What Is a Whole Wheat Bagel? (with pictures)

Melanie Greenwood
Melanie Greenwood
Wheat ears along with a small pile of wheat kernels (also known as wheat berries).
Wheat ears along with a small pile of wheat kernels (also known as wheat berries).

Whole grain bagels are available in stores, as well as in bagel shops and some coffee shops and cafes. For those interested in healthy eating, whole wheat bagels often make a good choice. A whole wheat bagel is are not always easy to recognize, however. A true whole wheat bagel is a type of bagel made out of 100 percent whole wheat flour, gets its their dark color from the bran in whole wheat rather than from additives, and has a dense, gritty texture.

Wheat berries.
Wheat berries.

Understanding what a whole wheat bagel is starts with understanding what a bagel is. All bagels are circular, yeast-risen rolls with a dense, chewy texture and a shiny, crisp crust. The shiny crust, similar to that of a pretzel, comes from the alkaline wash traditionally applied prior to baking. Bagels are often sliced before sale, so that the consumer can top them with cream cheese, jam, lox or other spreadable toppings. They can also be used to make sandwiches.

Lox is commonly served on a bagel with cream cheese.
Lox is commonly served on a bagel with cream cheese.

True whole wheat bagels are made of 100 percent whole wheat flour. Due to increased interest in whole grain products, manufacturers sometimes try to make their products look like whole wheat bagels when they really are not. The phrase “made with whole grain,” which appears on many packaged bagels, is not a reliable marker. Instead, the savvy consumer should read the ingredient list. If “enriched flour” appears, it means the bagels have been made with some refined flours and are not true whole wheat bagels.

Whole wheat bagels get their brown tinge from the bran in whole wheat flour.
Whole wheat bagels get their brown tinge from the bran in whole wheat flour.

A whole wheat bagel is a bagel that gets its dark color from the bran present in whole wheat flour. Bran — the part of a whole wheat kernel that contains most of the kernel’s fiber — is naturally light to dark brown in color. Thus, bagels made with 100 percent whole wheat will appear darker than their counterparts made from refined flour. It is important to check the ingredients of packaged bagels. Some manufacturers add molasses or caramel color to artificially darken their products.

Whole wheat bagels also have a denser, more gritty texture than their refined flour counterparts. When whole grain dough is made, the sharp edges of the grain's bran cut through dough fibers. This slightly inhibits rise and gives the finished product a dense texture. Since bran fiber is hard, bagels made from whole wheat flour also taste slightly gritty. Many people — especially health enthusiasts or those used to homemade bread — find this texture appealing.

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    • Wheat ears along with a small pile of wheat kernels (also known as wheat berries).
      Wheat ears along with a small pile of wheat kernels (also known as wheat berries).
    • Wheat berries.
      Wheat berries.
    • Lox is commonly served on a bagel with cream cheese.
      Lox is commonly served on a bagel with cream cheese.
    • Whole wheat bagels get their brown tinge from the bran in whole wheat flour.
      Whole wheat bagels get their brown tinge from the bran in whole wheat flour.