I have never made Chex mix. I consider this a personal failing on my part, because it’s apparently super easy to do, and homemade Chex mix beats store-bought every time. Plus, you can put in whatever you want. My wife likes those little bagel chips they add, but personally I could do without them. This did get me thinking, however, about mini pretzels.
Is it just me, or did mini pretzels and pretzel sticks, even big pretzel rods, use to be a lot saltier in the ’80s? Because I remember them as a lot more flavorful than anything I’ve managed to find in the last 20 years.
If my memory is not faulty and pretzels have gotten blander, then I know exactly who to blame: Rold frickin’ Gold. Their mini-pretzels became ubiquitous around the late ’80s and early ’90s, but they brought with them a signature awfulness predicated on a lack of seasoning. Their pretzels were incredibly plain, exceptionally “dry” in texture, and criminally under-salted.
But since then, it seems that all other brands have followed suit. I can’t find a pretzel rod these days that’s crusted with salt as in days of yore. Pretzel sticks have more in common now with regular sticks. And mini-pretzels, while typically more flavorful and possessing a better texture than Rold Gold, nevertheless remain under-salted.
In fairness to the brand, though, I suppose I can’t entirely blame them. I also blame the “health” crazes that suggested salt was evil. Bad nutrition advice is always with us, always in new forms, and of course the Food Nazis love to push new bad advice on us all the time. Lately there’s been a tidal wave of opposition to their stupidity, including new research that points out the whole thing about salt vs. blood pressure was largely hooey to begin with. (It turns out table salt isn’t so great for you, but that’s because of the additives—not the iodine, but the anti-caking agents that basically amount to food-grade glass. Kosher and sea salt, on the other hand, are much better.) So while pretzel salt was never evil, I suspect manufacturers were swayed by the buying public who were in turn swayed by a bunch of chattering yakholes, and therefore they reduced the salt content in the pretzels to follow the trend. And to bring it back full circle, I believe—as a suspicion only—that trend was led by you-know-who.
And if I’m right about that, can I really blame manufacturers for merely following a trend?
Yes. Yes, of course I can blame them, and do. It wouldn’t be the first time a bad trend has ruined foods for us. Pork used to be much more flavorful and moist a couple of generations ago, but the whole low-fat bandwagon (again, another case where the nutritionists were way wrong) led pig farmers to breed for leaner meat. Lean pork is an abomination, and when I become a supervillain, we’re gonna fix it. Meanwhile every other grocery aisle is stuffed with foods that are tailored to the low-fat fad, adding sugars to (incompletely) make up for lost flavor, and then we wonder why there’s an obesity epidemic.
Why can’t pretzels be better? I’m certain they used to be. And how am I supposed to include them in homemade Chex mix without deep and abiding shame? I need either a brand that didn’t follow the others into the abyss, or a way to saltify the pretzels before I use them. The former seems hopeless, and is certainly Google-proof. The latter seems like a ridiculous extra step to take, but pride and taste demand it.
Apropos of nothing, I’m adding a reminder here that my annual parade live-blog starts at 9 AM Thanksgiving day. Enjoy the Macy’s parade with pumpkin muffins and a little snark on the side.