Hunting for a Healthier Bagel

By Mat Probasco | January 11, 2018
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The Ancient Grain Bagel and the Chia Seed Bagel.
The Ancient Grain Bagel and the Chia Seed Bagel. Photo courtesy of Zaros Bakery

Eating a bagel is like downing a bowl of Skittles, a fitness zealot once told me. One bagel equals six slices of bread, others say. Whether or not those are overstatements, most nutritionists would agree New York's iconic ring of breaded calories could slim down a little. Enter baking consultant Mark Fiorentino.

Fiorentino has created healthier cookies and other baked goods around the city, removing gluten and replacing white sugar with coconut sugar from the Philippians and Indonesia. He joined the research and development team at Zaro's Family Bakery, given the title Chief Bread Guy. He and Michael Zaro, the bakery's chief operations officer, set about making a healthier bagel.

They came away with two to start with: The Ancient Grain Bagel and the Chia Seed Bagel.

“For the Ancient Grain, I use a sprouted whole wheat flour. The benefit to the sprouted wheat is that it's more easily digested, easier on the system, and you can get more nutrients out of sprouted flour than if it was just straight up whole wheat, due to the sprouting process,” Fiorentino said.

Sprouted wheat is just what it sounds like. The kernels of wheat had just begun to sprout when it was milled into flour.

“They'd just opened up, and they'd just started to germinate and grow, then they're dried and ground just like flour. By doing that, it that releases more of the nutrients that make it more readily available to your digestive system, and thus more easily digested,”  he said. “In order to offer a little more texture and lean a little more to the healthier side, I added whole einkorn to the dough. Einkorn is a non-GMO ancient grain wheat berry. It gives you a little something more to bite into rather than just a fancier whole wheat bagel.”

They've also sweetened the bagel with honey and a little malt rather than refined, granulated, white sugar.

The Chia Seed Bagel uses New York State whole wheat flour and New York State half-white flour, grown, milled, and packaged by Farmer Ground Flour in Trumansburg, New York.

The Ancient Grain Bagel and the Chia Seed Bagel.
The Ancient Grain Bagel and the Chia Seed Bagel. Photo courtesy of Zaros Bakery

“We are blending that with some of our white flour that we pretty much put in everything because the nature of those flours are such that they're a little inconsistent. While they have a strong protein content, their gluten isn't of the best quality, so I do need to have something to kind of carry them, and to give the shape and the structure of a bagel. I'm running about 40 percent of those two whole wheat flours combined to 60 percent of white flour. Also, I'm putting chia seeds in there. That seems to be one of the things that people look for in a healthy product today, the benefit of the chia seed, which is rich in omega-3 and all that. Again, we sweetened that bagel with malt and honey, no refined cane sugar,” Fiorentino said.

The honey and malt are a lower glycemic index sweetener than white sugar.

“That was just from me and Mike Zaro throwing ideas around and saying, 'OK, how can we make a bagel healthier?',” he said

There was no chance to go gluten free as the protein is a vital part of what gives bagels their structure and consistency.

“I thought, OK, I don't know if we can go totally gluten-free at a massive bakery like Zaro's, but can we make our bagel healthier? Michael was right on board with it. Then we started tinkering. All of us seemed to like the flavors coming out of these two. So, that's where we stopped. We're pushing those and, hopefully, if they get some good traction, I can keep tinkering and come out with some more,” Fiorentino said.

Future options could include a return to his experiments with coconut sugars, although price and availability have made it a difficult commodity to procure.

“It's a wonderful product. Certain types of it you can almost go one-for-one on white sugar. Not exactly, but almost. The glycemic index is much lower,” he said. “I think it's just a healthier product. It's still refined because there's no way you're going to get at it without refining it. Its nature is such that it can be a little bit healthier for one's body. And then we were working with things like coconut flour, coconut syrup, it takes on so many different forms. I was actually amazed and I learned a ton. It was a great learning experience at that bakery. Hopefully, I can have some of that transfer over to the fully glutenized product that we're selling at Zaro's, but maybe I can make it a little easier on the stomach and maybe a little healthier along the way as well.”


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