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
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
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
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.