AskDefine | Define pretzel

Dictionary Definition

pretzel n : glazed and salted cracker typically in the shape of a loose knot

User Contributed Dictionary



From German Brezel, possibly from a Latin root bracchiolum "little arm"; named for the appearance of arms folded in prayer.


  • /ˈprɛt.səl/


  1. A toasted bread or cracker usually in the shape of a loose knot.
  2. Anything that is knotted, twisted, or tangled.


a toasted bread or cracker in the shape of a knot

Extensive Definition

This article is about the baked good. For other uses, see pretzel (disambiguation).
A pretzel is a baked good that is traditionally twisted into a unique knot-like shape. The pretzel dough is made from wheat flour, water, brown sugar and yeast. Prior to baking, it is dipped into a sodium hydroxide (NaOH), sodium carbonate (Na2CO3), or sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) solution and sprinkled with coarse salt, which gives it a glazed look. During baking, a Maillard reaction then gives the pretzel its characteristic brown color and distinctive flavor. In Bavaria it is a standard component of a Weisswurst breakfast.

History of the pretzel

Sources differ as to the time and place of the pretzel's origin. Its use in the emblems of bakers in Southern Germany at least since 1111 is documented. The 12th century Hortus Deliciarum from the Southwest German (now French) Alsace may be the earliest depiction of a pretzel. It remains very popular in Southern German regions of Swabia and Bavaria where it is known as Brezl and Brezn, respectively. In northern Germany, where it is less popular, it is known as Brezel.
The History of Science and Technology, by Ronnie Smith and Alexander Hellemans, says that in 610 A.D. "...[a]n Italian monk invents pretzels as a reward to children who learn their prayers. He calls the strips of baked dough, folded to resemble arms crossing the chest, 'pretiola' ("little reward[s]")", however no source, primary or otherwise, is cited to back up this detailed specificity.Pretzels were one square. Other sources derive the name from Latin 'bracellus (a medieval term for "bracelet"), or 'bracchiola ("little arms") (more apparent from Spanish brazo "arm") combined with the southern German dialect diminutive ending -le (or -el).
Within the Catholic church, Pretzels are regarded as having religious significance and are particularly associated with Lent. In his Astronomia Nova, Johannes Kepler states that if we assume that the Earth is the center of the universe, we must accept that the planets travel in a loopy path "with the appearance of a Lenten bread ('panis quadragesimalis'')" i.e. a pretzel.
There are cold, warm, soft, chewy and hard pretzels. Pretzels are most common in Southern Germany (Swabia and Bavaria) and neighboring German-speaking Switzerland, where they are often sliced horizontally, buttered and sold as "Butterbrezn". They are also sold with a soft filling, most often cheese. Cities in the United States like Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York are also famous for their soft pretzels.
Pretzels are typically salted. Hard pretzels are more common than soft pretzels in most of the United States as they can be mass-produced, packaged and stored. In the United States, hard pretzels are often consumed as a beer snack. Chocolate-covered hard pretzels are also popular, especially around Christmas time.
Pretzels can be found in a variety of shapes and sizes. Traditional soft pretzels are about the size of a hand. Most hard pretzels are only 2-3 mm thick. Hard pretzels which are 0.8-1.5 cm thick are called Bavarian pretzels. Hard pretzels are also frequently sold as straight "pretzel sticks" ("Salzstangen" in German).
Hard pretzels are also available with a sweet candy coating of chocolate, strawberry and other flavors. A popular variation is "yogurt-covered pretzels" (or "ghost-face"), with a thin coating of yogurt. Some consumers consider them a healthy snack because of this, but the coating increases the fat and sugar content of the pretzel significantly. Other varieties include pretzels dipped in mustard.
The annual United States pretzel industry is worth over $550 million. The average American consumes about 1.5 pounds (0.7 kg) of pretzels per year. Southeastern Pennsylvania, with its large German population, is considered the birthplace of the American pretzel industry and many pretzel bakers are still located in the area. The average Philadelphian consumes about twelve times more pretzels than the national average.
Most bakeries in Southern Germany produce an elongated soft bread roll made of pretzel dough called Laugenbrötchen.
On January 13, 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush choked on a pretzel and fainted. He recovered almost immediately with only a minor bruise from falling off a couch.


External links

pretzel in Bavarian: Brezn
pretzel in Czech: Preclík (pečivo)
pretzel in Danish: Kringle
pretzel in Pennsylvania German: Bretzel
pretzel in German: Brezel
pretzel in Spanish: Pretzel
pretzel in French: Bretzel
pretzel in Korean: 프레첼
pretzel in Italian: Brezel
pretzel in Hebrew: כעך
pretzel in Latin: Panis quadragesimalis
pretzel in Luxembourgish: Bretzel
pretzel in Dutch: Pretzel
pretzel in Japanese: プレッツェル
pretzel in Portuguese: Pretzel
pretzel in Russian: Брецель
pretzel in Simple English: Pretzel
pretzel in Swedish: Kringla
pretzel in Chinese: 椒鹽卷餅
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