or Austrian German language for a term that means ‘ring’ or ‘bracelet.’ They have been available in London since the mid-19th century and were brought to the United States by Polish Jews immigrating there shortly after, especially in New York City. Bagels have been commercially available since that time.[iv]
With the preparation of bread, the doughs are typically baked, however, with some variants they may be steamed, fried or baked on an unoiled frying pan. Bread may be leavened or unleavened using ingredients such as yeast or baking soda. Other ingredients may also be added to provide different flavors, such as salt, fat, milk, eggs, spice, fruit, vegetables, nuts or seeds. The primary ingredient is flour, usually produced from wheat. A liquid must be used, such as water, a dairy product or juice. If the bread is leavened, a leavening agent must be used, such as yeast, baking powder or buttermilk and baking soda combined.[v]
There are many variants that can be used when making bread. The process for preparing bagels is much more precise. Traditional bagel dough will contain wheat flour, salt, water, and yeast for leavening. There is also commonly a sweetener added, such as barley malt, honey, or high fructose corn syrup. Bagels may or may not contain eggs, milk or butter. The ingredients are mixed together and kneaded to form the dough, which is then shaped into the traditional circle with a hold in the middle. After wards, the bagels are ‘proofed,’ or kept at a low temperature for at least 12 hours. After that, they are boiled quickly before being baked. This unique preparation leads to a distinct taste, chewiness and a shiny texture. A more modern preparation technique can be used in which the bagel is steamed inside the oven prior to baking, rather than being boiled.[vi]
The differences between bread and bagels must also mention the strong cultural significance of bread. It surpasses being an item that merely provides sustenance. Even in Paganism and early Christianity, a religion in which bread held special importance as one of the elements of the Eucharist. Throughout history, it has become a metaphor for basic necessities that are needed to survive. Many contemporary examples of this exist. For instance, a ‘bread-winner’ is the individual who provides the main economic provisions within a household. In India, a common phrase that illustrates the necessities of life is translated to mean ‘bread, cloth, and house.’ Bread has also assumed a slang connotative meaning for money.[vii]
The term bagel does not hold the same cultural significance. It may commonly be associated with the Polish Jews in the United States, but historically speaking, this role is very minor in comparison to bread.