Celebrate National Pretzel Day by Learning the History of This Tasty Bread-Like Treat

Sunday is National Pretzel Day. All across the United States, snackers can celebrate the twisty, salty snack with a variety of flavors, but many may wonder what the actual origin of the pretzel is.

The origin of the pretzel is often disputed, with two prominent legends surrounding the birth of the salty snack. According to Today I Found Out, some early undocumented origin stories credit an Italian (or sometimes French) monk in A.D. 610 with creating the treat as a reward for children who learned their prayers, dubbing them pretiolas, which fittingly translates to "little rewards." The shape was meant to resemble arms crossing a chest in prayer. Alas, there is no substantive proof to back up this story.

Another story that is often cited—without evidence—is that pretzels were created by German bakers held hostage by dignitaries. A compelling story, but there isn't any proof to back it up. The German word bretzel also gives some insight into what the classic shape is meant to resemble. Derived from Latin, the word comes from bracellus, meaning "bracelet." The earliest recorded depiction of pretzels was in 1111 as a symbol for the German bakers' guild.

Due to a German Catholic tradition of eating pretzels on Good Friday, the snack is also rumored to have been developed as food for the Lenten season, when Catholics traditionally fast, especially on Good Friday.

According to the History Channel, the early pretzels were doughy and bread-like, resembling the soft pretzels that we enjoy today. An incredibly popular treat in the Middle Ages, they came to symbolize good fortune and spiritual fulfillment and were often given to the poor to not only fill their stomachs but their spirits.

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A vendor holds a pretzel on the opening day of the 2015 Oktoberfest on September 19, 2015 in Munich. The earliest recorded depiction of pretzels was in 1111 as a symbol for the German bakers' guild. Philipp Guelland/Getty

Due to being a symbol of good luck, the pretzel became an essential part of many celebrations, like Germans wearing pretzels around their necks on New Year's Day or Austrians placing pretzels on Christmas trees. In Switzerland, couples would break pretzels on their wedding days as a symbol of good luck with the symbol representing a marriage knot.

German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania were among the earliest people to bring the snack to the United States in the 1700s. According to Today I Found Out, Pennsylvania has become something of a hub for the treat, producing about 80 percent of the country's pretzels today and the average Philadelphian eats about 12 pounds of pretzels a year (that's 10 pounds more than the average American). Julius Sturgis also created the first commercial pretzel bakery in 1861 in Lititz, Pennsylvania, which is where hard pretzels are thought to have been developed.

According to Business Wire, the largest pretzel maker in the U.S. today is Snyder's of Hanover. The company was founded in 1909 in (wait for it) Pennsylvania. Today, the company makes a lot of tasty pretzel products like flavored braided twists, chocolate-covered pretzels, pretzel sandwiches and flavored pretzel pieces (do yourself a favor and try the buffalo wing–flavored ones. They're delicious).