History traces the twisted scraps of baked dough from Italy to Austria, Germany to the United States. Though it's likely pretzels landed stateside on the Mayflower, the waves of Dutch immigrants heading to Pennsylvania in the 1800s cemented the state's reputation as America's pretzel capital, and the Amish have gained a reputation for baking the best around.
Auntie Anne's, one of the largest purveyors of soft pretzels, is of Amish origin: Its founder, Anne Beiler, grew up in an Amish household and got her pretzel-twisting start in a farmer's market [source: Kovalchik]. The chain's grown to 1050 locations since 1987, tempting shopping mall patrons across the globe with a sweet, buttery aroma.
Pretzels remain such a part of Pennsylvania culture that an episode of "The Office" revolved around an annual free pretzel day. According to food personality Alton Brown, the average American eats 2 pounds (0.91 kilograms) of pretzels a year; in Philadelphia, that number swells to 20 (9.1 kilogrames). Brown's a huge fan of pretzels and believes the interesting textures of the warm, soft version hold tremendous advantages over the hard-baked option. The bready elasticity is thanks to the generous amounts of yeast, which explains why the pretzel is such a good companion for beer. This might account for the pretzel's popularity in sports stadiums -- it's essentially a tasty sponge to soak up brew.