I-ATE Food Term of the Week: Bagel


The bagel is undoubtedly one of the most delicious types of brunch food around the world.

Bagels are soft, round rolls with a hole in the middle, which makes them resemble doughnuts. What makes them unique is the fact that they are first boiled and then baked in the oven.

The bagel is a type of bread of Jewish origins, very popular in the United States, where it is eaten mainly for brunch. However, you can see them at any time of the day walking through New York City, where they are sold by street vendors, covered with poppy seeds or sesame seeds, which give them an aromatic flavour and a crunchy note. Freshly-made bagels are warm and fragrant and, together with pretzels, they are a delicious snack if you find yourself walking with a pit in your stomach. They are often filled with cold meats, cheese and vegetables, just like a regular sandwich.

The etymology of the word bagel

The etymology of this word is connected to the history of the Jewish communities of Poland and to the shape of the bread.

The word bagel derives from the transliteration of the Yiddish בייגל (beygl), which came from the Middle High German böugel or ring, which itself came from bouc (ring) in Old High German, similar to the Old English bēag (ring) and būgan (to bend, bow).

The history of the bagel

The traditional savoury bagels, which are the most famous sandwiches in New York, are a typical Jewish food whose origins trace back to six centuries and are still disputed.

During the 14th century, German communities migrated towards east and settled down in Poland, where they brought their pretzels with them. The doughy pastries, which originated in German monasteries, developed into a ring-shaped bread with a hole in the middle, called obwarzanek. At first, obwarzanek were prepared during Lent, a religious feast in which Christians offer a small sacrifice up to God. In addition, they were much appreciated by Queen Jadwiga, who was the first female monarch of the Kingdom of Poland.

According to another yet popular theory, a baker from Wien, in Austria, accidentally invented the bagels in 1683. He prepared these delicious rolls as a tribute to the King of Poland, Jan Sobieski III, who saved Austria from Turkish conquest. The dough was shaped into a circle and called a “beugel“, which is Austrian for “stirrup” since the king’s favourite hobby was horseback riding.

From then on, the bagels became more and more popular. In Poland, they were given as gifts to women in childbirth. The ring shape symbolised the cycle of life and represented a wish to produce a healthy baby. Bagels then arrived in the United States with the beginning of mass migrations in the twentieth century, landing in America with many Eastern European immigrants.

How to eat bagels

As already mentioned, bagels are typical products of Poland, but now they are spread in many countries of the world. Besides their ring shape, another peculiarity of bagels is their versatile taste, which allows them to be stuffed with either salty or sweet preparations and seasonings. Thus, with bagels one can prepare small sweet or savoury snacks or complement dishes for lunch or dinner.

The two great classic pairings are: peanut butter and fruit jelly or smoked salmon and spreadable cheese. However, in recent years the variations have become almost endless. The only rule to follow is to provide a mild and creamy sauce that softens the crumb of the bread.

Ring-shaped breads have a long history in other countries, too: Italy has taralli and ciambelle, China has girde and Russia has bubliki.


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Merriam Webster. 2021. Bagel. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bagel. [Accessed 9 July 2021].

Online Etymology Dictionary. 2021. Origin and meaning of bagel. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.etymonline.com/word/bagel. [Accessed 09 July 2021].

theatlantic. 2021. The Secret History of Bagels – The Atlantic. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/03/the-secret-history-of-bagels/6928/. [Accessed 09 July 2021].

Wikipedia. 2021. Bagel – Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagel. [Accessed 09 July 2021].


Written by Maria Carmen Staiano, Schuman Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit. She holds a Bachelor’s in Linguistic and Cultural Mediation and a Master’s in Specialized Translation at the University of Naples “L’Orientale”. She has experience in translation technologies, project management and localisation.