This grain-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, and refined sugar-free Strawberry Pretzel Salad is a delicious and paleo-ish twist on this classic American dessert!

A fork is hovering above a slice of gluten-free, grain-free, and dairy-free strawberry pretzel salad on a white plate.

What is strawberry pretzel salad?

I wholeheartedly admit that I had never heard of a strawberry pretzel salad before a few weeks ago—and when I did learn about it, I was properly intrigued.

This surprisingly popular dessert (which is decidedly not an actual salad) magically combines sweet, salty, creamy, and tart flavors. It’s typically made with a butter- and sugar-infused pretzel crust, a middle layer consisting of a mixture of cheesecake-like cream cheese and a whipped topping (e.g., Cool Whip or whipped cream), and topped with strawberry-flavored Jell-O.

Slicing a strawberry pretzel salad into nine even squares.

A crowd-pleasing favorite in the southern United States and across the Midwest, this dish is famously known as the “Queen of Jell-O Salads.” Often found at potlucks, picnics, church functions, and holiday gatherings, strawberry pretzel salad has its origins in a mid-20th century Jell-O cookbook. Apparently, in the 1950s, anything with Jell-O in it was referred to as “salad” for some reason. It‘s kind of like when my son stuffs his mouth with french fries and insists he’s eating vegetables…

A healthier strawberry pretzel salad

At this point, you might be wondering why I—a paleo internet person—became obsessed with making a version of this dessert that’s grain-free, gluten-free, refined sugar-free, and dairy-free. Here’s the thing: one of my childhood favorite desserts is ambrosia—another 1950s “dessert salad”—that combines tangy fruit with a creamy dressing. To me, ambrosia and strawberry pretzel salad are two species within the same delicious genus. How could I resist making this?

After days of testing, I managed to create this super tasty recipe. My version combines a crunchy grain-free pretzel crust, a creamy middle layer made with soaked cashews and coconut cream, and the top is crowned with sliced strawberries encased in a sweet, homemade strawberry gelatin.

A slice of grain-free, gluten-free, and dairy-free strawberry pretzel salad on a white plate.

My whole family loved my paleo-ish take on strawberry pretzel salad—including my finicky parents and in-laws. In fact, they gave it the highest praise utterable from an older Chinese person: “Not too sweet!” I almost swooned.

Tips for making the best paleo-ish strawberry pretzel salad

  • Take your time! Yes, you will need to plan ahead and give yourself about 2 days to make this dessert ’cause you have to wait for the creamy layer to solidify in the freezer (at least 6 hours) and the top layer takes an additional 4 hours to gelatinize. If you rush it, the layers will combine together and you won’t get three distinct layers. Don’t worry: it’ll still taste great, but the dessert will be ugly-delicious.
  • Buy the grain-free pretzels and strawberry juice. Part of the appeal of strawberry pretzel salad is that it’s such an easy dish to throw together. That’s why I buy pre-made grain-free pretzels and strawberry juice. They’re easiest to find online. I tried making my own strawberry juice to use in this recipe but after adding gelatin, the end product ended up kind of chunky-gooey and more reminiscent of a wobbly jam than a clear gel.
  • Use a premium canned coconut cream to ensure the creamiest filling. The brands I like best are Aroy-D, Let’s Do Organic, New Seasons Market’s in-house brand, and Whole365 brand. Although you can use full-fat coconut milk, I’ve found that canned coconut cream is ideal for this recipe because the resulting filling is creamier and the bars hold their shape better. Do not use Cream of Coconut (found in the liquor section)—it’s a totally different ingredient, and it’s waaay too sweet!
  • A powerful blender will ensure a creamy and silky texture. Similar to my other dairy-free desserts that use soaked cashews, the filling for this recipe should be blended in a high-powered blender like my trusty Vitamix 5200.
  • Freeze the bars to set the cheesecake layer properly. The creamy middle will not set properly in the refrigerator so you definitely need to chill this dessert in the freezer before adding the strawberry-and-gelatin layer. The good news is the gelatin will set in about the same amount of time as it takes for the creamy middle to soften to the proper consistency.

Ingredients

An overhead shot of the raw ingredients to make a paleo-friendly strawberry pretzel salad.

Crust

  • Grain-free salted pretzels: My favorite grain-free pretzels are the sea salt variety from Savor by Suzie—I buy them online. If you can’t find them, you can use any gluten-free pretzels or you can use the coconut and almond crust from my Coconut Cream Bars.
  • Melted refined coconut oil: The traditional crust is made with melted butter, but I’ve found that refined coconut oil works great and it doesn’t add a strong coconut flavor.
  • Maple syrup: I prefer using maple syrup in this crust because, well, I like the taste. Feel free to substitute honey if you prefer it.

“Cheesecake” Filling

  • Raw cashews, soaked and drained: Simply soak the raw cashews in double the amount of boiling water for at least 30 minutes, then drain them in a colander. (Before you ask: I’m not sure of a good substitute if you can’t eat cashews.)
  • Coconut cream
  • Melted refined coconut oil
  • Maple syrup
  • Vanilla extract
  • Diamond Crystal kosher salt

Strawberry Jell-O Topping

  • Fresh strawberries
  • Strawberry juice: I know this is a hard item to find. I ended up purchasing a case of Pomona organic strawberry juice online. If you can’t find strawberry juice, you can blend up fresh or frozen strawberries and strain through a nut milk bag or several layers of cheesecloth. However, the resulting juice may not be as smooth or clear.
  • Honey
  • Gelatin: I like Great Lakes gelatin brand the best. Make sure you use gelatin and not collagen peptides! Collagen peptides will not gel when cooled!

How to make a paleo-ish strawberry pretzel salad

Make the crust

Heat the oven to 375°F with the rack in the middle.

Place the pretzels in a gallon-sized zip top plastic bag and use a meat pounder or rolling pin to crush them.

Crushing pretzels in a sealed plastic bag with a meat pounder for the strawberry pretzel salad crust.

You can also place the pretzels in a food processor and pulse them a few times until they’re broken up into small pieces, but make sure they aren’t pulverized into a powder.

Closeup shot of the crushed pretzels that will go into the crust for strawberry pretzel salad.

Next, whisk together the melted coconut oil and maple syrup in a large mixing bowl.

Closeup of a whisk mixing melted coconut oil and maple syrup in a clear mixing bowl.

Stir in the crushed pretzels, making sure they get evenly coated.

A yellow silicone spatula is mixing the pretzel crust for a grain free and gluten free strawberry pretzel salad.

Add the crust into the bottom of a greased or parchment-lined 8 x 8-inch baking dish.

Transferring the pretzel crust to a square baking pan to make strawberry pretzel salad.

Use an offset spatula to press the crust into an even layer that covers the bottom completely.

A hand is using a small offset spatula to press the pretzel crust into an even layer on the bottom of a square baking pan.

Pop the pan in the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and holds together.

A square baking pan with a gluten-free pretzel crust is being placed into an open oven.

Cool the crust on a wire rack to room temperature.

A close-up shot of a baked pretzel crust right out of the oven.

Make the dairy-free cream cheese layer

In a high-powered blender, combine the soaked cashews, coconut cream, melted coconut oil, maple syrup, vanilla, and Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Blend until silky smooth.

A sequence of shots that show an Asian woman blending the ingredients to make the dairy-free and paleo filling for a grain free strawberry pretzel salad.

Chill the filling in the fridge for about 30 minutes or in an ice bath until it’s no longer super liquidy or warm. (If the filling is too watery or warm, it can break up the pretzel crust when you pour it on top).

Carefully pour the cream cheese filling onto the cooled pretzel crust.

Pouring a creamy filling from a blender onto a grain-free pretzel crust in a square baking pan.

If there are lots of air bubbles on top of the faux cheesecake layer, use a toothpick to pop them.

Using a toothpick to pop the bubbles the surface of the creamy coconut filling of a grain free strawberry pretzel salad.

Cover the pan with a silicone lid, aluminum foil, or plastic wrap and freeze it for at least 6 hours or until solid.

A square baking pan filled with strawberry pretzel salad is covered with a blue silicone lid as it is being placed in a freezer.

Make Ahead Tip

If you are making strawberry pretzel salad ahead of time, this is a good place to stop because you can store the bottom two layers in the freezer for up to 3 months—just make sure the pan is tightly sealed with foil and/or plastic wrap. When you’re ready to finish making this recipe, continue with the steps below.

Make the strawberry jello layer

Sprinkle the gelatin into a bowl filled with 2 tablespoons of water. Mix to combine and set aside to bloom (about 5 minutes).

Stirring powdered gelatin and water in a small bowl to bloom the gelatin.

In a small saucepan, heat up the strawberry juice and honey over medium heat until simmering. Stir well to combine.

Take the strawberry juice off the heat and whisk in the hydrated gelatin. Pour the strawberry jello mixture into a liquid measuring cup and cool to room temperature.

A sequence of photos that show someone simmering strawberry juice and honey before whisking in bloomed gelatin and pouring the resulting red liquid into a measuring cup.

Pro Tip!

You can speed up the strawberry gelatin cooling process by placing the measuring cup in an ice bath. Be careful to not chill too long or the gelatin will start gelling!

Assemble the strawberry pretzel salad

Take the pan out of the freezer and arrange the sliced strawberries in a single layer on top of the solidified creamy layer.

Adding sliced strawberries on the top of a grain-free strawberry pretzel salad.

Pour the cooled strawberry gelatin mixture on top of the strawberries.

Pouring homemade strawberry gelatin from a liquid measuring cup on top of a strawberry pretzel salad in a square baking pan.

Chill the strawberry pretzel salad in the refrigerator until the top layer solidifies, about 4 hours and up to a day in advance.

A person in a beige apron is holding a grain-free and dairy-free strawberry pretzel salad right out of the fridge and ready to serve.

Slice into squares and enjoy!

A slice of grain-free, refined sugar free, and dairy-free strawberry pretzel salad is being lifted up with a spatula.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you make pretzel Jell-O salad with another fruit?

Yes! You can make a delicious orange creamsicle version by using orange juice and canned mandarin oranges in the gelatin layer. Or use canned pineapple rings and pineapple juice for a piña colada-inspired pretzel salad!

How long can you keep leftover strawberry pretzel salad?

You can keep leftovers in the fridge for up to 3 or 4 days but the gelatin layer can get moldy past that point.

Can you freeze strawberry pretzel salad?

You can freeze the creamy layer and pretzel crust for up to 3 months but you must tightly seal it with foil or plastic wrap. Once you add the gelatin layer, you can’t freeze the dessert because the gelatin won’t thaw properly.

Can you make this vegan?

Potentially! I bet you can substitute agar agar for the gelatin but you’ll have to experiment with the proportions because I haven’t tested it. Also, you’ll need to substitute the honey with a vegan-friendly sweetener.

What if I want to use boxed strawberry Jell-O?

Grab a 3 ounce box of strawberry Jell-O and combine it with 1 cup of boiling water. Whisk until completely dissolved and cool to room temperature before pouring it over the strawberries and cream cheese filling.


Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes in my cookbooks, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013), Ready or Not! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2017), and Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2022)


Strawberry Pretzel Salad (Grain Free, Dairy Free, Refined Sugar Free)

4.82 from 11 votes
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time30 minutes
Chilling time10 hours
Total Time11 hours
Servings 9
This grain-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, and refined sugar-free Strawberry Pretzel Salad is a delicious and paleo-ish twist on this classic American dessert!

Ingredients 
 

For the crust

  • cups grain free salted pretzels Or ~3 ounces of pretzels. (After you crush them, you should end up with ~1 cup crushed pretzels)
  • ¼ cup melted refined coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

For the "cheesecake" filling

  • 1 cup raw cashews soaked in boiling water for at least 30 min and drained
  • 13.5 ounce coconut cream
  • ¼ cup melted refined coconut oil
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt 

Strawberry Jell-O topping

  • 1 tablespoon gelatin
  • 1 cup strawberry juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • ½ pound strawberries hulled and thinly sliced

Instructions 

Make the crust

  • Heat the oven to 375°F with the rack in the middle.
  • Place the pretzels in a gallon-sized zip top plastic bag and use a meat pounder or rolling pin to crush them. You can also place the pretzels in a food processor and pulse them a few times until they’re broken up into small pieces, but make sure they aren’t pulverized into a powder.
  • Next, whisk together the melted coconut oil and maple syrup in a large mixing bowl.
  • Stir in the crushed pretzels, making sure they get evenly coated.
  • Add the crust into the bottom of a greased or parchment-lined 8 x 8-inch baking dish. Use an offset spatula to press the crust into an even layer that covers the bottom completely.
  • Pop the pan in the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and holds together.
  • Cool the crust on a wire rack to room temperature.

Make the dairy-free cream cheese layer

  • In a high-powered blender, combine the soaked cashews, coconut cream, melted coconut oil, maple syrup, vanilla, and Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Blend until silky smooth.
  • Chill the filling in the fridge for about 30 minutes or in an ice bath until it’s no longer super liquidy or warm. (If the filling is too watery or warm, it can break up the pretzel crust when you pour it on top).
  • Carefully pour the cream cheese filling onto the cooled pretzel crust. If there are lots of air bubbles on top of the faux cheesecake layer, use a toothpick to pop them.
  • Cover the pan with a silicone lid, aluminum foil, or plastic wrap and freeze it for at least 6 hours or until solid. (If you are making strawberry pretzel salad ahead of time, this is a good place to stop because you can store the bottom two layers in the freezer for up to 3 months—just make sure the pan is tightly sealed with foil and/or plastic wrap. When you’re ready to finish making this recipe, continue with the steps below.)

Make the strawberry jello layer

  • Sprinkle the gelatin into a bowl filled with 2 tablespoons of water. Mix to combine and set aside to bloom (about 5 minutes).
  • In a small saucepan, heat up the strawberry juice and honey over medium heat until simmering. Stir well to combine.
  • Take the strawberry juice off the heat and whisk in the hydrated gelatin. Pour the strawberry jello mixture into a liquid measuring cup and cool to room temperature. (You can speed up the strawberry gelatin cooling process by placing the measuring cup in an ice bath. Be careful to not chill too long or the gelatin will start gelling!)

Assemble the strawberry pretzel salad

  • Take the pan out of the freezer and arrange the sliced strawberries in a single layer on top of the solidified creamy layer.
  • Pour the cooled strawberry gelatin mixture on top of the strawberries.
  • Chill the strawberry pretzel salad in the refrigerator until the top layer solidifies, about 4 hours and up to a day in advance.
  • Slice into squares and enjoy!

Notes

Tips for the best paleo strawberry pretzel salad:
  • Take your time! Yes, you will need to plan ahead and give yourself about 2 days to make this dessert ’cause you have to wait for the creamy layer to solidify in the freezer (at least 6 hours) and the top layer takes an additional 4 hours to gelatinize. If you rush it, the layers will combine together and you won’t get three distinct layers. Don’t worry: it’ll still taste great, but the dessert will be ugly-delicious.
  • Buy the grain-free pretzels and strawberry juice. Part of the appeal of strawberry pretzel salad is that it’s such an easy dish to throw together. That’s why I buy pre-made grain-free pretzels and strawberry juice. They’re easiest to find online. I tried making my own strawberry juice to use in this recipe but after adding gelatin, the end product ended up kind of chunky-gooey and more reminiscent of a wobbly jam than a clear gel.
  • Use a premium canned coconut cream to ensure the creamiest filling. The brands I like best are Aroy-D, Let’s Do Organic, New Seasons Market’s in-house brand, and Whole365 brand. Although my recipe says you can use either coconut milk or cream, I’ve found that canned coconut cream is ideal for this recipe because the resulting filling is creamier and the bars hold their shape better. Do not use Cream of Coconut (found in the liquor section)—it’s a totally different ingredient, and it’s waaay too sweet!
  • A powerful blender will ensure a creamy and silky texture. Similar to my other dairy-free desserts that use soaked cashews, the filling for this recipe should be blended in a high-powered blender like my trusty Vitamix 5200.
  • Freeze the bars to set the the cheesecake layer properly. The creamy middle will not set properly in the refrigerator so you definitely need to chill this dessert in the freezer before adding the strawberry-and-gelatin layer. The good news is the gelatin will set in about the same amount of time as it takes for the creamy middle to soften to the proper consistency.

Nutrition

Calories: 427kcal | Carbohydrates: 30g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 34g | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 15g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Like this? Leave a comment below!

About Michelle Tam

Hello! My name is Michelle Tam, and I love to eat. I think about food all the time. It borders on obsession. I’ve always loved the sights and smells of the kitchen. My mother was (and is) an excellent cook, and as a kid, I was her little shadow as she prepared supper each night. From her, I gained a deep, abiding love for magically transforming pantry items into mouth-watering family meals.

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8 Comments

  1. Haha! I did have to check the calendar to make sure it wasn’t April Fools. Looks amazing though!

  2. 5 stars
    Perfect! Just what this nostalgia junkie needed for my birthday. Made as described, except forgot the vanilla -gasp!- (it was after 10pm at that point) and I only had extra-virgin coconut oil on hand. It turned out so brilliantly, I can’t thank you enough! Buying a dozen bottles of strawberry juice seemed kooky at the time, but now I’m stoked because for lighter desserts I’ll just make the top layer and omit the honey. THANK YOU!! {{high five}}

  3. Hi Michelle, Is there a low carb sub for the maple syrup?

    I’m trying to put together several recipes to make this. I made a nut crust with vegan browned butter, and it’s delicious (I made it last time.)

    The only problem I have is making the middle into non-dairy. Does it have to be maple syrup? Can I use a sugar-free substitute like allulose or stevia drops?

    I am making this for a get together in 1 1/2 weeks. I hope you can help me.

    1. You could use a keto maple syrup. I know Lakanto makes one. You could use a different sweetener, but something like stevia drops or allulose with cause the filling to be much thicker since you are not using a liquid. You might need to add more coconut cream.