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Variety of pretzels

A pretzel is a type of European-descended baked good made from dough in soft and hard varieties and savory or sweet flavors often in a unique knot-like shape. The archetypal pretzel shape is a distinctive symmetrical looped form, whereby the ends of a long strip of dough are intertwined or brought together and then twisted back onto itself in a certain way (“a pretzel loop”). However, some varieties are instead made in a more plain stick or rod shape. For seasoning and decoration glazes of lye or sugar, coarse or fine salt or sugar, various seeds and nuts can be used. Larger pretzels are typically consumed singly while small pretzels are served in multiples.

Pretzels as a food are associated with different backgrounds, cultural purposes and ingredients that include a variety of glazes and coatings. Pretzels made of sour or yeast dough are assumed to be of Christian Medieval European origin, possibly initially to replace pagan customs. Today, they are still used in southern Germany and adjoining German-speaking regions on Christian holidays and in local customs.

Lye pretzel with the typical "pretzel loop"

A bread pretzel popular in southern Germany and adjoining German speaking areas as well as in some areas of the United States, is basically made from wheat flour, water and yeast, glazed with lye, usually sprinkled with coarse salt, hand-sized and made for consumption on the same day. To avoid confusion with any other pretzel kind, German speakers call this variety "Laugenbrezel" (lye pretzel). The sweet pastry varieties have no special purpose or background, come in many different textures, toppings and coatings and are part of the wider selection of pastries and cookies. The crispy hard pretzels, e. g. pretzel sticks and a variety of shapes basically made from the same ingredients, have evolved from the same lye pretzel by baking out excess moisture, thereby increasing shelf life and a crispy taste. They originate in the United States and have become popular in many countries.[1][2][3][4]



An illustration from the 12th century Hortus deliciarum from Alsace may be the earliest depiction of a pretzel, shown at a banquet with Queen Esther and King Ahasuerus

There are numerous accounts on the origin of the looped pretzels as well as the origin of the name. Most of them agree that they have religious and/or Christian backgrounds and were invented by monks. According to The History of Science and Technology, by Bryan Bunch and Alexander Hellemans, in 610 AD " Italian monk invents pretzels as a reward to children who learn their prayers. He calls the strips of baked dough, folded to resemble arms crossing the chest, 'pretiola' ("little rewards")". However, no source is cited to back up these details. Another source locates the invention in a monastery in southern France.[2][3][4] The looped pretzel may also have evolved from a Greek ring bread which was served in monasteries for the Last Supper 1,000 years ago.[1] In Germany there are stories that pretzels were the invention of desperate bakers.[5] Meyers Konversationslexikon from 1905 suspects the origin of pretzels in a ban of heathen baking traditions, such as in form of sun wheels, at the Synod of Estinnes in the year 743. The pretzel may have emerged as a substitute.[6] The German name "Brezel" may derive also from Latin bracellus (a medieval term for "bracelet"),[7] or bracchiola ("little arms").

Emblem of the Baker's Guild in Germany

The pretzel has been in use as emblem of bakers and formerly their guilds in southern German areas at least from the 12th. century to this very day.[5] A 12th-century illustration in the Hortus deliciarum from the southwest German Alsace (today France) may contain the earliest depiction of a pretzel.

Within the Catholic church, pretzels were regarded as having religious significance for both ingredients and shape. Pretzels made with a simple recipe using only flour and water could be eaten during Lent, when Christians were forbidden to eat eggs, lard, or dairy products like milk and butter. As time passed, pretzels became associated with both Lent and Easter. Pretzels were hidden on Easter morning just like eggs are hidden today and are particularly associated with Lent, fasting, and prayers before Easter.[8] The classic pretzel's three-hole shape begins to take form. The three holes represent the Christian Trinity of "Father, Son and Holy Spirit," and pretzels are thought to bring luck, prosperity, and spiritual wholeness.[citation needed] The wedding phrase "tying the knot" got its start when a pretzel was used to tie the knot between two prominent families.[citation needed] The pretzel's loops stood for everlasting love.[citation needed]

Pretzels in German-speaking countries

Variety of Southern German lye breads (Laugengebäck)

Pretzel baking has most firmly taken root in Southern Germany and adjoining German speaking areas, and pretzels have been an integral part of German baking traditions for centuries.


The custom of using lye in baking is thought to have evolved by accident in the 19th century. A baker dropped a tray of pretzels ready for baking into a trough of lye, which was used for cleaning and disinfecting baking utensils. After baking the pretzels nevertheless, the appealing colour and renowned flavour was discovered. [9] Lye pretzels are popular in southern Germany, Alsace, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland as a variety of bread, a side dish or a snack and come in many local varieties. Almost every region and even city has its own way of baking them. Examples for pretzel names in various German dialects are “brezn”, “bretzel”, “brezzl”, “brezgen”, “bretzga”, “bretzet”, "bretschl", “kringel”, "silserli" and "sülzerli". [10] Baked for consumption on the same day, they are sold in every bakery and in special booths or stands in downtown streets. Often, they are sliced horizontally, buttered, and sold as Butterbrezel or come with slices of cold meats or cheese. Sesame, poppy, sunflower, pumpkin or caraway seeds, melted cheese and bacon bits are other popular toppings. Some bakeries offer pretzels made of different flours such as whole wheat, rye or spelt. In Bavaria, lye pretzels accompany a main dish such as Weisswurst sausage. The same dough and baking procedure with lye and salt is used to make other kinds of "lye pastry" (Laugengebäck): lye rolls, buns, croissants and even loaves (Laugenbrötchen, Laugenstangen, Laugencroissants, Laugenbrot).[11] [12] Yet, in some parts of Bavaria, especially in lower Bavaria, unglazed “white” pretzels, sprinkled with salt and caraway seeds are still popular. Basically with the same ingredients, lye pretzels come in numerous local varieties. Sizes are usually similar; the main differences are the thickness of the dough, the content of fat and the degree of baking. Typical Swabian pretzels for example have very thin “arms” and a “fat belly” with a split and a higher fat content. The thicker part makes it easier to slice them for the use of sandwiches. In Bavarian pretzels the arms are left thicker so they do not bake to a crisp and contain very little fat.[13]

The pretzel shape is used for a variety of sweet pastries made of different kinds of dough (flaky, brittle, soft, crispy) with a variety of toppings (icing, nuts, seeds, cinnamon). Around Christmas they can be made as soft gingerbreads (“Lebkuchen”) with chocolate coating.

Festivals and customs around the pretzel

New Year's pretzel in a Stuttgart bakery (Swabia)

In southern Germany and adjoining German-speaking areas Pretzels have retained their original religious meanings and are still used in various traditions and festivals.

In some areas, on January 1, people give each other lightly sweetened yeast pretzels for good luck. These New-Years-Pretzels are made in different sizes and can have a width of 50 centimetres (20 in) and more. Sometimes children visit their godparents to fetch their New Years pretzel. On May 1, love-struck boys used to paint a pretzel on the door of the adored. On the other hand, an upside-down pretzel would have been a sign of disgrace. Especially Catholic areas, such as Austria, Bavaria or some parts of Swabia, know the Palm Pretzel made for Palm Sunday celebrations. Sizes can range from 30 cm up to 1 metre and they can weigh up to 2.5 kg (6 lbs.). [14][15] An old tradition on Palm Sunday dating back to 1533 is the outdoor pretzel market (Brezgenmarkt) in the Hungerbrunnen Valley near Heldenfingen.

In the Rhineland region sweet Pretzels are made with pudding-filled loops (Pudding Pretzels).

On Laetare Sunday in Luxembourg, the fourth Sunday in Lent, there is a festival called Pretzel Sunday. Boys give their girlfriends pretzels or cakes in pretzel form.[16] The size symbolizes how much he likes her. In return, if a girl wants to increase his attention, she will give him a decorated egg on Easter. The pretzel custom is reversed on Pretzel Sunday during leap years.[17] This custom also still exists in some areas of the Swabian Alb.[18]

On the same occasion in Rhenish Hesse and the Palatinate, people have parades carrying big pretzels mounted on colourful decorated poles.[18]

Popular during lent in Biberach are Lent Pretzels which are shortly boiled in water before baking and afterwards sprinkled with salt.

Prezel from Burg, typically carried around the neck

Schloss Burg is renowned for a 200-year-old speciality, the Burger Pretzel. Its texture and flavour resembles rusk or zwieback. A local story says that the recipe came from a grateful Napoleonic soldier in 1795 whose wounds were treated by a baker’s family in the little town of Burg.[19] The cultural importance of the pretzel for Burg is expressed by a monument in honour of the pretzel bakers and by an 18-km hiking trail nearby called “Pretzel Hiking Trail”.[20]

A variety typical for Upper Franconia is the ‘’’Anise Pretzel’’’. The town of Weidenberg celebrates the Pretzel weeks during the carnival season when anise flavored pretzels are served with special dishes such as cooked meat with horse radish or roast. In the city of Lübeck, the 500-year old guild of boatmen on the Stecknitz canal call their annual meetings in January Kringelhöge (Pretzelfun). The elaborate affair with about 200 participants is celebrated as a breakfast with beer and includes mass in the Lübeck Cathedral and a presentation of songs by a children’s choir. In older times the children were very poor, coming from an orphanage and each received a kringel (pretzel) as a reward. Hence, the name “Pretzelfun”, because this gift was considered highlight. Today the children come from schools but they still get the pretzels.[21]

Fountain in Speyer with pretzel boy statue

The city of Osnabrück celebrates the anniversary of the Peace of Westphalia (1648) and organizes an annual hobby horse race for grade-four children. Finishing the race they are presented with a sweet pretzel.[22]

The lye pretzel is the theme for a number of festivals in Germany. The city of Speyer prides itself to be the “Pretzel town” and around the second weekend of July, from Friday to Tuesday, it holds an annual funfair and festival called "Brezelfest", which is the largest beer festival in the Upper Rhine region and attracts around 300,000 visitors. The festival includes a parade with over 100 bands, floats and clubs participating from the whole region and 22,000 pretzels are thrown among the crowds.[23] On the market square of Speyer, there is a fountain with a statue of a boy selling pretzels. The pretzel booths on the main street are permanently installed and were specially designed when the whole downtown area was re-done for the 2000th anniversary.[24][25] One-day pretzel fests and markets in other German towns are in Kirchhellen,[26] a borough of Bottrop, or in Kornwestheim.[27]

In 2003 and 2004 “Peace Pretzels” were baked for a UNICEF charity event and other charity purposes in Munich.[28][29] Instead of the typical pretzel loop they were made in the similar shape of a peace symbol.

The pretzel as figure of speech

Kepler's 'Panis Quadragesimalis diagram.

In 1609, the German astronomer Johannes Kepler stated that "[if] one puts all of this information together in one bundle, and at the same time believes that the sun truly moves across the Zodiac over the space of a year, as Ptolemy and Tycho Brahe believed, then it is necessary to concede that the circuits of the three above planets through ethereal space are, as it were, a complex of several movements, that they are actually twisted; not like piled-up cord, with coils in a sequential order, but rather in the image of a lenten bread, as the following diagram shows..." (panis quadragesimalis or lenten bread is a pretzel).[30]

"Pretzel" Beetle, Model 1950

In German the term “Brezel” is also used synonymously for anything made with lye: a lye stick, which would be a Laugenstange, can be called a Brezelstange, a lye roll would be a Brezelbrötchen etc. Its quite common in German to say: today the sun is really pretzling down ("the sun is really stinging"). Bavarians have a number of expressions related to the pretzel. A Brezensoizer (pretzel salter), perhaps originally a baker’s term, is a person doing lowly work. Saying I’m not your pretzel salter! would mean, I’m not your servant. Occasionally it is meant to be an insult.

Another saying is he got pretzeled (gebrezelt), meaning he crashed, for example skiing down the mountain or falling off a bike. One can also say I pretzeled him one, meaning, I gave him a punch in the nose or face, or he pretzeled down the road at 100 km/h, meaning, he really stepped on it. On the other hand, a pretzeled appearance means very stylishly dressed or combed. An electrician might say: the wire pretzeled me one, meaning I got sizzled.

In the early 1950s the Volkswagen Beetle was nicknamed Pretzel Beetle because of its rear window. Because of its shape, the pretzel gave its name to an inflatable United Nations research platform, “SolVin-Pretzel”, which is placed in the canopy of rainforests.

Pretzels in the United States of America

USA Philadelphia PA Style Soft Pretzel

In the 19th century southern German and Swiss German immigrants introduced the pretzel to North America. The immigrants became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch and in time, many handmade pretzel bakeries populated the central Pennsylvania countryside, and the pretzel's popularity spread.[31]

In the 20th century soft pretzels became extremely popular in other regions of the United States. Cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York became renowned for their soft pretzels.[32][33] The key to success was the introduction of the new mass production methods of the industrialized age of manufacturing techniques to increase the availability of both quantity and opening up multiple points of distribution at schools, convenience stores, grocery and entertainment venues as movie theaters, arenas, concert halls, and sport stadiums. Prior to that street vendors used to sell pretzels on street corners in wooden glass enclosed cases.[34]

In particular it became iconic with Philadelphia and was established as a cuisine of Philadelphia for snacking at school, work, or home and considered by most to be a quick meal. The average Philadelphian today consumes about twelve times more pretzels than the national average.[35] The baking skill of the large immigrant Italian American populations in Philadelphia played a significant role in pretzels being established as a local cuisine of Philadelphia. Other Italian centric populations in the USA have furthered the popularity of pretzel production and consumption.

Pennsylvania today is the center of American pretzel production for both the hard crispy and the soft bread types of pretzels.[32] Southeastern Pennsylvania, with its large population of German background, is considered the birthplace of the American pretzel industry and many pretzel bakers are still located in the area. Pennsylvania produces 80% of the nation's pretzels,[36]

The annual United States pretzel industry is worth over $550 million.[37] The average American consumes about 1.5 pounds (0.7 kg) of pretzels per year.[38]

The privately run “Pretzel Museum” opened in Philadelphia in 1993. [32] In 2003 Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell declared April 26 “National Pretzel Day” to acknowledge the importance of the pretzel to the state's history and economy.[39]

Pretzel bakers of United States of America (historical timeline)

1861: Sturgis Pretzel House in Lititz, Pennsylvania becomes the first commercial pretzel bakery in the United States.[40]

1889: The Anderson Pretzel Factory in Lancaster, Pennsylvania is founded. Today it calls itself the world's largest, producing 65 tons of pretzels daily. [41]

1935: The Reading Pretzel Machinery Company introduced the first automatic pretzel twisting machine.[42]

1963: The largest pretzel of its time, weighing 40 pounds and measuring 5 feet across, is baked by Joseph Nacchio of the Federal Pretzel Baking Company.[31]

1978: The first machine-produced soft pretzel was created at Federal Pretzel Baking Company.[43]

1993: The Pretzel Museum opens in Philadelphia, operated by the Nacchio family.[44]

2003: Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell declares April 26 National Pretzel Day to acknowledge the importance of the pretzel to the state's history and economy.[45]

Places, physical or meta-art forms, groups or organizations in the United States named for pretzels

  • A Place (Park): The Philadelphia Recreation Department memorialized the Philadelphia style pretzel cuisine of local bakers. A facility formerly identified as Manayunk Park located on the 4300 block of Silverwood Street was renamed by the City in 2004 as "Pretzel Park."[46] The park design has pretzel like looped pathways and includes a public statue symbolizing a pretzel.[47][48]
  • A Place (Trademark): The City of Freeport, Illinois, also known as "Pretzel City USA." It adopted the trademark for the City when the Billerbeck Bakery, which was established in 1869, flooded the marketplaces with cripsy baked pretzels.[49]
  • In Dance: The pretzel dance move developed in Swing dancing which dates back to the 1920's, where the African American community, discovered the Charleston and the Lindy Hop, while dancing to contemporary Jazz music. Also adopted by Salsa dancing.
  • In Design: The Pretzel Chair furniture designed in 1952 by George Nelson who numbers among the most important and influential figures in American design during the second half of the twentieth century. During the 1950's he developed an expressive range of seating pieces, several of which have long since achieved classic status.
  • In Design: Roller coaster elements. While going through a pretzel loop, the rider is upside down at the beginning and on their back and going backwards at the bottom. The rider then regains normal flying position at the exit of the loop.
  • In Music: Pretzel Logic is the name of a single released by the pop music group Steely Dan from their album Pretzel Logic, originally released in 1974. Pretzel Nugget is a 1994 EP by the Beastie Boys, released on the Grand Royal records label.
  • An Expression in Music: French horns are sometimes called “pretzels” by their players, and a “pretzel bender” can mean a musician who plays one, a wrestler, or a man who drinks too much. [50]
  • An Expression in Politics: Americans use the phrase "Pretzel Logic" in reference to political thinking in government actions that are looped without an outcome.
  • An Expression in Pop Culture: The 1990's American TV situation comedy Seinfeld was responsible for several new pop culture expressions. TV series supporting actor Cosmo Kramer landed a speaking part in a Woody Allen film and he practiced his line with his co-stars Jerry, Elaine, and George. The line was "these pretzels are making me thirsty." Eventually the phrase is used as a general expression of frustration by cast members and repeated in the media.[51]
  • In Literature: David Brenner, an international comedian born in Philadelphia called his memoir 1983 book Soft Pretzels With Mustard. He adopted the ultimate street food as the title because this humble twist of bread seemed indigenously Philadelphian and growing up symbolized his cultural roots [43] [52]
  • In Language: Pretzelphyte Phrase coined in Philadelphia meaning follower loyal to soft pretzels; or soft pretzel aficionado.[53]
Viipurinrinkeli, a pretzel from Vyborg (Finnish: Viipuri), Russia

Pretzels in other countries

Although not as popular as among German speakers and Americans, the looped pretzel is known in other European countries and in other countries around the world. In the Czech Republic the pretzel is known as “preclík”, in Finland as “viipurinrinkeli”. The Spanish, French and Italians call it “pretzel”, “bretzel” or “brezel”, the Dutch favor sweet variants called "krakeling", Norwegian and Danish call it a "kringle", in Polish it's “precel”, in Hungarian "perecz".[54]

Pretzel sticks and varieties

Party pretzels

Crispy pretzels originate in the United States where, in 1850, the Sturgis bakery in Lititz, Pennsylvania, became the first commercial hard pretzel bakery. Party pretzels can be shaped as sticks (around 3 millimetres (0.12 in) thick and 12 centimetres (4.7 in) long), loops, braids, letters or little pretzels have become a popular snack in many countries around the world. A thicker variety of sticks can be 1 centimetre (0.39 in) thick; in the U. S. these are called Bavarian pretzels. Unlike the soft pretzels, these ones are durable when kept in an airtight environment. In Europe, party pretzels are usually sprinkled with salt but also with sesame seed, poppy seed or cheese. In the U. S. they come in many varieties of flavors and different coatings such as yoghurt, chocolate, strawberry, mustard, cheese and others and chocolate-covered hard pretzels are popular around Christmas time. In the Philadelphia area, crumbled hard pretzels are a common accompaniment to ice cream as a cone or topping.


See also


  1. ^ a b (in German)
  2. ^ a b Hartel, AnnaKate (2008). Food Bites. Springer. p. 111. ISBN 0387758445. 
  3. ^ a b Grunes, Barbara (2007). The Best Bake Sale Ever Cookbook. Chronicle Books. pp. 80. ISBN 0811850757. 
  4. ^ a b Silverman, Sharon Hernes (2001). Pennsylvania Snacks. Stackpole Books. pp. 30. 
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ Brezel in Meyers Konversationslexikon von 1905 bei (in German)
  7. ^ E.g. OED s.v.: "[G. pretzel, bretzel, in OHG. brizzila = It. bracciello Florio) a cracknel; usually taken as ad. med. L. bracellus a bracelet; also a kind of cake or biscuit (Du Cange).]"
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Heinrichs, Ann. Luxembourg. New York: Scholastic, Inc, 2005, p. 105. ISBN 9780516236810
  17. ^ Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. Festivals of Western Europe. New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1958, pp. 106-7. ISBN 9781437520156
  18. ^ a b
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ [1]
  25. ^ [2]
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ Astronomia Nova, p. 3
    HÆC omnia si quis fasciculo uno componat, simulque credat, solem revera moveri annuo spacio per zodiacum, quod credidere Ptolemæus & Tycho Braheus; tunc necesse est concedere, trium superiorum Planetarum circuitus per spacium ætherium, sicuti sunt compositi ex pluribus motibus, esse revera spirales; non ut prius, fili glomerati modo, spiris juxta invicem ordinatis; sed verius in figura panis quadragesimalis, in hunc fere modum.:"..."
  31. ^ a b The History of the Pretzel
  32. ^ a b c The Pretzel Museum
  33. ^ New York Times, Lead, November 13, 1988
  34. ^ Historical Photo Archives of Philadelphia Pretzel Vendors
  35. ^ Pretzel Museum
  36. ^ National Pretzel Day, April 26
  37. ^ Reuters top ten news
  38. ^ Lancaster, Pa. Newswire
  39. ^ National Pretzel Day, April 26th
  40. ^ Snyder's History of Pretzels
  41. ^ The Anderson Pretzel Bakery
  42. ^ The History of the Pretzel
  43. ^ a b New York Times, Lead, November 13, 1988
  44. ^ The Pretzel Museum
  45. ^ National Pretzel Day, April 26th
  46. ^ City Council of Philadelphia Ordinance March 18, 2004
  47. ^ Philly Public Art - Pretzel Statue
  48. ^ Manayunk Council Local Park History
  49. ^
  50. ^ 25 June 1961, NEW YORK TIMES, pg. SM52:
  51. ^ Video compliation of dialogue from the TV series
  52. ^
  53. ^ Pretzel Museum
  54. ^

Simple English

A pretzel (French: Bretzel, Alsatian: bradchdal, German: Brezel or Brezen) is a baked snack that is traditionally twisted into a unique knot-like shape. The pretzel dough is made from wheat flour and yeast. Wheat is what they are mainly made up of, making them unsuitable for people who suffer from wheat allergies, Coeliac Disease, or what intolerances. Before baking, it is dipped into "Natronlauge" (English: sodium lye, sodium hydroxide solution (NaOH) or sodium carbonate solution (Na2CO3)) and sprinkled with coarse salt. During baking, a Maillard reaction then gives the pretzel its characteristic brown color and distinctive flavor. In Bavaria it is obligatory in a Weißwurst breakfast.

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