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A pretzel is a type of European-descended baked good made from dough in soft and hard varieties and savory or sweet flavors in a unique knot-like shape. This 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, pretzel sticks are also often called pretzels. For seasoning and decoration, various glazes, coarse or fine salt, sugar and various seeds or nuts can be used. Larger pretzels are typically consumed singly while small pretzels are served in multiple.

Pretzel is a food 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.  Today, they are still used in southern Germany and adjoining German-speaking regions on Christian holidays and in local customs.

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 creating a crispy taste. They originated in the United States and have become popular in many countries.

Pretzels in the United States of America
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.

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. The key to success was the introduction of the new mass production methods of the industrialized age, which increased the availability and quantity, and the opening up of multiple points of distribution at schools, convenience and grocery stores, and entertainment venues such 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.

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 as many pretzels as the national average.  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. 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.

The annual United States pretzel industry is worth over $550 million. The average American consumes about 1.5 pounds of pretzels per year.

The privately run "Pretzel Museum" opened in Philadelphia in 1993. 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. 

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