Holy Molly, pretzels are soul food. Who could have figured that the simple, honest, mouth-smacking pretzel had so much history packed in? As one story goes, they made it across the Atlantic from Europe carried by the Pilgrim fathers on the Mayflower. Not likely, ain’t it. I didn’t think so.
A more realistic answer is pretzels came across through German immigrants who landed in Pennsylvania. Mr. Julius Sturgis founded a bakery there around 1861 by all accounts and started with hard pretzels. The humble pretzel had arrived.
But to press on, it is one of the world’s possible earliest snacks, the first traces found around 600 AD. An unknown European monk, from scraps of bread dough, it is said, made them as a reward to children who said their prayers correctly.
Hence the crossed arms, as if in prayer, the commonly used shape of a typical pretzel, survives
How Are Pretzels Made
The stuff that goes into making a pretzel is simple: wheat flour, yeast, salt, and lye. Without it, a pretzel is tasteless. What is lye? It is sodium hydroxide treated with lime. Lye is the result of burning hardwood and mixing it with water and baking soda.
Let’s shift gears. How the heck does one make a pretzel?
We’ll keep it simple because it is. No rocket science here. A soft pretzel weighs about a gram. But here in America, crunchy, crisp, hard pretzels pop off the counter quicker.
Now your dough of wheat flour, lye, salt, and yeast is kneaded well and ready for the oven.
The first is rolling them pancake thin. Then you cut pieces about 3inches square. Don’t worry about wastage at this stage, as all the little scraps go back into the dough.
You want an authentic-looking pretzel. Making the bow will be challenging initially. But, just do a couple, and you will get the zippier.
Right, your first batch is ready to hatch.
Pop the tray into your oven set at 460℉ (240℃) and set your timer for 3.7 minutes.
Go and switch on the TV—surf over to your fav station. When the timer pings, get that bowl of hot aromatic pretzels, put your feet up and enjoy. Wait a sec; you are vegan; a beer is also. Go for it.
Types Of Pretzels
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Making Pretzels requires wheat flour and salt. The Catholic Church was mighty strict on going vegan in those times, especially during Lent. All types of meat, dairy, and eggs were prohibited. Pretzels got the nod, however.
Soft pretzels are kind of squishy, almost a bread. They are best consumed quickly after being made. Seasonings can be anything-. Cheese, chocolate, cinnamon, seeds, nuts, and so on.
I got thinking. Walmart pretzels are a heck of a bore. And so I got to make them at home. Now I’m a lousy baker, so the first two batches had to get trashed. There is nothing closer to heaven than an oven-fresh soft pretzel. Think about it.
Hard pretzels are an American discovery. Take your pick if a batch mistakenly overbaked or a bunch with less water. Anyway, the result was gob-smacking alright. A pretzel is as essential as they come. Wheat flour, water, yeast, shortening, leavening agents, salt, and sugar. Simple, right?
Wheat flour makes up the bulk of a pretzel, taking up about 65-70% of the volume. The protein content is about 9%. Your pretzel is only as good as the quality of the flour. Yummy pretzels are not from cheap, damaged wheat flour.
Hard pretzels have a long shelf life.
The hard alkaline exterior combined with the acidic interior gives the pretzel its unique taste and flavor
A Vegan’s Guide To Eating Pretzels
Are pretzels vegan? The good news, they are. They do not contain any eggs or milk. Please read the labels for the fine print. For instance, the famous brand Auntie Anne’s soft pretzels do not measure up as they have butter coating. Goldfish Pretzels contain milk, another no-no. Plain, hard pretzels are a good bet.
Shortening is a solid form of vegetable oils and fats. It helps the pretzel stay soft and not turn into a rock. And that’s not about it- it gives volume, tenderness, the crumbly texture, strength, and structure, provides lubricity, adds air, and transfers heat. A pretzel has a 2-8% shortening making it practically the only snack with minimal fat content.
Yeast and leavening agents are additives to make the pretzels crispy and improve the taste. Yeast is typically a dry, granular substance and is preferable. However, the wet variety has a low shelf life. Dry yeast is therefore preferable. It remains unspoiled at room temperature for a long time.
Leavening agents have the same effect as fermenting yeast does. However, its beauty is that the final taste is not affected.
Chemical leavening agents include sodium or ammonium bicarbonate. But they can be left out of the process. They are simply mixing wheat flour and water, and allowing it to sit for some time does the trick. The fermentation process the spores present in the air. An instance is a sourdough. The process can be made faster by adding yeast.
The other ingredients are water, salt, seasonings, sugar, etc. Water makes up the bulk at around 30-35%, and it is required to kick off the fermentation process. The yeast has to get in touch with the sugar for this to happen.
Activation of the chemical agents occurs with the addition of water. So, other than improving the taste, salt acts as a binder for the dough.
Typically, make pretzels by dipping them in a lye solution before baking. The original German pretzel was just wheat flour, water, and salt. No chemicals.
Added fats remain a significant concern as far as vegans go. So do check the labels for ingredients such as margarine or butter.
Toppings And Flavorings
Toppings and flavorings are the tricky part. Many pretzel brands use cheese, milk, milkfat, honey, and what have you. These are not vegan.
Pretzels, soft or hard, do not pose any vegan challenges. The cause is almost always the sweet ones or those accompanied by dips. Bone char processing of dips will contain sugars. Even your standard mustard sauce may have a dash of honey, making it off-limits for vegans. Then there are beer-flavored pretzels, but beware, beer may be of non-vegan ingredients.
A pretzel has wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast. Can vegans have yeast? It doesn’t have a nervous system, and consuming it does not harm any animal. That makes it vegan.
And what about food coloring. Indeed chemicals come in there. Natural food colors are alright, except carmine, which comes from bugs. Artificial coloring agents are controversial. Even if they do not contain any chemicals, testing artificial colorings on animals disqualifies pretzels as a vegan.
Wrapping It Up
It is tough to be vegan. A pretzel is comfort food, an American staple. So the referable left for vegans is whether the pretzels fit the bill or abstain. My take is that the only option is to bake your own.
One brand Rold Gold is 100% vegan. Snyders Vegan Pretzels are also great for having a snack. One word of advice, shop with caution.