Why You Need To Boil Your Pretzels in Baking Soda

Soft-Prezel-Week.jpg

Welcome to Day 2 of Soft Pretzel Week! Thanks for all your post suggestions…I’ll be adding a step-by-step tutorial on making pretzels, along with a few more pretzel recipes, a savory dip and a sweet dip to this week’s line-up.

But first, some Brain Food for you all.

When I posted my traditional homemade pretzels, quite a few people asked me why I boiled the pretzels in baking soda + water before baking them. Was it really worth the extra time and effort, they asked?

My answer: a resounding YES. Definitely worth it!

I mean, just look at the differences:

Unboiled-Pretzel.jpg

The pretzel in the front wasn’t boiled in baking soda. See how flat and sadly pale it is?

Boiled-Pretzel.jpg  

This one was boiled before baking. Look how beautiful the dark crust is, complete with “crackling” on the surface!

The reasoning for this is really two-fold.

First, the boiling. Dropping each pretzel into boiling water for about 30 seconds makes the interior of the pretzel quickly “puff” and begins the crust formation. If you don’t boil, you’ll lose out on the chewiness you’d expect from a pretzel…and that would just be sad, now wouldn’t it?

The other reason it is worth it? The baking soda.

The baking soda is what gives the pretzels their brown and shiny crust and their distinctive flavor.

Remember the acid-base scale from back in your chemistry classes?

pH-Scale.jpg

Well, water alone is typically pretty neutral. But when you add baking soda? It moves way over to the alkaline or basic side of the scale.

And when this happens, the browning reactions that makes a soft pretzel a soft pretzel can happen more rapidly.

So yes, you can skip the “boiling in water + baking soda” step. But beware: if you do, you’ll lose out on the texture, flavor and appearance of the pretzel. So it won’t really be a soft pretzel.

Pretzel-Comparison.jpg

Boiled on the left, unboiled on the right.

Alternatively, you can dip the pretzels in lye before baking them. But that requires rubber gloves and safety goggles, so…. I choose baking soda.

Previous soft pretzel posts, in case you missed them:

Have any suggestions for future Brain Food posts or themed weeks? I’d love your input here or at my Facebook page!

Comments

    • Julie @savvyeats says

      Hmm…someone else left that comment below too! I like boiling instead of dipping because it does get the pretzel to puff up and rise really quickly. What state were the pretzels in before you dipping them (frozen, had time to rise, etc)?

      • says

        We made the dough with a mixer (it was prepackaged and we added yeast and water).. then we let it rise on top of the hot ovens (I forget for how long).. then it sat on the counter and we were ready to roll! Soo pretty “fresh” for a quick-serving food place.

        • says

          We did the same. The water was really hot as I remember it. We constantly changed the water so that it was as hot as we could stand to touch and dip. It also helped because we had to pinch the “joints” while dipping so they didnt’ fall apart.

          Auntie Anne’s Soft pretzels are thinner than yours are so the time for cooking might be different.

  1. says

    How interesting!

    I did wonder why they were boiled in baking soda, makes perfect sense now. You even make this sound really easy, I might just have to attempt to make some myself…

  2. says

    I’ve been waiting for this post :) The interesting thing is, my recipe for Peter Reinhart’s soft pretzels doesn’t tell you to boil them – just to dunk them in the warm water/baking soda solution. And mine turned out fine that way. At any rate, I’ll have to try the boiling method!

  3. Jen says

    Hrmm, I am going to try just dipping them in the water/BS solution next time. I think I boiled them too long, they have a funny almost eggy taste.

    • Julie says

      Oh no! The boiling is very VERY brief. Dipping may work–but the solution should be hot when you do it so that the soda is dissolved!

    • Jensen.T says

      That’s so true! Not only was I feeling like a stereotypical male who can’t do anything in the kitchen, but it was a total flop. It tasted eggy, the thing (it doesn’t pass of as a pretzel, seriously. My wife thought it was (insert crude remark)! I’m glad you had that problem. Now we’re in the same boat!

      I boiled it for 30 seconds, and it still tasted weird…What’s the problem there?

  4. Lisa says

    Can I boil them the day (or hours) beforehand? We are having a party and want that just out of the oven warmth, but don’t want boil during the party.

  5. says

    Really interesting! I made these with my daughter last night (practicing for 4-H — this is the year to make pretzels for the fair!). We made 6 with the dipping, 2 without. The dipped ones did definitely look nicer in color. BUT — it puffed up the pretzels so much that they lost the pretzel shape and looked more like blobs after baking. Any ideas to combat this? I will say that our recipe said to boil the pretzels in the water 2 minutes — quite a bit longer than you suggest here, so maybe that contributed to the over-puffing? Thanks. I love the internet — it led me right to you :)

  6. Sara Anderson says

    Being the food nerd that I am, I just researched this. “Maillard Browning” (the name for browning in cooking, browned steak, browned bread, etc.) is increased in an alkaline environment. So, pretzels get extra brown because of the baking soda. Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) can also be used and doesn’t need to be heated because it is a strong base. Baking soda gives a better reaction when you boil it, because it is a weak base, and needs a little extra “oomph.”

    • Julie says

      True! There are so many safety considerations you need to make with lye, which is why I prefer to use baking soda! :)

  7. Nana Frana says

    Just made these from a package mix with my grand kids as a cooking camp project. (Ages 6, 11). They were intrigued with the rolling process, but the older was especially interested in the chemistry element of the baking soda boil on your website. Thanks for contributing to our fun learning experience. Next time I’ll go from scratch!

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