Pretzels: The Secret Past And Glorious Present

by Nicholas Bostick

No one knows exactly where the pretzel came from. Some reports claim an Italian monk first baked the salty treats around 610 AD. They were called ‘pretiola’ or “little rewards” and given to good little boys and girls who learned their prayers; others say the pretzel originates from monks in southern France. One thing that is clear about pretzels

is their significance religiously and socially.

The distinctive loop of the pretzel has always had religious meaning, resembling the crossed arms of a child at prayer or the Holy Trinity depending on who you asked. But even the ingredients held significance, as pretzels can be made with flour and water, they perfect snack for the dietary restrictive season of Lent, which forbid Catholics from eating eggs or dairy products.  Pretzel-like breads were eaten as far back as the 4th century in the Holy Roman Empire.

Catholics would hide pretzels around the yard with boiled eggs on Easter. Pretzel bakers are said to have defended Vienna against tunneling Turks in 1510 AD. Switzerland skipped the rice throwing for royal marriages in the 17th century, opting instead to present the newlyweds with pretzels. Even today’s modern food trucks owe homage to the pretzel, which became one of the first “street vendor” foods in 1483 AD, when portable ovens let vendors sell their pretzels door to door.

From rewarding the pious children of Italy to soaking up beer in Bavarian bellies, the pretzel is the stirring spoon of the world’s melting pot. Brought to America by the Pennsylvania Dutch during the 18th century, pretzels spread like wildfire. The Snack Food Association reported annual pretzel sales topped 180 million in 2008, and were second only to the potato chip in popularity.

Photo by Robert Bostick

But pretzels haven’t stopped there, this month Wendy’s unleashed its Bacon Pretzel Cheeseburger, a love letter to the European snack that just won’t quit. “A pretzel bun screams gourmet,” James O’Reilly, chief marketing officer at Sonic, told Bloomberg Businessweek. And who are you to challenge that?

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Filed under Crave, Easter, fun with food, Nicholas Bostick

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