The Northeast is famous for having some of the best pizza in the country. Those who venture outside of places like Connecticut, New York and New Jersey sometimes find themselves wondering, “Why is the pizza so different here?”

One of the long-held hypotheses is that the water in places like New Jersey is more conducive to making a great dough, which ultimately translates to superior pizza (and bagels, it is said). One New Jersey Digest writer says it’s a well-intentioned yet misinformed idea, pointing to results from a 2019 research project taken on by a pair of culinary minds.

The writer in question, Peter Candia, food+drink editor for New Jersey Digest, is no slouch in the kitchen himself: Candia attended the Culinary Institute of America and worked as a server, line cook and bartender. The study Candia references was conducted by culinary consultant J. Kenji Lopez-Alt and Mathieu Palombino, owner/operator of Motorino Pizzeria Napoletana in New York City. The duo sought to find a qualitative difference between dough made from New York water and dough made from bottled water, such as Evian and Aquafina.

Related: Understanding the importance of pH in pizza dough water

Here’s a brief description of the methodology: “To go forth with the experiment, López-Alt would make six different pizzas with six different types of water, including NYC tap water, which has a minerality of around 60 parts per million (ppm) and is considered moderate in terms of water hardness. The other five waters came from bottles, with the lowest in minerality being Aquafina at 10 ppm and the highest being Evian at 370 ppm.”

The researchers theorized that, due to varying mineral content, Aquafina water would yield a soft and tender dough, while Evian water would produce a crisp and chewy pizza.

After a series of blind taste tests, the study ultimately concluded that if New York pizza is, in fact, superior, it is probably not because of water. The study found that there was “such little change between the waters that a regular palate could never distinguish the difference,” Candia wrote.

This aligns with research done by others on the topic over the years, including the late, great Tom “The Dough Doctor” Lehmann, who wrote about the topic for PMQ in 2011.

Candia, only concerned with New Jersey pizza for his own purposes, postulated there are some other reasons at play for the alleged superiority of pizza in the Garden State. He said there’s simply a higher level of competition in New Jersey.

“Stiff competition means that every pizzeria, whether it be a famous spot or just a typical slice shop, has to put out a good slice of pizza at the very least to keep up,” Candia wrote. “In other parts of the U.S., pizzeria abundance is far scarcer—Dominos or Pizza Hut tends to be the go-to spot for many. Because of the lack of challenge, along with a local palate that isn’t used to great pizza, mediocre options are able to remain open and busy. This isn’t to say that all pizza is bad in these parts of the country, but it is to say that the general population is probably less particular about their pizza than us New Jerseyans.”

Candia does go on to say that, as most pizzaiolos already know, there is truth to the fact that each climate calls for different dough preparation. In other words, it’s fair to say the difference in New York—or New Jersey—water has an effect on the finished product. It just would be wrong to say good pizza can’t be made with water from elsewhere, and there are a lot of pizzerias across the U.S. that are a testament to that fact.

Food & Ingredients