Of all the foods and topics we discuss here at The Nosher, we know that BAGELS are one of the most beloved — and controversial.
Whether it’s New York-style bagels or Montreal-style bagels, to scoop or not to scoop, toast or not, and what kind of cream cheese (or egg salad or lox) goes on top, you guys have some strong feelings. And we do, too.
Nothing is quite as important as the FLAVOR, so we set out to rank America’s most popular types of bagels based on our own tastes, your opinion via Facebook, and also some actual, like journalistic-style research, too. (Yup, we even picked up the phone for this one.)
According to Goldberg’s Famous Deli in MIllburn, NJ, plain and everything are by far the most popular flavors, with cinnamon raisin trailing in third. On average they make at least double the amount of plain and everything bagels in their deli compared to the other flavors. Jim from Goldberg’s also shared with me that while Russian pumpernickel and marbled rye are two of the least popular flavors, they are two of the best tasting bagels you will find. And many of our staff members agreed: While pumpernickel may be the red-headed ugly stepsister of bagels, it is definitely delicious.
But we wanted to go beyond the New York tri-state region in our research, so we also called up Meshuggeh Bagels, which has three locations in both Kansas and Missouri, and they concurred: Plain and everything are also the most popular flavors, with sesame in third place. Like Goldberg’s Famous Deli, they make about double the amount of these flavors daily. And the least favorites? Poppy seed and whole wheat, two somewhat surprising choices. I guess mid-Westerners are not into pretending whole wheat bagels are healthy. Side note: Meshuggeh Bagels features a “Dirty Martini” cream cheese flavor among their schmear selection. Bagels and martinis anyone? But I digress.
So here is the official ranking. Talk amongst yourselves, we know you guys have a lot to say on this one.
You can’t go wrong with a plain bagel and cream cheese. Classic. Delicious. You can pile high flavored cream cheese in sweet or savory flavors, lox and tomatoes, or make it into a sandwich. Plain bagels are also the ideal vehicle for pizza bagels, a particular favorite childhood treat for me.
Everything and plain bagels are basically tied for the most popular flavors, though I am going to rank everything just slightly underneath plain for two reasons: 1) versatility and 2) stinky breath factor. With a plain bagel, you could add a sweet cream cheese or make it into any sandwich your heart desires. And of course, while the crunch and flavor of an everything bagel is divine, it will require you to check your teeth carefully for seeds and maybe even rinse with some mouthwash so as not to offend basically anyone you come into contact with post-bagel noshing.
3. Cinnamon Raisin
Cinnamon raisin may lack the versatility of a plain bagel, but it is the only acceptable sweet flavor of a bagel. And for me personally, it is the only variety of a bagel that warrants butter and toasting.
4. Sesame Seed
I personally loathe the sesame seed bagel, but there’s no arguing with its widespread popularity. People love sesame bagels with cream cheese or whitefish spread, toasted or not. It’s a beloved classic.
There is nothing quite as indulgent as a salty bagel stuffed with cool, creamy cream cheese inside. And while I know the quantity of salt can be problematic or overwhelming for some, I just brush a little of that excess salt right off. It’s my favorite.
Egg bagels, while just under the radar, have an almost cult-like following. One of our staff members feels strongly that egg bagels are the most underrated and under-appreciated variety: An egg bagel, which carries more sweetness than a plain bagel, pairs perfectly with a lox cream cheese spread, balancing both sweet and salty.
7. Whole Wheat
The whole wheat bagel is for those times when you’re like, ohhhh I really should be eating a salad, but I want a bagel so I will pretend this is healthy. Still, a good whole wheat bagel is pretty darn delicious.
Like everything, plain, sesame, and poppy bagels, onion bagels are the perfect vehicle for cream cheese, lox, and all the fixins. Onion bagels carry a similar crunch and flavor to garlic bagels, without quite the same level of offensive breath factor. And unlike an everything bagel, there’s less likelihood you will have tons of seeds stuck in your teeth.
9. Poppy Seed
Another classic flavor that is beloved by many, yet loathed by others. After all, there is a high likelihood you will be sporting some tiny black seeds in your teeth in the aftermath of consumption. Alma’s Editor Molly Tolsky shared that she loves poppy seed bagels for the focused poppy flavor — add cream cheese, lox, and tomatoes and it’s basically heaven on a plate.
You might like the garlicky crunch of these bagels, but watch out because you are going to smell for days. You should only eat garlic bagels if you are trying to ward off vampires or will be spending the weekend in hibernation.
Although pumpernickel isn’t technically one of the most popular flavors, we did think it warranted an honorable mention. Pumpernickel bagels are a little more sophisticated, a little more subtle. And so perhaps they require more than just the standard cream cheese and tomato: whitefish, pastrami, or even egg salad with fresh sliced tomato pairs perfectly.
In the mood for a good bagel and schmear now? Yeah, me too. Check out our map of where to get the best bagel in every state.