Soft pretzels are a common street food found in northern cities like Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, New York, and Boston. It’s commonly believed that pretzels (as we know them today) originated in Pennsylvania, where they’re still a local favorite to this day!
Are soft pretzels vegan, though?
It all depends on the pretzel recipe that’s used. Soft pretzels may contain dairy in the form of butter or milk. They may also contain sugar, which typically isn’t vegan.
That being said, there are plenty of great vegan-friendly soft pretzel recipes that use vegan cooking oil in place of butter and are 100% dairy-free!
Below, I’ll answer some of the most commonly asked questions about soft pretzels and give you a full rundown of the ingredients, so you can see for yourself. Let’s get twisted!
Do Soft Pretzels Contain Dairy?
If you’ve ever bitten into a soft pretzel, you probably remember that it’s a lot different from the typical hard pretzels that you buy in a bag at your local corner store. They’re soft, slightly sweet, and have a rich, filling texture.
If you’re familiar with baking, then you may remember that this ultra-soft texture is often the result of dairy products such as buttermilk or nonfat milk being used in the dough mixture.
This was sometimes the practice that was used in ancient forms of pretzels:
When dairy is added to the dough, the extra protein helps hold the dough together making for a thicker consistency. Also, the natural milk sugars help create a sweeter-tasting dough that’s perfect for dessert-style recipes.
Some soft pretzels recipes contain dairy. The most common dairy products found in soft pretzels are butter, buttermilk (a type of sour milk), and nonfat milk. These are added to enhance the flavor and texture of the soft pretzels, making for a softer, more filling pretzel.
Additionally, some vendors may also coat their cooked soft pretzels in melted butter to enhance the flavor. Butter is a direct dairy product, so it’s never vegan.
However, not all soft pretzels contain dairy.
There are plenty of delicious pretzel recipes that are 100% dairy-free and don’t contain any milk, buttermilk, butter, or cream. From my experience, soft pretzels sold by street vendors and local restaurants are more likely to contain dairy, as they use more traditional recipes.
However, many of the store-bought soft pretzels or those I’ve found at plant-based eateries are vegan.
Are Hard Pretzels Vegan?
Soft pretzels were the first pretzels to take the world by storm. However, hard pretzels are another common snack. They’re crisp, salty, and made with simple ingredients, making them the perfect snack food or side to a great sandwich.
Most hard pretzels are vegan, as they’re made from a simple wheat dough-based recipe. They typically don’t contain any dairy, eggs, or other animal-derived products.
Just watch out for some of the flavored varieties of hard pretzels, as some of these contain honey (a non-vegan product), cheese, or a form of butter. To learn more about why hard pretzels are vegan and how to tell which ones are best for your diet, read my latest post on pretzels!
Are Auntie Anne’s Soft Pretzels Vegan?
If you’ve ever gone to your local mall, then you may have walked past an Auntie Anne’s pretzel shop.
They’re commonly found in malls and shopping centers around the world and are easy to find thanks to the strong scent of cinnamon and fresh-baked pretzels coming from their kitchen.
Auntie Anne’s soft pretzels are naturally vegan! They don’t contain any dairy or butter when eaten plain. Just be sure to tell the clerk that you don’t want any butter coating on the outside of your pretzels, as they’re often coated with a thin layer of butter.
You should also avoid the cinnamon-flavored pretzels at Auntie Anne’s, as these are made with white sugar, which is filtered through bone char, and therefore not vegan.
Auntie Anne’s also sells a number of products that may contain pork-based sausage, so make sure that there’s no cross-contamination going on at the location you’re shopping at.
Are Soft Pretzels Gluten-Free?
Those who are sensitive to gluten or have a disease like celiac that prevents them from eating gluten should avoid any products that contain wheat, barley, rye, or triticale.
These grains all contain a high concentration of gluten, which can trigger an allergic (and potentially deadly) reaction in those sensitive to the protein.
Unfortunately, soft pretzels (and hard pretzels) are not gluten-free. They’re made with wheat flour, which contains lots of gluten.
What Are Soft Pretzels Made From? Untwisting The Ingredients
Now that you know a little bit more about soft pretzels and which ingredients to look out for, let’s take a few minutes to break down all of the ingredients that are commonly used to make soft fresh-baked soft pretzels!
For the most part, soft pretzels are made from natural, plant-based ingredients. Of course, if you’re purchasing store-bought or frozen soft pretzels, then you may find other additives, such as preservatives or artificial flavors. However, most bakeries and pretzel shops use a simple recipe.
Take a look!
1) Wheat Flour & Water
Wheat flour is at the core of each pretzel. It’s mixed with water to create a thick, chewy dough. Its texture and consistency are similar to that of pizza dough. It’s designed to be thick and chewy instead of soft and light (like traditional bread dough).
Wheat flour is 100% plant-based as it’s just dried wheat that’s ground into a fine baking powder. Some pretzels may also use enriched wheat flour that contains added B vitamins and minerals. This alternative flour is also vegan, though!
2) Active Yeast
Almost all forms of bread dough contain yeast. When added to the dough, the yeast is activated and begins to feed on the natural sugars found in the wheat dough. After it processes the sugar, the yeast releases gas, which causes the dough to rise.
Otherwise, the dough would remain flat like a cracker.
Although yeast is technically a live organism, it’s considered a vegan-friendly food ingredient. The organisms are single-celled and don’t have a nervous system, making them far more similar to plants than animals.
3) Butter or Oil
Almost all soft pretzels contain some form of butter or vegetable oil. This oil serves as a fatty base that helps to hold the dough together. It also helps the pretzels cook evenly.
Although butter used to be the preferred form of fat, the increase in lactose-intolerant individuals has led to vegetable oil being a more commonly added ingredient.
Traditionally, soft pretzels are seasoned with large chunks of delicious sea salt. This blends well with the hot, soft pretzel. Salt is also used in the pretzel dough to create a thicker, stronger dough that’s easier to form into twists.
5) Glaze or Seasoning
Many soft pretzel vendors glaze their baked creations with liquid butter, or oil, or coat them in some type of seasoning. This is usually where you’ll need to be the most careful, as many glazes and seasonings contain non-vegan ingredients.
6) Baking Soda
A bit of baking soda is usually added to the soft pretzel dough to prevent them from rising too much. This makes for a slightly chewier, less bread-like pretzel.
The Verdict – Are Soft Pretzels Vegan-Friendly?
For the most part, soft pretzels are 100% vegan! They can be made without butter, dairy, or sugar. Before eating any soft pretzel, though, just double-check the ingredients used to make sure that they’re fully vegan.
If you thought this post was interesting, be sure to check out my post breaking down tortilla chips, so you can try this classic vegan-friendly snack next!