Anyone who has tried to make homemade pretzels knows that there is one essential step that you can never skip: boiling your pretzels in baking soda water before baking. Almost every homemade pretzel recipe contains this step—but why? Here, we dig into the science to help you better understand how crucial this step is.
The Power of Baking Soda
Baking soda is an alkaline compound. Alkalis are essentially a basic (the opposite of acidic), ionic salt of an alkali metal. That may sound scary, but don’t worry—many alkali metals are safe to consume! Examples of alkali metals include sodium, potassium, and more.
When you combine alkaline compounds such as baking soda with an acid, they produce carbon dioxide bubbles which helps cooking batter to rise. This is why you add baking soda to cookies, cakes, and more.
Baking Soda and Pretzels—A More Authentic Recipe
When it comes to pretzels, you boil them in baking soda water before you bake them. As such, instead of using them in the batter, they’re used on the outside of the pretzel. The baking soda is also not being combined with an acid, so it’s not being used to lift the pretzels. Then, why do we need to do this step?
Think about how pretzels look. Authentic pretzels have a dark brown color on the outside, developing a chewy yet crispy texture. In Germany, this is achieved using food-grade lye. Lye, similar to baking soda, is an alkali, but a much stronger one. Due to its corrosive properties, it can be difficult to work with (gloves and goggles are recommended). A less intimidating way of achieving that brown coloring and chewy-yet-crispy texture for our pretzels is by using baking soda.
After you boil the pretzels in the baking soda water, you place them in the oven. The heat from the oven interacts with the baking soda molecules coating the pretzels. This causes the molecules to react with one another, increasing the alkalinity of the outside of the pretzel. In other words, the baking soda becomes a stronger alkaline compound akin to lye.
Homemade pretzels are delicious, but they do require some work. If you’re looking for an easy way to get delicious pretzels, then look no further than Uncle Henry’s Pretzel Bakery. We have a variety of handmade pretzels for you to choose from. Look through our online shop to get started!