Bagels are an iconic food with an epic history that dates to the 13th century when it was first a delicacy only Polish royalty could enjoy. By the 17th century, the bagel had come full circle as a common Jewish peasant food that Ashkenazi Jews sold on the streets.
From royal delicacy to street food, the bagel is now an internationally beloved baked good that has far surpassed the donut as the world’s most popular tubular treat.
Bagels have a unique cooking process that involves dough that is made with high-gluten flour, malt, and yeast to be boiled and then baked. The result is a golden, crunchy crust that cedes into a dense, chewy, and delectably yeasty inside.
There’s nothing more delicious than eating a piping hot bagel right out of your local shop, but there are also so many popular spreads and toppings to bring a delicious baked good to the next level.
Best Bagel Toppings
Whether you’re a sweet or savory fan, the following list of the best bagel toppings has a world of different accompaniments that will satisfy your cravings.
The most classic and iconic bagel topping in the U.S. is cream cheese.
There’s no better pairing than a smooth, creamy, yet perfectly tangy cream cheese to spread over a toasted bagel.
The classic Philadelphia brand invented cream cheese in the 19th century, which quickly became a favorite dairy product for bagels.
Today, bagel shops have expanded on simple cream cheese, offering dozens of cream cheese flavors from chive to strawberry. There are even vegan cream cheese brands!
Cream cheese is a wonderful spread to enjoy over any flavor of bagel, adding creaminess to savory flavors and balanced acidity to sweet bagels. Another popular pairing for bagel lunches or breakfasts is cream cheese and lox.
Cream cheese may be the official bagel pairing, but bread and butter is the international standard.
Butter makes everything better, adding a flavorful fat that moistens and imbues even the blandest, driest bread with rich, savory flavor. Salted or unsalted, butter goes as well with bagels as it does with any other bread form.
As butter has so many uses, you’re more likely to always have butter than cream cheese on hand.
You can even make different butter variations to spread over your bagel or bread.
Chopped garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper are a favorite butter mixture to spread over a sesame seed bagel.
The only food more beloved than bagels is pizza, so why not combine the two?
If you grew up in the 90s, chances are you’re already privy to this ingenious bagel variation.
You can still buy pizza bagels premade in the frozen food section of any grocery store.
It’s not hard to make this delicious treat for yourself, topping an open-faced bagel with canned or bottled marinara sauce, shredded mozzarella, and any other favorite pizza topping before popping it into the oven till the cheese melts and bubbles.
You can also get creative by using different bagel flavors, cheeses, and sauces. For a sophisticated adult pizza bagel, you could use pesto, fontina, and cherry tomatoes.
Popularized by Jewish New York Delis, Smoked salmon is a classy and nutrient-rich topping for your bagel and tastes delicious over cream cheese.
You might see smoked salmon referred to as lox at your local bagel shop, specialty grocers, or breakfast restaurant.
However, lox is brined and cured salmon that may or may not be smoked. Smoked salmon is a pricey delicacy that will last a while in your fridge.
A classic smoked salmon bagel comes with cream cheese, capers, cucumbers, red onion, and tomatoes.
The smokiness and sweetness of the salmon contrast perfectly with the acidity of the cream cheese, spicy bite and crunchiness of the red onion and cucumber, and pickled pop of the capers.
Bacon, Egg, and Cheese
While you won’t find this combination at any Jewish deli, it’s an American favorite for a complete and hearty hand-held breakfast.
For any meat lover, bacon is the undisputed cream of the crop of breakfast meat, its crispy, greasy, savory flavor making any dish special.
Bagels are hearty, doughy, and chewy, holding up well under even the heaviest breakfast sandwich toppings. Why not make it a trifecta of heartiness?
You can have a fried egg with sharp cheddar and applewood smoked bacon on an onion bagel. Another option may be a scrambled folded egg with turkey bacon and Swiss cheese. The possibilities for bacon, egg, and cheese bagel are endless.
Jam or Jelly
If you’re a morning bread eater, you’ve probably got a jar of jam or jelly in your refrigerator door. While you might use them interchangeably, jam and jelly are two different products.
Jelly is a smooth, transparent gelatinous spread made from fruit juice or concentrate, sugar, water, and an acid.
Jam uses the same base ingredients, but instead of fruit juice, it uses whole fruit and often has whole fruit chunks in it.
Both varieties are texturally fun and flavorfully bright additions to your morning bagel.
You can combine them with cream cheese, peanut butter, or butter for a more complex and hearty bagel meal.
Ham and Cheese
Another wonderful pairing, ham and cheese, is a fan favorite for any type of sandwich filling, from croissants to sliders.
Bagels may be a latecomer to the sandwich realm, but their compact yet dense qualities ensure an indulgent ham and cheese hand-held.
You also have plenty of options for ham and cheese combinations on a bagel.
Honey-baked ham and Swiss is the classic combo, but you can get as fancy as you like with it.
For example, I love Spanish-cured ham serrano with rich melted gruyere and a sweet fig spread on an olive bagel.
Avocado toast is all the rage and a perfect cholesterol and dairy-free topping that supplies the same creaminess and heft.
Once an exotic delicacy, avocados are a ubiquitous fruit found at any grocery store or farmers market and as a key ingredient in most culinary cultures.
Its rich flavor is both wonderful on its own with a light sprinkling of salt while also pairing well with most other ingredients, seasonings, and sauces.
You can create an Asian-flavored avocado bagel using a sesame seed bagel, a hearty spread of mashed avocado, sriracha sauce, sprouts, and a fried egg.
Avocado also tastes great over an Asiago cheese bagel with diced onions and tomatoes.
Peanut Butter is as popular as cream cheese or jelly and pairs well with both! It’s a creamy, subtly sweet indulgence that any age group will get behind.
It’s also one of the most widely available and cheapest spreads you can find.
Another cholesterol and dairy-free option, a peanut butter bagel is a great morning meal or sweet snack.
You can combine it with your favorite fruit preserve for classic peanut butter and jelly bagel. It also tastes great on a cinnamon raisin or blueberry bagel.
My favorite combo is a cinnamon raisin bagel topped with crunchy peanut butter, banana slices, and a drizzle of honey.
Move over chocolate sauce! Once you take your first bite of this sinfully decadent chocolate hazelnut spread, you’ll be addicted.
Nutella is a beloved spread founded by the famous Italian sweets company Ferrero, which also makes a slew of other famous products like chocolate bonbons, Famous Amos cookies, and the Tic Tac.
Nutella has always been a classic topper for any baked good, and bagels are no exception.
While you can just as easily eat Nutella right out of the bottle with a spoon, its creaminess and unique flavor taste even better over an open-faced toasted bagel.
You could even combine it with cream cheese and fresh strawberries to add complexity.
Pastrami, classic deli meat, is typically made from beef brisket that is cured, seasoned, smoked, and steamed.
With such an elaborate cooking process, you can bet that pastrami is touted as one of the most flavorful sandwich meats on earth.
If you’ve ever eaten at a deli or diner, you know the most classic pastrami iteration is pastrami on rye.
You can create the classic hot pastrami on rye in bagel form because, believe it or not, rye bagels exist!
If rye bagels aren’t available, pumpernickel bagels are a wonderful alternative. You could even make a pastrami Reuben bagel with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand-island dressing.
Tuna Salad is as popular at a deli as it is at any sandwich shop or lunch potluck. Tuna salad also takes on many forms.
At its most basic, it’s just canned tuna mixed with mayo and mustard, but every household, sandwich shop, and deli has its prized special recipe.
Tuna Salad is a healthy, flavorful, and texturally delightful topper for a bagel lunch, whether you like to mix it with pickle relish and vinegar or diced hard-boiled and celery.
I recommend a bagel tuna salad sandwich with sprouts, tomato, red onion, and cucumber sandwiched between a toasted plain bagel.
Turkey & Swiss
If ham and cheese and tuna salad aren’t enough sandwich options, you can round out your menu rotation with turkey and Swiss.
Turkey is leaner than ham and milder than tuna. It’s also the most diverse offering at your local deli counter, with crusts and cures that range the flavor gamut. Swiss cheese has a unique flavor that tastes great cold or melted.
Therefore, turkey and Swiss is a no-brainer for an easy bagel sandwich that you can dress up, eat cold, or enjoy hot.
You could make it a Turkey Club bagel by adding crispy applewood smoked bacon, tomato, lettuce, and buttermilk ranch dressing.
Burgers are always a messy affair, piled high with tons of ingredients and condiments that spill out the sides of a squishy bun with each bite until all you’re left with is a bunch of mushy bread.
However, you can safeguard against mushy bread with a hearty and firm bagel that will uphold a burger’s integrity till the last bite.
Plus, since bagels come in dozens of flavors, you have to freedom to experiment with your bagel burger.
For example, you can use a classic sesame seed bagel for a tried-and-true burger or get creative with a poppyseed or everything bagel.
Furthermore, the bagel’s hole comes in handy, giving you a firmer grip to ensure that fix-ins won’t fall out the back with each bite.
Best Bagel Toppings
- Cream Cheese
- Pizza Bagel
- Smoked Salmon
- Bacon, Egg, and Cheese
- Jam or Jelly
- Ham and Cheese
- Peanut Butter
- Tuna Salad
- Turkey & Swiss
- Bagel Burger
Bagels are an international treasure, standing alone in both texture and versatility. There are dozens of flavors to choose from, fulfilling both sweet and savory meals and snacks.
Their wonderfully dense chew and vast flavor varieties make them the perfect foundation for any type of spread, topping, or garnish.
If you can muster up the willpower to refrain from eating a toasted bagel alone fresh out of the bag, my list of the best bagel toppings gives you a world of possibilities for a top-notch snack, meal, or dessert.
If you’re out and about, grab one of Panera’s popular bagels!
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