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Does local tap water matter for cooking?

There was a question on the SF boad asking if any restaurant imported NY tap water to make bagels or pizza. This one article says about why pizza dough is better in NY ...

"After meeting with several chefs, the consensus is the water. The mineral content of New York water, which comes from the Catskills has a unique effect on the rising and the flavor to the dough."


Until that quote I thought the issue was silly, but maybe there's a there, there. Could that be why the bagels are better in NY, the sourdough better in SF, etc ... the composition of the local water someone impacts the results?

Would using bottled water give different results based on the brand?

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  1. Mineral composition of the local water has a big impact on brewing and distilling, so I suppose it's not out of the question that it can similarly impact pizza dough, but I don't think I buy it.

    1. I've also heard that it can impact pizza dough--one guy I know was completely convinced that's why the pizza outside of NYC tastes totally different.

      Hadn't thought about bagels though...

      There's a marketing idea for someone--bottled NYC tap water for authentic pizza dough and bagels... Ship it all over the country. heehee...

      I don't rule it out, but I think we're talking about differences that would be only noticed by a seriously discerning palate.

      1. And using bottled italian water to boil my pasta will make it better?

        It's kind of the same thing as wine, don't cook with it id you wouldn't drink it.

        As far as the whole NY thing goes, it's just as likely the pollution in the air.

        1. I find it hard to believe that the small amount of minerals in tap water would make that much difference in a product that isn't water-based (like beer). Not saying it's impossible, just that it's improbable.

          The reason SF sourdough is unique is because of the native yeast and has nothing to do with the water. I've been told that if you take SF sourdough starter out of the area, in a few "generations" of the starter it will lose its SF character, as the yeasts native to the new locale eventually take over the original ones.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Right, SF sourdough is unique based on the native yeast, similar to why Belgian lambics made the same way taste different in two different towns.

            I've always believed what I heard about NY water. Being from NY and then going to school out west, the pizza and bagels just don't taste the same as they do back east. It has nothing to do with the recipe because a NY pizzaola opened up a pizzeria in Michigan but it just didn't taste the same. The texture, the thickness, etc. just wasn't right. it was the closest of any of the pizzas in the surrounding area but it was still off.

            1. re: ESNY

              There was a short-lived Famiglia Pizza in Ann Arbor, MI that claimed to actually ship hundreds of gallons of water from NYC in order to recreate NY pizza. I kid you not.

          2. I dont know why it would be improbable, those small ammounts of minerals cause water to taste drastically different in various areas of the country. Furthermore my psoriasis reacts completely differently to the different waters i have showered with. Why wouldnt it effect another biological organism like yeast in a simliar vein.

            All i know from my experiences is that i have never had a bagel, pizza or even rye bread for that matter that taste like they do in NYC. There are other factors involved such as tradition in their respective crafts. However when people who are well versed in one style of food leave the NY area to make the food they love, it just doesnt quite come out right. My parents always said how Thomas' English Muffins went downhill when they moved their plant to Jersey(whose water is undrinkable). I think the case can be made.

            3 Replies
            1. re: MVNYC

              It's just as likely -- if not more likely -- that the yeasts are different.

              One reason I doubt it is that the mineral content of tap water is not a constant. It changes during the course of a year, and of course it has changed over the years. Not to mention the fact that it's affected by the pipes it flows through. Water that comes out of taps in adjacent buildings can have different mineral profiles. Therefore, it doesn't seem reasonable to attribute a distinct quality to bread baked in a wide range of locations over a period of many years to something as variable as the mineral content of the water.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                I may be wrong on this, but unlike in sour dough pizza and bagels do get their yeasts from the same sources respectively and are not dependant on wild airborne yeasts.

                1. re: MVNYC

                  Pizza and bagels are made with either dry or wet, packaged yeast. Besides Fleishmanns, I'm sure there are other brands.

            2. So, if the NYC water is responsible for the great pizza dough in NYC, and that water comes from the Catskills, the logical question to ask is . . .

              What's the quality of pizza dough up in the Catskills?

              8 Replies
              1. re: FlyFish

                Actually much of NY water comes in an aqueduct from the Delaware water gap, that and the older Croton Reservoir system.which delivers from Westchester County...

                1. re: ChowFun_derek

                  Not true. Delaware water Gap is south of NYC. You're probably confusing with the Delaware aqueduct, which feeds off Upper Delaware tributaries, which basically come from Catskills too. NY City water system is all gravity based, that's why when we had blackouts, we still have our water. There are no electrical pumps - if the water was coming from the Gap we'd be using electric pumps. The second aqueduct - Catskill Aqueduct is still in use too and uses Ashokan reservoir, the Old Croton aqueduct is not in use anymore. At the moment, they're building the 4th Aqueduct and IIRC, it still feeds off Catskills.

                  Another interesting thing about NYC tap water, is that it's not filtered, which is usually fine, but when there is a major rainfall, they have to dump bunch of chlorine into reservoirs. IIRC, it is not very cheap, so the city is considering installing filters - it caused a big uproar among bagel and pizza makers last summer. So I guess, water does matter, I'd always thought it was just a little excuse to cover up rather trivial secret recipes.

                  1. re: welle

                    So let me get this straight: dumping a bunch of chlorine in the water doesn't affect the bread, but filtering does? Not to mention the whole reason they're dumping the chlorine is that the major rainfall changed the composition of the water. That's why I think this is, as you said, an excuse (or at least, a rationalization). Not that water composition might not affect the bread (although the amount of water in bread compared to the amount of water in beer makes that a faulty comparison), but that since the composition of water varies, it's hard to see how it could be responsible for a consistent outcome.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Now that I think of it could've been something else than chlorine. The composition of water doesn't change from the rainfall, but rain stirrs up some dirt, so whatever it is they put in the water is to bind those dirt particles and settles them down? So whatever minerals in the water I guess remain intact. I should find that article from NYTimes to get more facts, but you are right I was actually horrified to learn about all those chemicals regularly dumped into my drinking water.

                      1. re: welle

                        A lot of speculation about the NYC water supply might be
                        cleared up in the city's annual water quality report:


                      2. re: Ruth Lafler

                        You know, I sort of had the same feeling as you Ruth until I read that article Robert provided about The Fat Duck ... great article, btw.

                        The reason the chef's green beans stayed green at one location and not the other was because there was calcium in the home water supply.

                        So, even though the composition of the minerals in the water might vary over the seasons or years, what if there is some mineral unique to the NY water supply?

                        It would be interesting if someone analyzed NY water and water elsewere in the country to see the composition.

                        Then instead of shipping water from NY, pizza joints out of the area could add the mineral or minerals.

                        1. re: rworange

                          As welle mentions above NYC tap water flows a couple of hundred miles south from the Catskills through an aqueduct and resevoir system more than 100 years old mostly blasted through rock along the Hudson. Lots of minerals along there, eager to go to NYC!

                  2. re: FlyFish

                    Well, across the River in Columbia County, it's very good, especially the places around Hudson and Chatham whose owners have migrated up there. The bagels don't cut it, but I think that's because the denizens seem to prefer softer crust on their bread in general. (Our Daily Bread in Chatham is an exception) Having lived there for a while, I can attest to the high mineral content of the water, great for cooking but terrible for everything else.

                  3. I live in Campbell -I never,ever use the tap water for anything but a shower,washing the dog and flushing the toilet - the water is actually tinged yellow. The taste is pure chemical - New York has the finest municipal water in the world(of any major city) -- I never cook anything(including pasta,hard boiled eggs,etc.) in this Campbell stuff - I have a large bottled water bill(arrowhead or calistoga) but I know that I'm not cooking (and my guest know also) in some water-like substance.
                    As to bagels and pizza - I'd say it's 50 percent water and 50 percent attitude!!

                    1. Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck got into molecular gastronomy due to his curiosity as to why his green beans stayed green when he blanched them at home but not when he blanched them at the restaurant.


                      1. pH ranges from 6 to about 9 for municipal tap water in the US. I can't
                        say for sure, but it does seem like this should have a significant effect
                        on yeast and chemical leavening in baking. It certainly does with beer,
                        as does the mineral content. The role of the ultra-soft water of the
                        town of Plzen on the history of beermaking can't be overestimated.

                        Since beermaking and breadmaking are essentially the same thing, just
                        with different proportions of ingredients, I'd imagine baking to be
                        pretty significantly influenced by local water.

                        But the bagel question is talking about the water they're boiled in,
                        rather than as an ingredient. So I'm doubtful there.

                        1. hey, there is a lot of chlorine in many tapwaters, that's why you aren't supposed to put tap water directly into your aquarium (or your fish will die) or water your houseplants with tapwater (without "aging" the water in an open bucket or watering can for a day or so-- the chlorine evaporates). chlorine kills yeast too-- try baking 2 batches of bread (same day) using tap & reverse osmosis water. you'll notice a difference.

                          also once you start brewing coffee & tea with reverse os water you wont go back, & it makes all the difference in the world if you make your own soup stocks.

                          1. Water has an effect, and so does climate. Sourdough culture does well in SF but not in other places.

                            1. I have long stood as a believer in that the water here is what makes NYC bagels and pizza what they are. In fact, in a long thread about "What makes New York pizza" on this board, I said exactly that, "It the water! Which is what makes the bagels great too".

                              And, as far as I am concerned, the jug I keep in my fridge, continuously re-filled from my tap, is the best "bottled" water in the world. :)

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Justpaula

                                It could be the best but you'd get a pretty strong argument from SF who gets it water coming Hetch Hetchy, near Yosemite, in the Sierra.

                              2. according to the new york times (article by ed levine) and oprah, the best pizza in the country is made by chris bianco of pizzeria bianco in phoenix, arizona. and phoenix has the nastiest-tasting, hardest, residue-leaving tap water i've ever had. but maybe it's all the extra calcium and magnesium in the water that makes his naples-style dough so (supposedly) good.

                                1. I live in area where tapwater comes from a hardwater lake, lots of iron and minerals. After a dry spell, the mineral concentration is so high it's difficult to get this stuff to boil if you want to cook pasta and after a few days of rain, it boils itself. Plus, during the winter it tastes very salty, which affects the flavour of soups and beverages. Basically, the medical advice going around is that if you want to keep your kidneys, you filter the water or you cut out salt and salty foods.

                                    1. It abosultely matters for many recipes. Baking is all about chemical reactions. Those minerals in water have a direct impact on that process. A very small one, but noticeable in the flavor or texture. Water matters for hot beverages too, coffee and tea in particular. A lot of tap water is treated with cholorine, you can taste that note in your beverages. But that said, it's a very subtle distinction that only coffee and tea connoisseurs really notice. Any book you pick up about making coffee and tea will recommend distilled water.

                                      1. in my last house, the smell of chlorine from the tap often made the water undrinkable, and unless i was boiling it, i cooked with and drank bottled water. i showered quickly, and frequently had to forego late-night baths, because the tub smelled like an over-dosed swimming pool.

                                        working for a political action committee while in college, we were sponsoring a clean water bill. we visited a town that was along the river with an eastman kodak plant. i saw water flow that was brown, and more than one person told me of trying to boil pasta, but it dissolved in the water.

                                        those are extreme examples, but i don't see how people who hunt down the most esoteric ingredients and exotic dishes would have trouble believing that the quality and components of something so elemental wouldn't matter.