Pretzels: Savory AND Sweet Snack Option…?

An e-mail exchange that spans two days (beginning yesterday at 3:50 p.m.)

(Note: it starts off about flavor combos, but then ends up being about argument logic in general, and the law of diminishing returns-it’s looong.)
J writes:

Don’t be fooled by the marketing gimmicks. Not all great tastes taste great together. Yes, peanut butter and chocolate is a wonder, but peanut butter and fish sticks? Probably not, unless you’re pregnant.

Frito Lay, maker of the fine Doritos line of products, recently embarked on a series of unfortunate events where they combined two flavors into one bag. They rolled out a whole series of them in a test marketing campaign they never really explained to the public. My personal favorite was blue cheese and buffalo wings, but those are gone now and the company has apparently decided that what the public really wants is a combination of ranch and pizza flavored chips.

Not this member of the public. The combination makes no sense (ever dip your pizza in ranch dressing? I didn’t think so) and because these items are actually CHIPS, by the time you get to the bottom of the bag the lovely Dorito Dust (nectar of the snack food gods) has combined into a nebulous flavor one can only describe as sharp and salty. Not good at all.

And this is not the only ill-fated combination I’ve seen recently. One of my colleagues recently brought in bacon flavored chocolate. Yeah, I know. She also likes American hoagies, but bacon flavored chocolate? It came in a nice wrapper and she said it was expensive, so I guess…but listen, as our president said, you can put lipstick on a pig and it’s still a pig, at the risk of mixing my pork metaphors.

And pretzels. Pretzels are meant to come in one flavor—salty. If you want to dip them in cheese, that’s fine, a little redundant maybe, but as long as you are not dipping them in gorgonzola you still can keep your membership in the human race.

But I am going to call a halt to the hysteria that has gripped a lot of chain (no food truck would dare attempt this) pretzel stands. They do not need pepperoni. They should not come with cinnamon sugar, or sesame seeds or even garlic really.

Just enjoy the goodness that is a classic pretzel. If you like cinnamon and sugar, go get a cup cake.
I respond:

First of all: I’m not fooled by marketing gimmicks. I agree, there are some tastes that coalesce nicely; chocolate and peanut butter, banana and peanut butter, chocolate and mint, blue cheese and buffalo flavoring, salt and chocolate, etc. But someone had to be the first to combine the aforementioned flavors together. Don’t forget, even the portable dessert staple of the chocolate chip cookie was only invented in the 1930s. We owe much to innovation in food, and as far as flavor delivery goes (I’m talking carbs here-pasta, breads, other doughy products-all serve to provide a base for another more poignant or delicious taste sensation), pretzels are a great candidate.

Second-of-ly: Why can we dip pretzels in cheese but in nothing else? You’re just biased towards cheese…VERY biased towards cheese. You’re as into cheese as I am into ice cream, which is to say, it’s an almost religious-like devotion. So OF COURSE it’s okay to dip pretzels in cheese for you. But I say you’re missing out on other delicious flavor options.

Thirdly: Am I to take it that you don’t indulge in an Auntie Anne’s pretzel every now and again? Those are tasty because they are immersed in butter. Is butter another ingredient that you deem inappropriate for soft pretzels? (The PA Dutch use butter in their pretzels which are very traditional as far as recipes go.)

And last of all: Pretzels, because of their doughy/salty nature are perfect for dessert. Cinnamon and sugar pretzels are pretty darn good. Now, if I’m going to eat that much sugar, my instinct is to go for something “worth it”, like a cupcake, as you say. But I can see the merits in the cinnamon and sugar pretzel, and have tasted one, and they’re pretty tasty-too tasty, in fact, for you to condemn them wholesale.  Which brings me to a more pressing point…do you disagree in principle with pretzels as dessert? Because if so, then you eliminate one of God’s gifts to mankind-the chocolate covered pretzel. And that, well, that is just incomprehensible to me.

J retorts:

A couple of quick points before I get to the artery clogging heart of your argument…

…first, I take umbrage to the defining of my affection for cheese as “religious devotion.” I am, after all, engaging in a food debate with a VEGAN, which shows that I have an open mind, whereas you have closed off your taste buds to anything that moos or oinks.

…second, being first is hardly a criteria for credibility. Haven’t you seen the list of “firsts” that never got off the ground because they were stupid? Didn’t think so. No one thought it was worth writing down.

Auntie Anne’s is a case in point. If you really knew the chain as well as you thought you did, you would know that the pepperoni pretzel, the sesame seed pretzel and the garlic pretzel are all Auntie Anne’s products. This greedy corporate conglomerate figured it had wrung all the profit it could out of the unsuspecting consumer (Auntie Anne’s pretzels are among the highest in terms of price, which is why you find them at airports) and it would quickly reach market saturation with just the classic salty pretzel. So it introduced a whole new line of none thought out products purely for the fattening of its bottom line. It’s not creativity; it’s corporate greed.

What’s most interesting to me is that you defend the cinnamon sugar pretzel by mentioning other desert pretzels. You can’t defend one mistake by pointing to a bunch of others that by rights should fail.

Since this is an office-based blog about food, I will cite as evidence the once great comedy The Office. In the 5th episode of the 3rd season (the show’s 33rd episode overall), Pam has to followed Michael Scott’s productivity for the day, but he spends all his time waiting in line for…

…wait for it…

…wait for it…

…a desert pretzel.

I submit that any food idea endorsed by Michael Scott, probably is not one that should be followed.
I counter:

I’m leaving for the day…we’ll continue this tomorrow.

But before I go…

I love that you used the word “umbrage.”

And (I don’t know how many times I have to tell you this), I AM NOT A VEGAN. I don’t eat meat (I eat certain seafood though) or milk-based products. I do, however, still consume eggs and honey. I just happen to eat foods that are vegan because then I don’t have to worry if there is any butter or milk in said product (or whey, or nonfat milk powder, or lactose, or whatever-the-heck-else-I-can’t-pronounce-that-isn’t-real-food is shoved into my “food”).

AND as someone who has “closed off my taste buds” I should point out that I eat a larger variety of foodstuffs than you do, I’m sure. This is evidenced by the fact that you know WAY MORE about Auntie Anne’s evolving menu than I do (and Taco Bell’s, MickyD’s, Wendy’s, food trucks’ menus, etc). Sure, I don’t eat chicken, or turkey (oh how I miss thee turkey!), or beef (not so much), or, heaven forbid-bacon, and I don’t have milk or cream or butter…BUT, I don’t really miss them (except for ice cream-oh how I miss ice cream), because there are non-animal based products that I can use to substitute (almond milk is DELICIOUS for example, coconut milk ice cream, avocado or hummus instead of mayo, tofu instead of meat, etc…).

This conversation isn’t over…this will continue tomorrow.
This morning at 9:42 a.m. via e-mail, I write:

To continue the argument from yesterday…

I will invoke what I said to you when walking to the train: it is completely logical to use chocolate-covered pretzels as a point in my argument to disprove your argument against cinnamon and sugar pretzels. I bring up the Glory of chocolate-covered pretzels to point out an inconsistency in your Food Puritanism (which, conveniently-as mentioned yesterday via email AND in conversation-does not include cheese).

Also, it doesn’t matter that Auntie Anne’s is the greedy corporation manufacturing a variety of delicious overpriced “fancy” pretzels. The point is that such pretzels DO exist and are delicious. How you can defend a pretzel and cheese, which is hardly conventional, over a pretzel with poppy or sesame seeds instead of salt is beyond me. At least the poppy and sesame seeds somewhat mimic the texture of salt and add the same amount of crunch.
J swings back:

The issue is one of a law of diminishing returns. You get a satisfying snack experience from a classic salty pretzel. You might get a satisfying experience from a chocolate covered pretzel but is it that much better than the experience you got from a regular salty pretzel? Unlikely. Add the poppy seeds. Any better? Nope. Stick with the classics.

And cheese is in a class by itself. I refer to my staple source of evidence, really bad television. Hell’s Kitchen, Gordon Ramsay’s profanity fest, once had an episode where the chefs had to prepare a high school lunch and the students voted on which one was best. Winner? The deep fried chicken sandwich with a slice of cheese.

I conclude:

If you’re going to bring up the law of diminishing returns, then it applies to ALL food. Everyone knows the anticipation (and first bite) are better than every subsequent taste. I believe Pooh or A.A. Milne (I’m reading The Tao of Pooh) said it best with, “Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”

As we argued only several moments ago in my cube, your judging the value of anything other than a plain soft pretzel is a personal taste preference or subjective evaluation, which, I’m sorry, doesn’t hold up in this argument.

I’m still bothered by your dodging my attack on your “stick with the conventional” branch of your argument. It’s not about what’s conventional anymore is it? It’s about what you like to eat which is apparently, cheese. Which, I believe we discussed yesterday on the way to the train. You said that combining flavors is silly…if you want X, just eat X. You don’t put mashed potatoes, steak and peas all in the same bite (though some people do), so why do that with snack foods (even though this whole email chain began with you bemoaning the stupid flavor combos to come out of Doritos as of late)? I countered with something I can’t remember now (it was witty and intelligent, I’m sure) and then asked you why you don’t just eat plain cheese, to which you replied, “Because it’s not socially acceptable to eat just a slice of cheese! But if it was, I’d be all over that.”

Which brings me to my final point in this tangential argumentative free-for-all: If you want to eat cheese (which is apparently in a class by itself) just eat cheese. Who cares what society says! Follow your heart! By the way…of COURSE the chicken sandwich with cheese was the best high school lunch-EVERYONE knows (including me who doesn’t eat them anymore) that there’s nothing…absolutely NOTHING like a good ol’ fashioned “meat and cheese.”

So to sum up why your argument is flawed: You can’t dismiss the pluses of various pretzel combos just because you have a thing for cheese. You especially can’t use the “the combos are newfangled and un-traditional” because the so-called “new and fancy” flavor groupings mimic your favorite traditional salty pretzel more closely than cheese-which you make all sorts of special allowances for because it is simply Cheese, and therefore, imposing your subjective tastes onto the rest of us.
J closes:

In my college classes, there’s a point where my students start figuring out that I never actually read anything they send me so that if they just put enough words to paper they’ll pass. There’s a certain merit to that, but we talk about things like theories of argument and grammatical principles, not important things like salty pretzels, desert pretzels and cheese. So, unfortunately for you, I am paying attention.

Your focus on my love for cheese is a distraction, and not germane. Cheese is of the savory line of food stuffs. Someone who likes cheese probably likes cheese puffs, but not necessarily cream puffs from a bakery. You could make the argument that junk food is junk food, but not really. I like cheese, but that doesn’t mean I like sweet foods.

And therein lies the problem. Pretzels, in their original pure form, are a savory snack. And they occupy a significant market niche in the savory snack arena.

When we make them cinnamon sugar pretzels or chocolate covered pretzels, we’ve created disgusting hybrids similar to the genetic anomalies we all feared after Dolly the Sheep was unleashed on the world.

When pretzels become desert food, they are just trying to be something they are not and, in the final analysis, screwing up the junk food universe. Just like chocolate shouldn’t be flavored with bacon, pretzels shouldn’t be flavored with cinnamon, sugar or chocolate. It’s the cross-over effect I have a problem with.

And, incidentally, yes I’d have a problem if someone put chocolate or sugar on my cheese puffs.
That was long. Sorry. We left the argument there, sort of. We actually yelled about it at each other a bit over my cube, but have yet to come to a conclusion. Who do YOU think wins? Leave a comment and let us know.

5 responses to “Pretzels: Savory AND Sweet Snack Option…?

  1. The Food Critic

    J clearly wins. I suspect he is a genius and I for one will never let such debauchery as a sweet pretzel cross these lips again.


  2. Your pretzel blog debate provided much amusement on my commute this morning, however, I have to say that you completely missed the point on the subject of cheese.

    To wit: “it’s not socially acceptable to eat just a slice of cheese! But if it was, I’d be all over that.”

    It IS socially acceptable to eat just cheese! Cheese sticks, encased in their own plastic sheath, are a perfect example of this. I am partial to the original Polly-O varietal, but I will concede that the growing number of cheddar/pepper jack options are viable as well. And have you never heard of a cheese plate? Although not served at Wendy’s or Applebee’s, J, I’m sure you have encountered these at other fine dining establishments. The beauty of the cheese plate cannot be overstated. It works as an appetizer, a dessert, or for some (like me!) a main dish. I also submit for your consideration the ploughman’s lunch, popular in the U.K., which is a plate of cheese accompanied by some crusty bread some chutney and perhaps a nice apple slice or two. Add a pint and a summer’s day and you’ve got a foodgasm in the making.

    I’ll agree there are limits – I had a roommate in college who ate shredded cheese by the bowlful and would also use slices of cheese to eat sour cream straight from the container – both despicable acts. (As was the fact that this cheese-shoveling glutton weighed about 90 lbs dripping wet. B*tch. I look at a nice wedge of brie and gain a love handle.)

    In closing, I also must point out that on the pretzel front, you have missed an important distinction, namely, the form of the base pretzel. Chocolate covered HARD pretzels (of the Flipz variety) are the perfect sweet/salty marriage. Chocolate on a SOFT pretzel however, would be a crime worthy of hanging. Cheese with either is fine, as long as it is Cheese and not Cheez.

    The defense rests.

  3. All good points. This is why cheese is so wonderful and why I will never understand why N has chosen to dismiss it from her diet. She is an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, smothered in secret sauce.

    The cheese delivery vehicles you highlight are indeed a wonderful thing, but when I was thinking of cheese I was thinking of Cheez, the sauce kind that you dip things in, like pretzels or tortilla chips. As yet, it is not socially acceptable to eat this on its own, so that’s why we have things like pretzels.

    I have long suggested that if it were socially acceptable to eat honey mustard, bar-b-q sauce, or cheese sauce by the spoonful then the sales of chicken fingers would plummet.

    The other night I had spreadable cheese without crackers. I know I committed a faux paus by doing that.

  4. Tracy-that is VERY solid point about the form of the pretzel. Chocolate covered hard pretzels are delectable-the perfect marriage of sweet, salty, AND crunchy-ambrosia from the gods. I have actually seen chocolate covered soft pretzels, and was tempted to buy one. But, like you, I also gain a love handle just by looking at anything remotely fatty and carb saturated, and was both put off (and enticed) by its humongous size. I submit that a chocolate covered soft pretzel just might be delicious. To that end (and J, listen up here as I am about to semi-agree with you about cheese and honey mustard), one of my favorite snacks my (first) senior year of college was hard pretzels consumed with blocks of cheddar cheese and honey mustard all washed down with a hearty brew. So yes, cheese goes with both forms of the pretzel, though I’m not one to ingest (I wouldn’t call it eating) cheez. Though, I suppose I COULD even though I’m some sort of freak for giving up milk-based products, because I venture to guess there isn’t an ounce of dairy in said cheez.

    Also, I love cheese plates too! Oh man oh man. At our departmental holiday lunch at Amada, we all shared (stay tuned for today’s post-J shares his thoughts on sharing food) TWO of the same cheese plate because it was that indulgently fantastic. It came with figs, and all sorts of sharp cheeses, some goat cheese, nuts, and various jellies. Heaven.

  5. Actually J, on a side note: RANCH and pizza is very tasty!!! Have you ever tried it before? I know it sounds weird, but it is super good, especially pepperoni and ranch (I ALWAYS use ranch with my pepperoni pizza) Take it from someone who worked in the pizza serving industry for 5 plus years…try it before you judge

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