For years, the everything bagel was just that — a bagel topped with everything: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, salt, dried onion and maybe some garlic flakes. But these days, the everything bagel has become a booming flavor concept.
Food companies, from restaurants to markets, are increasingly selling everything-bagel seasoning mixes — Trader Joe’s says its version ranks among its customers’ top-five favorites — that can be used in recipes or with a variety of items. They are also selling foods with the seasoning already generously applied.
Who needs an everything bagel when you can have an everything croissant? It’s available at Daily Provisions, a New York City gourmet take-out shop with multiple locations. Why stick your spoon into a tub of plain ol’ cottage cheese when there’s one with everything-bagel seasoning? Hood, a dairy brand, recently introduced such a product.
Perhaps the most unusual item of them all? An everything-bagel ice cream. Yes, you read that correctly — the cold and creamy stuff with bagel seasonings in place of, say, chocolate chips or cookie dough. Does this flavor, courtesy of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, an upscale brand known for its creative offerings, represent a sign of the coming apocalypse? Or is it a taste sensation taken to its most delicious extreme?
I’d say a little of both.
Jeni’s introduced the flavor as a limited-time offering this week — or should I say, reintroduced it. It was first launched, also for a brief period, in January 2021. The company, founded 20 years ago in Columbus, Ohio, admits it’s a divisive product, noting in a press release that it “was met with varying reviews of both overwhelming adoration and vehement opposition.”
But Jeni’s seems to be using the divisiveness almost as a marketing tactic. In essence, it’s asking, “How far can this everything envelope be pushed?”
Before discussing what this oddball ice cream flavor tastes like, it’s worth noting a little everything-bagel history. Truth be told, there’s no definitive history — bagel makers (and bagel historians, if there’s such a way of describing them) have different thoughts as to who came up with the idea of taking a kitchen-sink approach to topping the much-beloved breadstuff associated with Jewish culture and New York City. But regardless of who was behind it, the invention of the everything bagel seems to have happened sometime between the early ‘70s and early ‘80s.
Jump ahead at least 30 years and you finally get to the everything bagel-seasoning boom. Trader Joe’s was certainly one of the first to dive in, having introduced its seasoning mix in 2017. The company created such a sensation with the product that food websites were soon suggesting recipe ideas: Sprinkle it on pizza! Stir it into waffle batter!
The pandemic probably fueled greater interest in everything-bagel seasoning. Certainly, we know that with people cooking more at home, sales of spices, seasoning mixes and the like increased in general — the NPD Group, a market researcher, says consumption of these items climbed 32% over last year.
And while Trader Joe’s won’t share any sales figures, Spiceology, which bills itself as “the fastest growing spice company in America,” notes that it saw a fourfold increase in sales in 2020 for its everything-bagel seasoning. Tony Reed, a chef who’s a senior director with the company, says it’s a flavor combo that speaks to the bolder way we eat today. He likes it on popcorn, avocado toast and roasted sweet potatoes, among other things.
“I’m honestly not sure there’s something I’d say, ‘Don’t use that’ for,” he says, adding he can’t want to try the Jeni’s ice cream.
I approached the Jeni’s product with a fair bit of trepidation. I mean, do I really want all these everything flavors in my ice cream? Sesame and poppy seeds maybe, but ONION AND GARLIC???
And yet, I have to admit, on some crazy and, yes, apocalyptic level, the thing works.
That’s in large part because of how cleverly Jeni’s has combined the two concepts of ice cream and everything-bagel seasoning. The ice cream is not vanilla, but a cream-cheese flavored one, which makes it both richer and more in the bagel realm. And the seasonings are joined together into what Jeni’s calls “gravel” — think something akin to cookie dough but with all those zesty everything flavors.
All this makes the ice cream seem a little less of a stretch — you won’t quite be biting directly into dried onion or a garlic flake, but you’ll get a hint of the flavors they impart. And blended with the dense ice cream, these flavors really appeal in that sweet-meets-savory way.
Still, part of me objects to an everything bagel ice cream — mostly because it speaks to the worst traits of American food marketing. It’s never enough to have a good idea and leave it at that. Instead, we must take that idea and spin a gazillion products off it — for better or worse.
“Could an everything-bagel Oreo be far behind?”
I remember when potato chips started being offered in a few novel flavors — say, salt-and-vinegar — and it seemed like a cute concept. Now, we have people chasing down Iberico ham and spicy crawfish-flavored chips and there seems no end in sight to the madness. Similarly, what the heck happened with Oreos? At this point, when I buy a pack, I have trouble finding the original version since the supermarket shelves are filled with flavors from carrot-cake to peanut-butter Oreos. Could an everything-bagel Oreo be far behind?
Let’s also not forget how the flavored hard seltzer thing has gotten so out of hand — to the point that it was ripe for a “Saturday Night Live” spoof (men’s jackets-flavored hard seltzer, anyone).
The point is that maybe we should embrace the everything bagel on its own — a creation meant to be stuffed with cream cheese (and lox) and enjoyed on a quiet Sunday morning. Once we go down the road of product exploration, we lose sight of what makes the flavoring so great in the first place.
I’d press this point even more, but unfortunately I’m too busy licking my ice-cream spoon and chewing on those bits of everything “gravel”… Like I say, this thing works.
The Fast Foodist is a MarketWatch column that looks at restaurant-menu items and packaged foods through a critical and business-minded lens. Send suggestions of products that you think should be critiqued to firstname.lastname@example.org.