Photo: Randy Mayor
Pretzels, not being deep-fried, have a pretty good reputation on the nutrition front, as far as salty, crunchy snacks go. The problem is the “salty” part: It’s tricky to take even a modest dip into a bag of some pretzels and stay within the daily 2,400-milligram sodium allotment. Among the many national brands and flavors we considered for tasting, seven had to be eliminated due to inordinately high sodium numbers. One brand contained an astonishing 630 milligrams per 1-ounce serving. But after culling some contenders by limiting sodium, we still found plenty of options that give you what you want in a good pretzel—crisp crunch and buttery saltiness—without raising the blood pressure.
BEST CLASSIC PRETZEL (A TIE): 365 Organic Crunchy Mini Twists, $2 (8 ounces)
Whole Foods’ house brand offered a buttery flavor balanced with just the right amount of salt and crunch (again, not tooth-breakingly hard, but not airy or floury, as several samples were).
Snyder’s of Hanover Mini Pretzels, $2.59 (16 ounces)
Snyder’s satisfied on every level—shiny brown exterior, crisp but not rock-hard crunch, followed by a deep toasty flavor, heightened by a nice salty finish.
BEST HONEY WHEAT: Rold Gold Honey Wheat Braided Twists, $2.50 (10 ounces)
The thick braided twists were surprisingly flaky and tender while still yielding a moderate crunch. A barely there taste of honey complemented without overpowering.
BEST UNSALTED: 365 Unsalted Twists, $2 (7 ounces)
These pretzels contain a mere 40 milligrams of sodium per serving—the least of any we tested—but the just-right crunch, light texture, and buttery flavor still satisfied.
BEST ALT GRAIN: Newman’s Own Organic Spelt, $3 (7 ounces)
Spelt is a grain that is a member of the wheat family. It has a tougher husk than wheat, which helps to preserve more of its nutrients, like the 4 grams of filling fiber and protein in this uniquely nutty/buttery/salty/slightly sweet pretzel.
FROM THE TEST KITCHEN: New pretzel logic.
1. Take a dip. Chocolate-covered pretzels are the perfect blend of salty and sweet. Melt your chocolate of choice, then dip pretzels and let them cool on a wire rack.
2. Use for a crumb coating. Deploy crushed pretzels like breadcrumbs to create a crisp coating for meat or fish before cooking, or sprinkle on top of casseroles before baking. Pulse a few times in the food processor to reach the desired consistency.
3. Grind for a crust. Unsalted pretzels can be finely ground in a food processor and used in place of graham crackers to make crusts for pies and tarts. Combine with butter and sugar according to your recipe, and press into the bottom of a baking dish.
HOW WE TEST
Method: A panel of Cooking Light staff participated in two blind tastings of nationally available pretzels. In the mix: 5 plain, 4 unsalted, 5 organic grain, and 3 honey wheat.
Nutritional guidelines: We evaluated pretzels with 350 milligrams of sodium per serving or less. Few “wheat” or “spelt” pretzels count as a serving of whole grains because they are not made with whole-grain flours.