Don’t Get It Twisted

3 Popular Origins of the Pretzel for National Pretzel Day


(Photo Credits: Pixabay)

A stack of pretzels!

Soft, pepperoni, hard, salty, cinnamon, chocolate-covered, tiny, or large. No matter what flavor you’re craving, there is a pretzel that will satisfy your taste. Considering the endless possibilities of these flavorful snacks, it is very easy to see how pretzels managed to take America by storm; it is even easier to understand why many people consider them the ultimate snack for any occasion.

Today, April 26, 2023, is National Pretzel Day. This day is used to celebrate the iconic snack that is often a staple in our country. Despite their worldwide popularity, the question of where they came from remains unanswered. However, we do have many theories that may explain how they came to be!

A Monk in Italy

One of the earliest stories about the creation of pretzels takes place during the beginning of the middle ages, 610 AD to be exact. Legend has it that an Italian monk, who lived in either southern France or northern Italy, twisted remnants of dough into its distinguishable knot in hopes that it looked like children praying. Additionally, many claim that the three holes in the pretzel are meant to represent the holy trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. According to legend, He called his product “pretiola” which means “little reward”. As the name suggests, the monk used these tasty snacks to reward children who managed to memorize their prayers.

While there is a lack of concrete evidence to support the accuracy of this story, it has, nevertheless, gained popularity amongst those who have heard it. In fact, as the years passed many people consider this story as fact.

Hostage Bakers

Similarly to the previous story, this German theory states that pretzels were made in southern France during the middle ages. However, unlike the previously mentioned theory, this story is not as lighthearted. This story says that a group of bakers were held hostage by French dignitaries, or in other words, high ranked French officers. In one version of the story, the bakers invented “brezel”– a German word translating to pretzels– as a plea to be released from their captors. In another version of this same story, the captors demanded the bakers make their bread. In an act of defiance, the bakers twisted the shape of the bread.

Fasting During Lent

Another proposition states that pretzels originate from a Catholic church during the 7th century. During this time, many people celebrated the Catholic holiday, Lent, a forty-day process of fasting and abstinence. It was during this time that those who were participating could not eat eggs, meat, or any dairy products. Pretzels were a perfect food to eat during the Lenten fast due to their simple ingredients: flour, water, and salt. Additionally, they were easy to make and did not break any of the dietary restrictions.

The very first drawing to picture a pretzel. (Photo Credit: Christian Maurice Engelhardt/Public Domain)

Although we may not know which of these three theories are true, we know for a fact that pretzels were present in 1111, due to there being historical records of their existence in the crest of a German bakers guild. This can suggest that pretzels were common amongst those in medieval Germany. Alongside this, in the year 1185, pretzels were illustrated in Hortus deliciarum, a book that includes stories and illustrations that aim to educate its readers on subjects of history, science, literature, and theology, spreading from the creation of the world to the end of time. In the picture it looks like the pretzel is near someone who wears a crown, meaning that it was most likely a well-liked snack among monarchs and rich individuals.

Unbaked Pretzels. (Photo Credits: Pixabay)

Today, Julius Sturgis is often credited with the accomplishment of opening up the first commercial pretzel bakery in America. In the 1850s, Julius Sturgis had a bakery in Lititz, Pennsylvania. It is in this small bakery where he made and sold bread that was loved by many! Legend has it that one day, a homeless man came off of the train before going to Sturgis for a job and some food. Julius Sturgis did not have a job for him at that time, but he did still give him a good meal for his troubles. In return, this man gave Sturgis an unique recipe for hard pretzels. Intrigued, Sturgis used this recipe to feed his family. After improving upon the recipe and eventually perfecting it, he began to sell his pretzels at his bakery, successfully becoming the first person in America to commercially produce them. As of April 2023, Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery is still in operation, now run by Tom Sturgis, and his son Bruce. This bakery is now open to the public, often holding tours, showing guests the original pretzel recipe, and teaching them how they are made.

The mystery behind the origin of pretzels gives them a fascinating history that you wouldn’t imagine them having at first glance. Similarly to medieval times, pretzels remain a snack that is beloved by many! April 26, National Pretzel Day, gives us the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the unique history, impressive symbolism, and wonderful taste of pretzels.