Bagels: Doughnuts with Rigor Mortis?

In the realm of baked goods, few treats have achieved the level of culinary ubiquity and admiration as bagels. Often referred to as “doughnuts with rigor mortis,” bagels are much more than their playful moniker suggests. Join us as we explore the fascinating history, unique characteristics, and enduring appeal of these beloved circular breads.

A Bite of History

Bagels boast a history as rich and diverse as the fillings they cradle. Their origins can be traced back to Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, where they were known as “bajgiel” in Yiddish. The distinctive circular shape is said to have been inspired by the stirrup of a horse’s saddle, a nod to their equestrian roots.

Crossing the Atlantic

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Jewish immigrants brought bagels to America, where they were first introduced in New York City. It wasn’t long before these chewy, boiled-then-baked bread rings captured the hearts and appetites of New Yorkers and spread like wildfire across the nation.

The Bagel-Making Process

What sets bagels apart from their bread counterparts is the unique preparation method. Bagel-making involves a distinctive series of steps that give these round wonders their characteristic chewiness and flavor.

The Boiling Crucible

After the dough is shaped into rings, the bagels undergo a brief yet crucial step: boiling. They are submerged in simmering water, often enriched with malt or honey, for a short time. This process is what gives bagels their dense, chewy texture and contributes to their glossy, golden-brown crust.

The Bake-Off

Following their hot water bath, bagels are baked to perfection. The high-temperature bake is responsible for the crispy exterior and soft, slightly sweet interior. The result is a delightful contrast of textures that makes each bite a journey of flavors and sensations.

Bagels vs. Doughnuts

The comparison between bagels and doughnuts, humorously referred to as “doughnuts with rigor mortis,” highlights both their similarities and differences. While they share a circular shape, the similarities mostly end there.

A Tale of Sweet vs. Savory

Doughnuts are sweet treats, often glazed or filled with sugary delights. In contrast, bagels are savory, perfect for holding a variety of fillings like cream cheese, smoked salmon, or a classic bacon and egg combination.

Texture Matters

The texture of these two beloved treats couldn’t be more different. Doughnuts are soft and tender, while bagels embrace their chewy, hearty nature. It’s this unique texture that sets bagels apart and makes them the ideal choice for a satisfying meal.

A World of Varieties

Bagels come in an array of flavors and toppings to suit every palate. From the classic plain and everything bagels to cinnamon raisin, sesame, and onion, there’s a bagel for every taste bud. Toppings like seeds, herbs, and even cheese can add an extra layer of flavor and texture.


While the comparison between bagels and doughnuts may be lighthearted, it’s clear that bagels are a category of their own in the world of baked goods. Their history, unique preparation, and versatility make them a beloved staple in breakfast and brunch culture.

So, the next time you savor a fresh, chewy bagel slathered with your favorite toppings, remember that bagels are more than just “doughnuts with rigor mortis.” They are a testament to the enduring appeal of simple, delicious, and culturally rich foods that have stood the test of time.

Whether you prefer them plain, seeded, or generously filled, bagels are a culinary treasure that continues to bring comfort and satisfaction to breakfast tables around the world.

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