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- This article is about the baked snack. For other uses, see pretzel (disambiguation).
A pretzel is a baked snack that is traditionally twisted into a unique knot-like shape. The pretzel dough is made from wheat flour and yeast. Prior to 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.
Sources differ as to the time and place of the pretzel's origin. Its use in the emblems of bakers in Southern Germany at least since 1111 is documented. The 12th century Hortus Deliciarum from the Southwest German (now French) Alsace may be the earliest depiction of a pretzel. It remains very popular in Southern German regions of Swabia and Bavaria where it is known as Brezl and Brezn, respectively. In northern Germany, where it is less popular, it is known as Bre(tt)zel.
The History of Science and Technology, by Bryan Bunch and Alexander Hellemans, has it that in 610 A.D., "An 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 reward[s]")", however no source, primary or otherwise, is cited to back up this detailed specificity. Other sources derive the name from Latin 'bracellus (a medieval term for "bracelet"), or 'bracchiola ("little arms").
Within the Catholic church, Pretzels are regarded as having religious significance and are particularly associated with Lent. In his Astronomia Nova, Johannes Kepler states that if we assume that the Earth is the center of the universe, we must accept that the planets travel in a loopy path "with the appearance of a Lenten bread ('panis quadragesimalis)" i.e. a pretzel.
There are several other stories about the origin of the pretzel shape. One legend attributed to the popular Eberhard I, Duke of Württemberg (1445 - 1496) holds that a baker from Urach accused of larceny was offered the opportunity to cancel his sentence if he could make a piece of bread through which the sun could be seen thrice. The ingenious baker, inspired by the way his worried wife holds her arms, twisted his dough into a pretzel before baking.
Another common story says that the shape represents the arm positions taken by monks in prayer and that the three holes represent the Christian Holy Trinity. A sign with three rings was an old symbol to mark a bakery in Germany, but sources differ as to whether the signs were made to imitate the pretzel or the pretzel was made to imitate the signs. According to some sources, the bagel originated as a variation on the pretzel. However told, stories of the pretzel are likely apocryphal and the actual origin of the pretzel continues to be a mystery.
There are cold, warm, soft, chewy and hard pretzels. Soft pretzels are best eaten fresh-baked. These are common in Germany. Cities in the United States like Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York are also famous for their soft pretzels. In Southern Germany and neighboring German-speaking Switzerland, thick soft pretzels sliced horizontally are sometimes used to make sandwiches, called Butterbrezn".
Pretzels are typically salted. Hard pretzels are more common than soft pretzels in most of the United States as they can be mass-produced, packaged and stored. In the United States, hard pretzels are often consumed as a "beer snack." Chocolate-covered hard pretzels are also popular, especially around Christmas time.
Pretzels can be found in a variety of shapes and sizes. Traditional soft pretzels are about the size of a hand. Most hard pretzels are only 2-3 mm thick. Hard pretzels which are 0.8-1.5 cm thick are called bavarian pretzels. Hard pretzels are also frequently sold as straight "pretzel sticks" ("Salzstangen" in German).
Hard pretzels are also available with a sweet candy coating of chocolate, strawberry and other flavors. A popular variation is "yogurt-covered pretzels", with a coating based on yogurt. Some consumers consider them a healthy snack because of this, but the coating increases the fat and sugar content of the pretzel significantly. Other varieties include pretzels dipped in mustard.
The annual United States pretzel industry is worth over $550 million. The average American consumes about 1.5 pounds (0.7 kg) of pretzels per year. Southeastern Pennsylvania, with its large German population, is considered the birthplace of the American pretzel industry and many pretzel bakers are still located in the area. The average Philadelphian consumes about twelve times more pretzels than the national average.
- ↑ 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).]"
- ↑ '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.
- "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 etherial 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..."
- Sturgis Pretzel House: Pretzel History
- German Brezel History
- Video Clips of Pretzel
- History at Snyders of Hanover
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