The twisted history about the Bretzel

Internationally known for its unique shape and taste, the Bretzel or Pretzel has a long-twisted history.

 If you have never tried or seen one before, we are talking about a type of biscuit or bun that is baked and made into a bow shape with a highly salty taste. Its origin is in Germany, and it is quite popular in German-speaking Switzerland, Austria, Alsace (France) and North America.

Its name comes from the German word Brezel or Breze, derived from the Latin bracellus, ‘little arm’. This name is due to the fact that its shape is reminiscent of two intertwined arms. In Germany and especially in Bavaria, the place of its birth, the bretzel is very different from that of the United States. It is part of the typical food of the country and is a type of salty bread.

There are basically two categories: bretzels of cookie and bretzels of bread soft. The second type can be made in a wide variety of flavors, including almond, garlic, etc.

Talking about what’s in the biscuits:

They are made with a base of flour wheat with yeast, milk and butter. The dough is briefly dipped in a 3% sodium bicarbonate solution before baking, and salt is usually added to it although sweets are also made, flavored with cinnamon, vanilla, etc. Some regional recipes also add egg and lemon zest.

Back to the history:

The origin goes all the way back to the Celtic and their festivities regarding the beginning of the spring season, when the sun passes through the constellation of Aries, the ram, so its characteristic shape would represent the horns of this zodiacal animal.

The Romans used to call it “panis tordus” and around the 610 the Benedictine monks of Burgundy and Rhineland adopted them to give as a prize to the children that would finish their homework. They explained that the “brezel” represented the arms of a child making his prayers and called them brachiola or pretiola.

The oldest representation appears Hortus Delicieum the Garden of Earthly Delights back to 1190. Moreover, it has also been presented in miniature scene of a banquet in which Queen Esther and her husband the Persian king Ahasuerus / Xerxes participate. On the table, a bretzel is observed to the right of the king.

In the Catholic tradition of southern Germany “palmbrezel” were used to decorate the palms that were brought to bless the church on Palm Sunday.

Some people tend to confuse the Pretzel with other types of bread biscuits such as bagels and simit. The first one is originally from Poland and the second one from Greece.

The influence in United Stated of America:

This connection entered Pennsylvania history when German immigrants brought pretzels with them to the colony in the 1700s. While most early pretzels were of the soft variety, a German baker in Lititz and Julius Sturgis, reportedly started the first commercial pretzel bakery in 1861 and claimed credit as the creator of the first true hard pretzels.

The hard pretzels arrived just in time for the rise of the saloon after the Civil War. In contrast to taverns, the male-only saloon focused on drinking rather than eating. As large brewery cooperatives began sending their beer beyond local neighborhoods, the saloon proved to be the perfect sales outlet. Large breweries supplied potential saloon operators with everything they needed to go into business, with one catch: they could only sell that brewery’s beer. By the 1870s, the number of saloons exploded as breweries competed to saturate the market with their own products. Who dominated this world of American brewing? German immigrants and their families.

Becoming a bar snack:

Most saloons did not offer a full menu, and the owners started to notice that people would stay longer and drink more if they had something to eat, specially something salty. That’s the moment when the pretzels entered the picture. The “economical, salty, easy to pack, ship, store, and serve” was the perfect bar food. In some cities, a majority of the pretzel trade was sold directly to saloons, which could go through as many as two or three barrels of pretzels a week. In some cities, a majority of the pretzel trade was sold directly to saloons, which could go through as many as two or three barrels of pretzels a week.

So completely intertwined were the images of the German brewer and the German pretzel – sometimes referred to as the “German biscuit” —that the two were often pictured together. By the early 1900s, the Pittsburgh Daily Post regularly ran humorous illustrations that combined the distinctive form of the pretzel and the traditional costume of ethnic Pennsylvania Germans.

After being popular in German speaking countries and United States, the bretzel has traveled all around the globe to delight the mouth of people that try it. However, you can taste it anywhere in the world, but they will not be the same as the original ones made by the locals in the south of Germany, Bavaria.

Juana Sosa
Author: Juana Sosa

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