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What’s in This?: Soft Pretzels

All six ingredients in this microwaveable snack, explained (yep, even thiamine mononitrate)

We’re often told that you should never eat anything (or put anything on your body) if you don’t recognize everything on the ingredients list. But since most of us have no idea what xanthan gum or potassium benzoate are — or more importantly, what they’re doing to our bodies — we’re decoding the ingredients in the many things Americans put in (and on) themselves with the help of an expert.

This edition: SuperPretzel Soft Pretzels, which are made from six separate ingredients that we’ve broken down in the exact order they appear on their website.

The Ingredients

1) Enriched Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid): As we learned in our exploration of the many, many, many ingredients in the McDonald’s Big Mac, enriched flour isn’t actually “enriched” at all. In addition to containing more calories than whole wheat flour, the bleaching process enriched flour undergoes produces an unfortunate byproduct: A chemical called alloxan, which has been found to induce diabetes in lab-animal test subjects by destroying their pancreas.

2) Water: You (hopefully) drink this one.

3) Corn Syrup: Corn syrup is a liquid sweetener made of glucose. It doesn’t get as much negative publicity as high fructose corn syrup — which has been linked to obesity and diabetes by many, many studies (more on that here) — but regular corn syrup can also be debilitating, considering it’s basically liquid sugar.

4) Yeast: This is a fungus that makes dough rise.

5) Salt: Is a pretzel really a pretzel without salt?

6) Bicarbonates and Carbonates of Soda: Bicarbonate of soda is another name for baking soda, which is often used as a leavening agent, causing dough to rise and become porous by increasing the surface area. Carbonate of soda (sodium carbonate) is less frequently used in food, because it reacts much more strongly and can be caustic in high amounts. That said, pretzels are one of the few foods that actually benefit from sodium carbonate, which provides them with their distinctive flavor and dark brown color.

The Takeaway

While enriched wheat flour is far from a “healthy” ingredient, SuperPretzel Soft Pretzels are — by and large — one of the least problematic snacks that we’ve ever covered in this series (if you need to feel depressed for some reason, read about more problematic snacks here). So if you’re craving a pretzel — and I honestly didn’t expect to say this — these aren’t such a bad choice.