Is there gluten in soft pretzels?

Yes, traditional soft pretzels contain gluten. Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Since soft pretzels are typically made from wheat flour, they contain gluten.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. The two main proteins that make up gluten are glutenin and gliadin. When wheat flour is mixed with water, these proteins form elastic strands that give bread dough its strength and chewiness.

There are many different types of gluten proteins. Some cause health issues like celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, while others do not. People with celiac disease or NCGS cannot tolerate the gluten found in foods like breads, pastas and soft pretzels.

Why do traditional soft pretzels contain gluten?

Soft pretzels are traditionally made from wheat flour, which naturally contains gluten proteins. Here are some of the reasons wheat flour and gluten are used in soft pretzels:

  • Gluten provides structure. When wheat flour hydrates, gluten strands form a network that provides stretchiness and structure. This allows the pretzel dough to be rolled and shaped.
  • Gluten promotes rising. In yeast-risen soft pretzels, the gluten network traps the gases produced by yeast. This allows the pretzel to fully proof and rise.
  • Gluten provides chewiness. The gluten protein network gives soft pretzels their characteristic chewy texture.
  • Wheat flour has binding properties. The proteins in wheat flour help stick ingredients like salt and seasoning to the pretzel surface.
  • Wheat flour is commonly available. As a cereal grain, wheat flour is inexpensive and easily sourced.

Gluten provides many functional advantages during the pretzel making process. Replacing it with other flours or starches can be difficult and may result in an inferior product. That’s why traditional recipes rely on wheat flour and gluten to achieve the perfect soft pretzel texture.

Are all soft pretzels made with gluten?

While traditional soft pretzels are made with wheat flour and contain gluten, there are some gluten-free options available:

  • Gluten-free pretzel mixes made with flours like rice flour, potato starch and tapioca flour. These create a gluten-free dough that can be shaped into pretzels.
  • Pretzels made from gluten-free bread. Slices of gluten-free bread like sourdough or sandwich bread can be cut into strips and made into pretzel shapes.
  • Buckwheat pretzels made from gluten-free buckwheat flour.
  • Ancient grain pretzels using gluten-free flours like sorghum, amaranth, teff or millet.
  • Nut flour pretzels with almond flour or other nut meals as the base.

While gluten-free pretzel options are available, most are made with a combination of flours and starches like potato starch, tapioca starch, xanthan gum or eggs. They typically don’t have quite the same flavor and texture as a traditional gluten-containing pretzel.

What ingredients are used to make soft pretzels?

Here are some of the most common ingredients used to make soft pretzels:


Most soft pretzels are made from wheat flour, which contains the gluten proteins necessary to achieve the right dough texture. All-purpose flour or bread flour are commonly used. Gluten-free options use rice, buckwheat or nut flours instead.


Water hydrates the wheat flour to activate the gluten strands. The right amount of water gives pretzel dough the proper consistency for shaping.


Active dry yeast or instant yeast leavens traditional soft pretzels. Yeast ferments sugars present in the flour, releasing carbon dioxide that causes the dough to rise.


Salt provides flavor and also slows down the fermentation by yeast. In addition to enhancing taste, salt controls the rising process.

Sugar or malt syrup

A small amount of sugar is food for the yeast. Malted barley syrup also provides fermentable sugars. This nourishes the yeast and aids the rising process.


Some soft pretzel recipes include fat like vegetable oil or butter. Though optional, fat tenderizes the pretzel and promotes browning.

Baking soda

Dipping pretzels in baking soda solution before baking gives them their signature crust with glossy sheen. Baking soda raises the pH of the exterior, accelerating browning during baking.

How are soft pretzels made?

Making soft pretzels is a process with several key steps:

  1. Mixing: The dough ingredients like flour, yeast, salt and sugar are mixed together with warm water. This combines the ingredients and starts developing the gluten strands.
  2. Kneading: The dough is kneaded until smooth and elastic. Kneading further develops the gluten network.
  3. Rising: The dough is allowed to proof and rise until doubled in size. This allows the yeast to produce carbon dioxide gas and expand the dough.
  4. Shaping: The risen dough is cut into pieces and shaped into the traditional pretzel knot shape by looping the ends across each other.
  5. Proofing: Shaped pretzels are allowed to rest and rise again before baking. This helps them retain their shape.
  6. Boiling: Pretzels are briefly boiled in a solution of water and baking soda. This gelatinizes starches on the exterior and promotes browning.
  7. Baking: Pretzels are baked at a high temperature until deep golden brown. Baking sets the structure and develops flavor through the Maillard reaction.
  8. Salting: Just after baking, pretzels are topped with coarse salt while still hot. This adheres the salt crystals to the pretzel surface to finish the flavor.

The entire process develops gluten, produces gas for leavening, and creates the characteristic chewy, brown and salty qualities of a properly made soft pretzel.

Do soft pretzels need to be boiled?

Boiling soft pretzels before baking is a traditional technique that gives pretzels their unique color, sheen and flavor. However, it is possible to make pretzels without the boiling step:

  • Texture – Boiling gelatinizes starches on the pretzel exterior. This helps create a shiny, crispy crust. Unboiled pretzels will have a softer surface.
  • Color – Boiling kickstarts browning reactions for a deep brown color. Unboiled pretzels will be paler in color.
  • Flavors – Boiling accentuates the development of the characteristic malty, bread-like pretzel flavors.
  • Shape – Boiling sets the pretzel shape before baking. Unboiled pretzels may flatten out or lose their shape in the oven.

While boiling isn’t strictly necessary, it produces a pretzel that looks, tastes and chews like a classic soft pretzel. Skipping it removes some of the qualities that make pretzels unique. However, unboiled pretzels can still be tasty.

What are soft pretzels typically topped with?

Soft pretzels are traditionally topped with:

Coarse salt

Pretzels are almost always sprinkled with coarse sea salt or pretzel salt immediately after baking. The hot pretzel surface helps adhere the salt crystals. Salt provides a salty flavor that contrasts with the chewy, malty interior.

Sesame seeds

Sesame seeds add crunch and nutty flavor to pretzels. The seeds can stick to the pretzels if sprinkled over top while still hot out of the oven.

Garlic salt

For garlic pretzels, a mixture of salt and garlic powder is shaken over the pretzels after baking. This adds a burst of garlic flavor with salty overtones.

Cinnamon sugar

For a sweet twist, soft pretzels can be coated with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar after baking. The residual heat adheres the topping.

What dipping sauces go with soft pretzels?

Here are some popular dipping sauces that pair deliciously with soft pretzels:


Yellow mustard, Dijon mustard or whole grain mustard all complement pretzels wonderfully. The tangy mustard flavor offsets the malty, yeasty pretzel notes.

Cheese sauce

Warm cheese sauce is a classic pretzel pairing. The rich, creamy cheese mellows the saltiness of the pretzel.

Marinara sauce

For an Italian twist, marinara sauce makes a tasty pretzel dip. The bright acidity of tomatoes balances the doughy pretzel.

Beer cheese

For an indulgent dip, beer cheese blends melty cheese with beer for a sauce that perfectly matches pretzels.

Chocolate sauce

Drizzling sweet chocolate sauce over pretzels creates a salty-sweet flavor combo. It’s an especially good match for cinnamon sugar pretzels.

What are some fun variations on soft pretzels?

While classic knot-shaped, salt-topped soft pretzels are iconic, there are many fun ways to vary them:

  • Different shapes – Make pretzel sandwiches, braids, twists, wheels or sticks instead of knots.
  • Sweet fillings – Fill pretzels with chocolate, caramel, cinnamon apples or other sweet ingredients.
  • Pretzel rolls – Shape pretzel dough into dinner rolls, hamburger buns or hot dog buns.
  • Pretzel bites – Make smaller, bite-sized pretzel nuggets.
  • Savory add-ins – Add shredded cheese, garlic, onions, jalapenos or other savory ingredients into the dough.
  • Topping combos – Drizzle with honey, coat with Everything Bagel seasoning, or dip in chocolate.
  • Creative dips – Try unique pretzel dips like brownie batter, strawberry sauce, orange marmalade, etc.

Changing up the shape, flavors and presentation allows for lots of creativity beyond a plain soft pretzel!

Are soft pretzels healthy?

Soft pretzels are not the most nutrient-dense food, but they can be enjoyed in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet. Here are some factors to consider regarding the health effects of soft pretzels:

  • Refined carbs – Pretzels made from white flour are high in refined carbs with minimal fiber and nutrients.
  • Sodium – Pretzels tend to be high in sodium, especially if topped with salt.
  • Fat – Most pretzels are low in fat, especially if baked instead of fried.
  • Calories – One plain soft pretzel without toppings contains about 300 calories.
  • Portion size – Overeating pretzels can lead to weight gain. Enjoy pretzels in reasonable portions as part of a balanced diet.
  • Ingredients – Soft pretzels made with whole grain flours provide more nutrients and fiber.

While not a health food, soft pretzels in moderation can fit into healthy eating habits. Limit portion sizes, accompany them with protein and veggies, and choose healthier toppings to maximize their nutritional value.

Are there any health risks from eating soft pretzels?

For most people, occasional soft pretzel consumption does not pose major health risks. However, there are a few things to be mindful of:

  • Allergies – Pretzels contain gluten, wheat, and possibly milk, eggs, or soy. Those with food allergies or sensitivities should avoid pretzels.
  • High sodium – Excess sodium intake from pretzels may increase risks for those with high blood pressure, heart disease or kidney problems.
  • High carbs – Overeating refined carb foods like pretzels can increase risks for prediabetes and diabetes.
  • Weight gain – Frequent overconsumption of calorie-dense pretzels may lead to weight gain over time.
  • Added sugar – Sweet pretzel varieties with frosting, chocolate or cinnamon sugar provide extra sugar that should be limited.

Pretzels are generally safe for healthy individuals. However, moderation is key, especially for those with certain medical conditions who require dietary restrictions.


Soft pretzels are a beloved snack food for good reason. When traditionally made with wheat flour, yeast, salt and water, twisted into knots, boiled and salted, they offer a one-of-a-kind chewy texture and malty, savory flavor. While soft pretzels are not the most nutritious choice, they can be enjoyed in moderation by most people without health risks. Whether enjoyed on their own or paired with a delicious dipping sauce, soft pretzels satisfy salty cravings in a unique way.

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