A pretzel is a type of bread product made from dough typically shaped into a twisted knot, though in modern times, pretzels come in a variety of shapes. This article addresses pretzels made from yeast dough—not the small, crunchy, and unleavened kind you buy in bags.
Are they vegan? Soft pretzels can be vegan if there’s no butter glaze, and the dough doesn’t contain milk derivatives. I’ll be covering some popular soft pretzels here so that you don’t have to do the homework yourself.
Non-Vegan Ingredients Common in Soft Pretzels
Manufacturers need only change the shape of the yeast dough they’re working with to make breadsticks and pretzels. The difference between pretzels (and breadsticks) and other baked goods is that they are coated with a nice layer of butter and/or salt.1
To ensure you don’t consume butter, you’ll need to order your pretzel without butter, or make sure that the “butter” brushed atop the pretzels is actually margarine.
Fortunately, for vegans, margarine is a favorite for use in processed bread products. Margarine used to be made up of oil that was partially hydrogenated to produce trans fatty acids, but nowadays, it’s much healthier. Partially hydrogenated oil is still used, but the end product is usually low in trans fat.
Rather, manufacturers now make heavy use of emulsifiers in order to be able to mix water with the oil to soften it up. As you’ll see, Auntie Anne’s uses real butter, so if you like their pretzels you’ll have to forego the buttery spread.
Other Milk Products
The food industry separates out milk ingredients to use for various reasons in processed foods.2 It’s very common for milk proteins to be added to processed foods in order to improve their nutritive value.
Caseinates (the most abundant protein in milk) help emulsify and stabilize ingredients, while other milk proteins like whey assist with gelling and texture.
Also, the natural sugar found in milk, lactose, undergoes the browning reaction and thus helps contribute color to baked goods. So, overall, milk is used in processed foods to improve protein content, add moisture, and contribute to emulsification, foaming, flavor, nutrition, and texture.1
Egg can sneak up on you in almost any food product, and pretzels are no exception. Egg does not come standard in bread products, because wheat flour has its own binder—gluten. Therefore, eggs are rarely needed for their binding ability.
However, the fact that flour contains gluten does not keep manufacturers from throwing egg into the mix from time to time. In fact, the traditional bagel recipe (another yeast bread product) used egg white, though it’s less common these days.3
Eggs contain lecithin, which is a natural emulsifying agent. It helps ingredients stay nice and mixed because one end of the molecule attracts fat and the other end attracts water.4
In this way, they (eggs) help keep fat and liquid compounds from separating, which makes them great for use as thickeners and stabilizers in a wide range of food products. The yolk also contributes a nice golden brown color to baked goods.
So, this is something to look out for.
Vegan-Friendly Soft Pretzels
Standard Pretzels (No Flavor)
Or buttery pretzel without the butter. It should be made from flour, water, active dry yeast, oil, and a bit of salt. So, no problems there.
But, again you’ll need to specify that you don’t want any butter.
For example, this is from Auntie Anne’s website:5
Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels
These can be vegan, depending on how the manufacturers allow the sugar to adhere. Butter or an egg wash can be used, but margarine is also pretty common.
Auntie Anne’s cinnamon sugar pretzels are dairy and egg-free.6
Raisins can be added to the sugar and cinnamon variety, but they often come as the only extra ingredient (i.e. ingredient besides the usual flour, yeast, etc.).
Anyway, raisins are simply sundried grapes, so they’re perfectly suitable for vegans.
I was a bit surprised to find some pretzel makers offer vegan-friendly jalapeno pretzels. I say surprised because most jalapeno-flavored snacks (like chips, etc.) come with milk ingredients.
But, the pretzels I’ve come across that have been flavored with jalapenos tend to be vegan.6
Non-Vegan Soft Pretzels
The list of non-vegan pretzels is about as long as the above list.
Cheese comes alongside pretzels in many forms. Sometimes it’s sprinkled on top and then toasted like cheesy crust.
Other times, a cheesy dip is served with your pretzel instead of mustard, etc. Obviously, the latter is an easy fix—just don’t consume dip or order a different kind.
Some pretzels come with roasted garlic and parmesan, so you’ll want to stay away from those.6
Sour Cream and Onion Pretzels
For those who are new to the subject, sourcream is always non-vegan—if it’s true sourcream, that is. It’s mostly bacterial cultures and MSNF (milk solids non-fat). Anyway, this is a popular flavor and is always off-limits.
Meat-Based Pretzels (Pepperoni Pretzels and Pretzel Dogs, Etc.)
This one probably goes without saying, but make sure the flavor you choose doesn’t come with meat. It’s much easier to avoid if the product puts meat (“pepperoni” or what have you) in the description, but meat often hides in labels like the “Italian Pretzel” or “Southwest Pretzel.”
Breakfast Sandwiches with Pretzel Buns
Above we covered how egg can often be put into bread products as an additive to contribute various useful functions. Well, egg also comes in breakfast sandwiches.
Again, not an issue if egg is in the name of the pretzel, but any “breakfast sandwich” probably contains at least egg if not meat too.
That’s it for the vegan status of soft pretzels. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 431). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Chandan R. Dairy-Based Ingredients. Eagen Press, 1997.
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 429). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011
- Anton M, and G Gandemer. Composition, solubility, and emulsifying properties of granules and plasma of egg yolk. Journal of Food Science 62(3):484–487, 1997.
- Pretzels. https://www.auntieannes.com/pretzels/original-pretzel
- Food Allergens and Sensitivities for Auntie Anne’s Pretzels and Products. https://www.auntieannes.com/contact-us/-/media/auntie-annes/files/auntie-annes-allergen-information.pdf?la=en&hash=B5540BCE27E234C97C313709E0CFCEAA51781C2F