April 26th Is National Pretzel Day, But Where Did These Little Snacks Come From?

Considered one of the world’s oldest snack foods by self-proclaimed pretzel aficionados, they have been a favorite treat for hundreds of years, possibly longer. Pretzels come in many shapes and sizes. The most common are bites, braids, loops, nuggets, rods, twists, and the traditional “pretzel shape,” representing crossed arms. Whether they’re soft, hard, or broken, pretzels are great on their own or paired with other foods and drinks. Beer, I’m looking at you!

There’s a lot of mystery behind the origins of the pretzel, but the first traces seem to date back to Europe during the Early Middle Ages. According to History.com, Catholic monks invented pretzels in Italy about 610 AD. At that time, the church implemented stricter rules for fasting during lent, making pretzels made from flour, salt, water, and, more recently, baking soda ideal. There is still debate on where exactly the word “pretzel” originated. Some claim that the German word “bretzels” is derived from the Latin word “bracellae,” which means bracelet or little arms. While others argue it comes from the Latin word “pretiolas,” which translates to “little treats.” According to OMGPretzels.com, Catholic Monks would give the poor pretzels to share sustenance, good fortune, and prosperity, while Heinz History Center says Monks handed them out to schoolchildren to promote prayer.

According to Wikipedia, another theory is that pretzels originated in Germany after a group of bakers was held hostage by some dignitaries. Wikipedia also states that the earliest pretzel illustration is at the Hortus Deliciarum in modern-day France. The Baker’s Guild used it as its symbol in 12th century Germany, and they had to create the perfect pretzel before they could be considered a master baker. History.com says pretzels may have arrived in America on the Mayflower and that Pilgrims traded them with Native Americans. While Pretzel.com claims they were introduced to America by Swiss-Germans immigrating to Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Did you know that 80% of pretzels in the United States come from Pennsylvania? Berks County’s Historical website lists Reading, PA, as the pretzel capital of the world. Wikipedia states that the U.S. pretzel industry is worth $1.2 billion annually, with the average American consuming 1.5 pounds per year. According to PositivelyPA.com, pretzel sales account for $550 million annually, and the average American consumes 2 lbs of pretzels per year. With all of the varying information posted all over the internet, it isn’t easy to know the true story of the pretzel. Hopefully, that won’t stop you from enjoying some pretzels today!

Fun fact: According to PositivelyPA.com, “the largest pretzel weighed in at 842 pounds and was 26.8 feet long and 10.2 feet wide!”

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