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Food scientist Nathan Myrhvold figured out how to keep everything bagel toppings from falling off
Bagels as seen in Modernist Bread courtesy of The Cooking Lab, LLC. 2017 Modernist Bread

Few things are more disappointing than picking up a fresh, chewy bagel only for the toppings to scatter everywhere — poppy seeds, sesame seeds, flecks of salt flying onto the floor — leaving your bagel slightly more naked and much less flavorful.

Apart from being a nuisance for bagel lovers, seed spillage can also lead to trouble for bagel shops. In New York City, one bagel shop accrued a $1,650 fine from the Department of Health for a large accumulation of seeds found near mouse droppings. But we digress.

If there’s anyone who might know the secret to keeping toppings on bagels, it’s Nathan Myhrvold, former chief technology officer at Microsoft turned food scientist and co-author of the forthcoming five-part cookbook Modernist Bread. The 2,642-page cookbook-slash-encyclopedia has 1,200 recipes, including an innovative take on preventing seed spills: a starch-based slurry coating applied before garnishing the bagel with seeds.

A starch slurry helps seeds stay put. As seen in Modernist Bread courtesy of The Cooking Lab, LLC. 2017
A starch slurry helps seeds stay put. As seen in Modernist Bread courtesy of The Cooking Lab, LLC. 2017 Modernist Bread/

“We probably tried seven to eight different types of starches before we found the one that worked,” Myhrvold said in an email. “Once we found the starch that worked best we then had to play with the water-to-starch percentages. If you add too much, the slurry drips off the bagel, but if you add too little, it’s like working with glue,” he said, noting that his team wasn’t the first to try to solve the seed spill problem. When I bit into an everything bagel prepared by Myhrvold’s team, not a single seed dropped from the bagel onto my lap.

The super sticky, edible slurry coating also allows you to use heavier garnishes — like shredded coconut, cocoa nibs, sunflower seeds and walnuts — that are larger than tiny seeds, Myhrvold noted.

Looking for an everything bagel seasoning mix? Myhrvold’s version includes black and white sesame seeds, dried onion, dried garlic, celery seeds, poppy seeds and caraway seeds. “They all have different personalities but these personalities all get along so well. It’s the perfect marriage of flavors in each bite,” he noted.

If you’ve ever wanted to optimize your bagel seed situation, grab your favorite fresh, plain bagels (or bake your own if you’re ambitious) and try Myhrvold’s recipe for the starch slurry coating below.

Editor’s note: Recipe slightly modified and reprinted with permission from Modernist Bread.

Starch slurry coating

• Freshly baked bagels that have cooled
• 1/4 cup (40 g) Ultra-Tex 3 (modified tapioca starch)
• 4 1/2 cups (1 kg) water
• Desired garnish


1. Mix the modified tapioca starch into the water using an immersion blender until there are no starch clumps.
2. Allow the slurry to thicken for two to three hours at room temperature. It needs to be thick enough to cling to the surface of the bagels. (Store in an airtight container at room temperature if not using right away, or refrigerate for up to five days.)
3. Gather the garnishes and place them in a bowl large enough to also accommodate the bagel you want to coat.
4. Submerge the bagel in the slurry coating. Remove it and allow the excess slurry to drip off.
5. Coat both sides of the bagel with the garnishes.
6. Place the garnished bagels on a lightly oiled wire rack or in a sheet pan lined with oiled parchment paper.
7. Return the bagels to the oven. Bake them at the same initial baking temperature for five minutes with the vent open. (If you have no vent, open the oven door slightly.)
8. Remove bagels from oven and allow them to cool completely on the wire rack.