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Bagel Research Review

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

Research studies about or on bagels
by Stephen Drew, Improbable Research staff

The Philosopher’s Bagel Question
“How Many New Yorkers Need to Like Bagels Before You Can Say ‘New Yorkers Like Bagels?’ Understanding Collective Ascription,” Todd Jones, Philosophical Forum, vol. 36, no. 3, Fall 2005, pp. 279–306, DOI:10.1111/j.1467-9191.2005.00204.x. The author, at University of Nevada at Las Vegas, explains:

Using this phrase tells people that it is the case that large numbers of New York City dwellers eat bagels regularly. The context of the conversation often lets a listener know that the speaker is telling her which group compared to others, we’ll find large numbers of Y-doers in. Now this context doesn’t explain what the percentage of Y-doers in this X group is. So such a phrase does run some risk of misleading listeners, if it is interpreted as meaning that most New Yorkers eat lots of bagels. To avoid potential misleadingness a speaker could say “New Yorkers eat a higher percentage of bagels than people in other cities—though it’s not clear that people who eat a lot of bagels are really a majority in New York.” But it is difficult and time-consuming to sift through ones knowledge and come up with this idea. And it’s awkward and time-consuming to speak this way. “New Yorkers really like to eat bagels,” is quicker and easier.

Bagel-Aided Intoxication
“Niacin Intoxication from Pumpernickel Bagels—New York,” Centers for Disease Control (CDC), MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol. 32, no. 23, June 17, 1983, p. 305. The report explains:

On April 27, 1983, 14 (20%) of 69 persons attending a brunch had acute onset of rash, pruritis, and sensation of warmth.... Of 25 persons who ate the bagels, 14 (56%) became ill, whereas none of the 44 persons who did not eat pumpernickel bagels became ill. The bagels had been produced at a local bagel factory from a batch of dough originally prepared on April 23.

Because the pumpernickel bagels were very light in color, the ingredients were suspected. Investigation revealed that, in an attempt to enrich the pumpernickel flour, a large quantity of niacin had been added, apparently from an improperly labeled container. Laboratory studies revealed 60 times the normal level of niacin in the pumpernickel flour. On the basis of these data, each bagel contained approximately 190 mg of niacin; the recommended dietary allowance for niacin is 6.6 mg/1000 calories or about 13 mg/day for the average adult.

Poppy Seed Bagel–Aided Drug-Testing Risk (1996)
“False-Positive Urine Drug Screen: Beware the Poppy Seed Bagel,” E.J. Narcessian and H.J. Yoon, Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, vol. 14, no. 5, November 1997, pp. 261–3. The authors report:

The patient denied any use of illicit substances and denied obtaining medication from any other sources. Her pharmacy confirmed that I was the only doctor prescribing Schedule II medications. The patient was then questioned about her diet. She reported that her diet consisted predominantly of oatmeal cereal and bagels....

The patient was requested to not eat any poppy seed bagels or poppy seed-containing food for a period of 2 weeks. She was requested to come to my office on April 22, 1997, with a poppy seed bagel. A urine sample was obtained from the patient at 9:00 AM on April 22, 1997, before her ingesting the poppy seed bagel. The patient was then observed eating one half of a poppy seed bagel and was observed during the intervals between testing the urine....

[The] results confirmed that ingestion of poppy seeds can result in a positive urine toxicology for morphine. The urines may remain positive from 24 to 48 hours after ingestion.

Poppy Seed Bagel–Aided Drug-Testing Risk (1997)

“Poppy Seeds: Differences in Morphine and Codeine Content and Variation in Inter- and Intra-individual Excretion,” M.G. Pelders and J.J. Ros. Journal of Forensic Sciences, vol. 41, no. 2, March 1996, pp. 209–12. The authors, at the Dutch Laboratory for Drugs and Doping, Hospital Pharmacy Midden-Brabant, the Netherlands, report:

Poppy seeds from seven different origins (Dutch, Australian, Hungarian, Spanish, Czech, and two Turkish) were analyzed for the amount of opiates present. Four grams of each kind of seeds, equivalent to the amount of seeds on two bagels, were ingested by volunteers.... After ingestion a large interindividual variation of excretion of opiates exists.... Several kinds of poppy seeds can give positive testing results (Australian, Hungarian, Spanish and one kind of Turkish seeds).


This article is republished with permission from the January-February 2009 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift! Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

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