What’s the Difference Between Bagels and Doughnuts?

(Last Updated On: September 1, 2022)

If you’re aware of one, you’re going to be aware of the other. You might have convinced yourself bagels are just doughnuts that Americans wanted to have for breakfast–in the same way people joke about muffins and cupcakes or pancakes and normal cake. Americans really like eating desserts for breakfast. But are bagels just an excuse to have breakfast doughnuts? The argument might be stronger if filled bagels were more common. We’ve always just gone on vibes for doughnuts and bagels–like sandwiches–but let’s put too much thought into a small pastry. What’s the difference between bagels and doughnuts?

Further Reading: What Is the Correct Way to Spell Donut/Doughnut?

They’re Not Made the Same

The two things that have totally different tastes and textures aren’t made the exact same way? Who’d have thought? 

Alright, that wasn’t very productive. A doughnut is deep-fried in fat until it browns. Also at some point someone punched a hole into them.

Further Reading: Why Do Doughnuts Have Holes?

On the other hand, bagels don’t involve any deep frying. Bagels are still bread based, but they are boiled. After a brief swim in boiling water, bagels are baked. The boiling is what makes the middle of your bagels dense and not as floury. Baking makes them hard on the outside. With the advent of modern mass-production, steaming has become a viable alternative for boiling bagels. 

Doughnuts also date back to 1485 when the Dutch brought oil cakes with them overseas to America. On the other hand, bagels likely originated in the 17th century. They begin with Jewish communities in Poland, specifically the Ashkenazi Jews in one of the oldest cities in Poland. Something similar to bagels, obwarzanek, was common in Poland through the late 1300s. Bagels were popularized in Poland during the 16th century, and their name is derived from the Yiddish beygel (or beigel) roughly meaning “ring” or “bracelet”. 

Bagels would be popularized in the 1900s, starting in New York when Polish Jews immigrated to the states. 

Why Do Bagels Have Holes?

The origin for bagel holes is far less arbitrary than doughnut holes. They also don’t have a bunch of people trying to take credit for it. 

Ring-shaped and boiled/baked bread dates back to the 13th century in Arabic cookbooks as ka’ak (biscuit). Regional variants are as diverse as their use; some are more ceremonial, traditionally eaten during holidays or given as gifts. The obwarzanek, often seen as a bagel precursor, is made of dough strands coiled together into a spiral and ring. All of this is to say “rolling bread into a ring so there is a hole in the middle” is not a particularly novel technique–it’s been invented multiple times. We guess it makes for a less interesting narrative, though. It also has a documented purpose, many argue that bagels were threaded onto sticks or string to transport them easily or otherwise display them for market. This ring-shaped bread has been found globally, from Italy to China.

Make sure you don’t mistake your dog for a bagel here.

About the Author:

+ posts

Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.