There is more to pretzels than hard or soft, or straight or twisted. Just as people the world over eat bagels (or something very much like them), they also enjoy pretzels in many different ways: with beer, as a late breakfast, or as a party staple. This April 26th, also known as National Pretzel Day, take a second to appreciate the consistently good, simple pretzel by learning about its many iterations. Here are 11 ways pretzels are enjoyed around the world.
Pretzels were apparently invented by monks in the Early Middle Ages, though nobody is sure whether those monks were from Germany, Italy, or France. Nevertheless, their unique shape imitates the form of arms crossed across the chest in prayer. (The term itself seems to trace its origins back to the Larin word for arm, brachium, which evolved into the German bretzel or brezel and from there to our English word.) Due to the simplicity of their preparation, which rarely requires eggs or dairy, pretzels are often eaten during Lent — in fact, at one point, pretzels were hidden like Easter eggs.
We chose the items on this list by starting in Germany, where pretzels are one of the most popular foods, and went on to examine the many regional variations throughout Europe. We also looked at not-so-old-school pretzels, the kind you might find in a vending machine or at a fast food joint in the mall, like Auntie Anne’s — whose pretzels, by the way, taste much better homemade. While we were tempted to include options like Auntie Anne’s paneer tikka masala pretzel, popular in India, we decided there could be only one Auntie Anne’s offering on this list, and that pretzel is pretty wacky. You’ll just have to wait and see what it is.
Some pretzels on this list, like kalach and krakeling, are classified as pretzels because of their shape, rather than their taste or texture, though those don’t stray too far from the traditionally large, soft pretzels we think of as the original.
So get ready to embark on a journey to see how other countries embrace these twisted, meandering pieces of utter perfection.
Butterbrezel sounds like pretty much what you’d expect it to be: a butter pretzel. It’s a large, soft pretzel cut through the middle, so it looks like a sandwich, and it’s filled with a generous portion of butter. Why eat a sandwich on pretzel bread when you can eat it in an actual pretzel?
Hard Pretzels (United States)
Though we can find both hard and soft pretzels in the United States, the kind of pretzels you can eat like chips are uniquely American, and have been since 1861, when they were first invented. In fact, the average American consumes about 1.5 pounds of pretzels per year, most (80 percent) of which are produced in Pennsylvania. They come in many flavors and coatings, such as yogurt or chocolate.