It's the water...really?

It has been said that you cannot duplicate true NY pizza dough or even bagels outside NYC because of the local water supply?

I’ve then heard the same thing for the Chicago deep dish pizza dough…its the water?

First…is there any truth here…really?

…and if it’s the water, can’t the mineral properties of those water sources be duplicated elsewhere…and how would you do it?

Thanks for your interest!

Baked goods are notoriously sensitive to subtle changes in ingredients. A cake recipe in the US won’t work the same in France because the eggs are different, milk is different, etc. Even two batches of flour from the same manufacturer can be different enough to affect sensitive recipes.

But I have a hard time believing that pizza dough is sensitive to the water source. Varying levels of chlorination probably could make a small difference in taste. I doubt that mineral content has much to do with it, although acidity might affect how the dough rises (I would think that any public water would be damn near pH neutral, though).

That being said I don’t have a hard factual answer for you. But it sounds like unmitigated local pride to me.

Unmitigated my foot! Have you ever had a bagel outside of NY? A bun with a whole in the center does not a bagel make. I live in central Jersey a scant hour and half from NYC and we have my sister bring bagels home with her from the city whenever possible. I don’t know if it’s the water, but there is plenty to be prideful about when it comes to New York cuisine.

I have had bagels outside of NYC. It’s not merely the water, it’s also how it’s cooked. For some bizarre reason, most people outside of NYC think that the boiling step is optional.

Philly Soft Pretzels, similair situation: It’s long believed to be the water, but what it really has become is closely guarded secrets about the amount of water that is used, and on which days you alter the amt of water added. As the humidity levels rise, the actual ingredients are altered. It even goes beyong just water amounts, but other ingredients (yeasts), etc.

Yes the chemical properties of water can be adjusted fairly easily, though not always very economically. You can duplicate several liters of water from anywhere; from just about any source - it ain’t rocket science. And water properties aren’t really all that variable as far as “X type of water can only be formed in place Y”; which is why it’s a little silly to think that water from a Tazmanian spring is inherantly any better than what’s sitting in your toilet tank right now. If you need 100 million gallons a day that requires a lot of modification though, well, that ain’t gonna happen.

I would think the water used in any given recipe would be the easiest thing to alter - adjusting pH and dechlorination are easy. But altering the protein:fat ratio of your store-bought eggs is much harder.

Pilsen in the Czech Republic is famous for their beer. Brewers around the world try to copy the recipe and fail. They can use the same grain, and the same hops and the same yeast, but the beer will not be the same. The difference is, of course, the water. Brewing supply stores will sell small amounts of minerals that are commonly found in water, and there are ways to measure them and essentially re-create the water in a different locale.

This is from a conversation about four years ago with a Boulder baker: Anything containing yeast will taste different depending on where it’s baked because the taste is the result of different bacteria in the yeast. If you bring a sourdough sponge from San Francisco, the first couple of bakings you do with it will taste similar to authentic San Francisco sourdough, but after that the sponge will assimilate (or something like that) local bacteria to form a different kind of culture.

This was a baker I might note, not a microbiologist (although in Boulder he could well have been both) and I am definitely not any kind of scientist, but it sounded believable to me.

I think beer might rely on cultures also.

This was addressed in Discover Magazine last month.