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As odd looking as they are funny sounding, you’re probably familiar with the twisty treats called pretzels. Perhaps as a child, your parents packed the tiny, crunchy type in your lunch box, and surely you’ve seen the big, soft kind at various sporting events.
Since pretzels are abundant, we must ask ourselves the following question before consuming them: Are hard pretzels vegan? Are soft pretzels vegan? Which pretzel brands are vegan? And are vegan pretzels healthy and something we should be consuming in the first place?
Before we get into all that, let’s first go back and take a look at the pretzel’s peculiar initial purpose to find out how this fairly unique creation came to be!
The history of the pretzel
As there’s little documentation, much of what we know about the pretzel’s birth is based on stories that have been passed on. And so, “as legend has it,” pretzels were hardly invented with commercial intent!
According to an in-depth article by Today I Found Out, around 610 A.D., somewhere in northern Italy or southern France, there lived a monk who rewarded his students with leftover pieces of baked bread that he’d twisted together to form an image akin to arms crossed in prayer.
This led many to believe that the word “pretzel” is derived from pretiola, the Latin term for “little rewards,” while others think it might actually come from bracchiatus, the Latin word for “arm,” which translates to, brezitella, in Old German. Some have even gone as far as to conjecture that the three-holes in this primitive pretzel represented the Holy Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The pretzel eventually found its way to America upon the Mayflower in 1620, and then again, in 1710, as pretzel-toting German immigrants sought to settle Pennsylvania. In fact, in 1861, it was there in Lancaster County where Julius Sturgis opened up the very first commercial pretzel bakery and created the very first batch of “hard” pretzels (other than the ones that had been accidentally left in the oven too long)!
More than 150 years later, hard pretzels are a staple within household pantries, and they’re arguably even more commonly consumed than their larger, softer prototype. So, now that we know where they came from, let’s figure out whether pretzels are vegan, and if there’s any difference between what makes up the hard and soft varieties.
Modern pretzel ingredients
According to History.com, Pretzels originally consisted of only flour, water and salt, which made them the perfect nourishment for members of the Catholic church during Lent, a time when meat, eggs and dairy weren’t to be consumed. However, just because pretzels were vegan then—long before the modern melee of preservatives and hidden ingredients—doesn’t mean that every pretzel is vegan now.
If you take a look at this article by MadeHow, you’ll see that today’s pretzel dough usually contains flour (65-70% of the recipe), water (up to 35%), vegetable shortening (2-3%), and most of the time, sugar (2%) and salt (1%). Unlike bread dough, which relies only upon yeast, pretzel production actually requires both yeast and leavening agents, such as sodium or ammonium bicarbonate, in order for the dough to rise.
Here’s a great video featured on “How It’s Made” by The Science Channel that shows how soft pretzels are made:
So, are pretzels vegan, then?
Depending on how you view the role of yeast (see our article to learn more about yeast and its vegan status), and as long as any added fat is truly vegetable-based, there’s a good chance today’s standard commercial pretzels area vegan-friendly snack… right?
Yes… and no. Not all of today’s pretzels are vegan. As always, it’s paramount that we read nutrition labels, which ultimately tell us if the item contains any ingredient outside of our value system (such as milk products and honey, in the specific case of pretzel).
And, of course, anything beyond what’s written on the box or sealed within a bag—such as dipping sauces or flavorings—must also be considered! We’ll show you exactly what we mean in this next section.
Popular pretzel brands
Let’s do some quick detective work on today’s popular pretzel brands—hard and soft—to decide whether or not an item qualifies as vegan.
Are Rold Gold pretzels vegan?
Yes and No. According to the nutrition facts on the FritoLay website, the “Original” version of Rold Gold pretzels are vegan. However, the “Cheddar” version and the Garlic Parmesean Thin Crisps both contain milk products, and you can be assured that any Rold Gold item with the word “honey” in its title, most definitely contains it, too.
Are Goldfish pretzels vegan?
No. Despite having no added flavor, per se, Goldfish pretzels are not a vegan product as their ingredient list on the Pepperidge Farm website clearly states that they contains nonfat milk.
Are SuperPretzels vegan?
Yes and No. Per the nutrition facts on the SuperPretzel website, the Original SuperPretzel is vegan—as are the Original SuperPretzel bites—however their cheese-filled soft pretzel sticks clearly aren’t vegan, and neither is their Multigrain version, which includes honey.
Are Auntie Anne’s pretzels vegan?
They can be. The nutrition information on the Auntie Anne’s website informs us that the Original version is vegan as long as you request that your pretzel be made without butter. And according to this article by PETA, the Cinnamon Sugar, Sweet Almond, Raisin and Jalapeno versions (without butter) are vegan as well.
But are vegan pretzels healthy?
While it’s great that popular brands offer vegan options, pretzels are not a wildly healthy snack. Not only do pretzels offer little nutritional value, but after browsing through the aforementioned websites, we learned that most of these products contain corn syrup and/or corn oil and just one Auntie Anne’s Original pretzel is 310 calories (the Cinnamon Sugar version is a whopping 470 calories) with 990mg of sodium!
So, it’s wise to treat pretzels (both hard and soft) like a treat and stick to the “original” and/or “salt-free” versions when possible to keep your daily sugar and sodium intake within the recommended levels.
Should you want to eat pretzels more regularly, seek out a 100% sprouted whole grain option, like Unique Sprouted Whole Grain Pretzel Shells, or make your own with the recipe in the video below… and remember: a whole foods, plant-based diet is the key to optimum health on a vegan diet!
We hope this has been a productive peek into the pretzel’s history and its ingredients, and also, that this article may serve as a good guide to enjoying pretzels while maintaining your vegan lifestyle and meeting your health goals. Please let us know if you have any additional questions in the comments section below!