The real reason you boil pretzels in baking soda

Everywhere you look in Germany, you'll find soft pretzels the size of your head. They're plain, with butter slathered on, or as a substitute for pieces of bread as a pretzel sandwich. However, stateside, soft pretzels are a little trickier to find compared to their small and crunchy cousins.

However, they aren't particularly difficult to make, so long as you follow one necessary step. Soft pretzels have to be boiled in baking soda before they're baked (via Taste of Home). Introducing the pretzel to the alkaline solution changes the pH level of the dough. As a result, the pretzel darkens better in the oven (if this step weren't taken, pretzels would have the same color as plain bagels) and the soft pretzel develops its crispy — yet chewy — texture for which it's known.

Typically a half cup of baking soda is used in two quarts of water for the solution. They don't need to be boiled for long — 10 to 15 seconds should do the trick.

How using baking soda on pretzels came to be

As with many culinary inventions, the baking-soda boiled pretzel was something of a happy accident. Legend has it that a baker at Munich's Royal Cafe in the 1830s was preparing sweet pretzels (via German Food Guide). He intended to brush them with the sugar glaze needed to finish them and instead accidentally brushed them with the baking soda solution he was using to clean the countertops. Upon realizing his mistake, he decided to put them in the oven anyway (something that would likely not fly with a modern-day health department) and was pleasantly surprised when they came out of the oven with a golden-brown outside and a nice bite to them. He served them to his guests who were impressed as well, and they then lauded him as the "pretzel hero."

The tradition stuck and going forward, savory pretzels are made with the use of baking soda, except for certain seasonal varietals served at New Year's and during Lent.