Whole Foods Experiments with 'New York' Water System Designed for Better Pizza Dough
Technology that claims to recreate New York City's water for pizzerias has scored a spot in the supermarket chain's test kitchen.
Several months ago, a Neapolitan-style pizzeria in Studio City, California announced that it was about to start serving 'authentic' New York pizza, made with 'real' New York water. "We simply cannot make great New York pizza without New York water, period," Tony D’Aiuto, the owner of the LBK restaurant gushed at the time. "Pizzerias have been trying to replicate New York pizza in Cali for years, but nobody has pulled it off. A lot of guys say New York style, but there's a huge difference from the real thing."
D'Aiuto hadn't just placed a commercial-sized Goldbelly order, and it didn't involve expensive cross-country shipping. Instead, LBK installed a "water source replication system" called the New York WaterMaker, a product that claims that its proprietary process can recreate the taste and chemical composition of the water that flows out of every tap in the five boroughs.
The New York WaterMaker system made its debut at the 2018 International Pizza Expo, and it has largely focused its sales efforts on pizzerias, bagel shops, and bakeries—the kind of places that also buy into that "New York water straight-up makes New York bagels" hype. So far, the company has sold around 100 of its systems, installing them in 29 states.
But earlier this week, the company announced that Whole Foods Market's test kitchen in Rockville, Maryland had recently been outfitted with a New York WaterMaker system. "We’re looking forward to continuing innovation and experimentation to make the best baked goods possible and testing the system,” Kristen Robinson, Whole Foods Market culinary senior team leader, Mid-Atlantic region said in a statement. (New York WaterMaker was equally effusive about the partnership, saying that it "couldn’t be more thrilled that Whole Foods Market [...] sees the value" in the product.)
According to Forbes, New York WaterMaker hopes that this trial run will lead to a wider rollout of the company's system in other Whole Foods locations, and in other supermarket and grocery chains, whether to replicate the water in New York—or in other renowned food cities—or just to ensure that the water quality is consistent in all of its locations.
For someone like me who eats the occasional slice of Whole Foods pizza, the idea that it might, you know, eventually taste better is promising. But is New York water really the secret behind the superior pizza dough, bagels, and baked goods that come from the city? That controversial idea has long been suggested and—despite chains like Brooklyn Water Bagel Company making that their entire business model—it has also been repeatedly (and controversially) debunked.
As Food & Wine has previously reported, there are three areas that contribute to the combined NYC Watershed, but some 90 percent of it comes from the Catskill and Delaware Watersheds. (The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation refers to the NYC Watershed as "the Champagne of drinking water.") The water can take anywhere from 12 weeks to a full year to travel from the watershed into the city, including a stop at the Hillview Reservoir, where it is disinfected and its pH levels are raised.
The American Chemical Society has noted that New York City's water supply is "soft" water, which means that it has lower concentrations of calcium and magnesium. Soft water also affects gluten differently than hard water does, which means dough made with the former can be softer and stickier than the latter. But—and this is a five borough-sized but—the American Chemical Society doesn't really believe that this is why those bagels and dollar slices are so good. (The proofing of the yeast or the experience of the city's pizzaiolos are more likely to be factors).
James Beard award-winning chef and author J. Kenji Lopez-Alt also seems to think the real secret is somewhere other than inside the city's faucets. "First of all, there’s no such thing as 'New York water.' New York gets its water from a number of suppliers and those have not been consistent over the years either," he recently told The Takeout.
"That magical water your neighborhood pizzeria was using in the 80s is likely not much like the water being used today, in terms of exact breakdown of total dissolved solids. Moreover, blind tests have shown that the water itself makes little to no difference in how pizza dough performs. What tiny differences it could potentially make are dwarfed by all the other variables that go into a pizza."
Appropriately enough, New York WaterMaker doesn't even have New York water: the company is based in Belleville, New Jersey. Of course, New Jersey knows a thing or two about making decent pizza, too.