Pretzels originated as a Lenten food.  They are shaped to represent a child’s arms folded in prayer, with 3 holes to represent the trinity.  Monk’s developed the shaped dough scraps and gave them to children as rewards for memorizing prayers and Bible verses.  They go back to at least 610 BC and originated in either South France or Northern Italy.

It was originally called a Pretiola, meaning ‘little reward’.  In Italy it was referred to as a Brachiola, which means ‘little arms’.  Once the treat reached Germany the name Bretzel or Pretzel finally came about, and stuck.

Pretzels were a quick snack to be prepared and came to resemble good luck and prosperity.  They were sold on street corners and vendors, even early on.  Pretzel’s were served as specialties on Easter with hard boiled eggs (and hidden around the house like an Easter hunt) and as Weddings where the bride and groom broke a pretzel to make a wish [where we get the phrase tying the knot?].

Pretzel’s first came to America as early as on the Mayflower.  The first commercial pretzel bakery in the US was established in 1861 by Julius Sturgis from the town of Lititz in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.    The automatic pretzel twisting machine was invented in 1935, and that is when the modern age of commercial pretzel businesses began.


In Pennsylvannia during the late 17th century a baker fell asleep during the making of his pretzels and cooked the twice.  He completely dried out the pretzel giving it a new and delicious taste, as well as making something that could be preserved longer.

Pretzels have been a big part of food creativity and culture.  Many snack flavors are offered in pretzel including candy bars, goldfish, and M&Ms.  In 1954 a boardwalk vendor at Ocean City, MD sold cotton candy on pretzel rods.  In 1958 a pretzel baker turned politician ran on the slogan “a new twist in government.”  Barbie kitchen sets came with a miniature box of pretzels.  And there was even a dance called the Pretzel Twist.

Annual pretzel sales top $180 million and are the second most popular snack, right behind potato chips and just in front of popcorn.

My New York Pretzel: