The world can thank a frustrated teacher with leftover bread dough for the invention of the soft pretzel. In 610 C.E., while baking bread, an Italian monk decided to create a treat to motivate his distracted catechism students. He rolled out ropes of dough, twisted them to resemble hands crossed on the chest in prayer, and baked them. The monk christened his snacks "pretiola," Latin for "little reward." Parents who tasted their children's classroom treats referred to them as "brachiola," or "little arms."
From there the baked treats spread to Germany, where they were made with flour, malt, salt, baker's yeast, water and fat making them soft and chewy. Many of these Germans immigrated to Pennsylvania's Susquehanna Valley, where they became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, bringing their pretzels with them.
While the origins of the pretzel may be debated, our love for them certainly is not. These crunchy snack treats are beloved the world over. Here are 10 twisted facts about your favorite pretzels.
1. Pennsylvania Rules
Speaking of Pennsylvania, there are about 45 pretzel companies in the state, including Snyders of Hanover. That means about 80 percent of the pretzels sold in the U.S. are made in Pennsylvania.
2. High in Carbs
3. Mega Pretzel
The current Guinness World Record holder for largest pretzel is Pilsener, Industrias La Constancia (Pilsner of El Salvador). In October 2015, employees baked a massive pretzel that measured 29 feet 3 inches (8.93 meters) long by 13 feet 3 inches (4 meters) wide. It weighed a whopping 1,728 pounds (783.81 kilograms).
4. Tying the Knot
Pretzels were incorporated into Swiss wedding ceremonies during the 16th century. A bride and groom would break a pretzel together, make a wish, and each eat half to symbolize their union.
5. Going Fully Automated
Pretzels were made entirely by hand until 1935 when the first automated pretzel machine was created. That allowed factory bakers to mass-produce about 250 pretzels per minute.
6. Soaking Gives That Shine
Pretzels get their flavor and trademark shine from soaking the dough for about 30 to 60 seconds in sodium hydroxide (lye) before they're baked. It's a technique that's similar to how bagels are prepared.
7. Who Eats the Most?
So, who eats the most pretzels in the U.S.? That honor goes to Philadelphia. While Americans on average eat around 2 pounds (0.9 kilograms) of pretzels annually, Philadelphians eat about 12 pounds (5.4 kilograms) per year!
8. The Perfect Pairing
Beer and pretzels could be the perfect snack pairing. Some say it's because the salty pretzels make you want to drink more beer, but the salt also may help boost the flavor and hop bitterness of some beers, and provide a flavor contrast for less hoppy styles.
9. A Crunchy Accident
One theory explaining the evolution of pretzels from hard to soft involves a 17th-century baker's apprentice in Pennsylvania who accidentally fell asleep while baking his pretzels. The soft pretzels ended up over-baked and crunchy. The master baker spared his apprentice's job because after just one bite, he loved them.
10. Sans Salt Please
Prefer your pretzels without salt? Then you're a fan of baldies.
Originally Published: Apr 21, 2008