Sources give different information
for the time and place of the pretzel’s origin.
The History of Science and Technology, by Bryan Bunch and Alexander Hellemans claims that in 610 A.D. “…an 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 rewards). However, no source is cited to back up these details. Documentation shows that pretzel shaped pastries were used in the bakery emblems of baker guilds in Southern Germany since 1111. In the 12th century Hortus Deliciarum from the Southwest German Alsace (today France) may contain the earliest depiction of a pretzel.
In the 16th century, the German tradition of eating pretzels during Good Friday dinner is introduced. It is said that the shape of the pretzel is like that of praying hands. Within the Catholic church, pretzels are regarded as having religious significance for both ingredients and shape. Pretzels made with a simple recipe using only flour and water could be eaten during lent, when European Christians were forbidden to eat eggs, lard, or dairy products like milk and butter. As time passed, pretzels became associated with both Lent and Easter. Pretzels were hidden on Easter morning just like eggs are hidden today and are particularly associated with Lent, fasting, and prayers before Easter. The classic pretzel’s three-hole shape begins to take form. The three holes represent the Christian Trinity of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” and pretzels are thought to bring luck, prosperity, and spiritual wholeness. The wedding phrase “tying the knot” got its start when a pretzel was used to tie the knot between two prominent families. The pretzel’s loops stood for everlasting love.
Today, pretzels are common in Southern Germany (Swabia, Baden, and Bavaria), and in Switzerland, where they are often sliced horizontally, buttered, and sold as Butterbrezel. In Bavaria, they eat pretzels for breakfast with Weisswurst sausage. In Hungary they are called Perec. Other sources derive the name from Latin Bracellus (a medieval term for bracelet), or Bracchiola (little arms). Large, soft, salted unglazed pretzels arrive every morning to the bakery shops, together with freshly baked bread, and are sold fresh in almost every bakery shop. They are popular pastries, consumed between meals, eaten alone or together with yogurt or milk. Tiny hard glazed pretzels and pretzel sticks are sold in packages as snacks. In many parts of Europe such as Austria, traditional pretzels often contain caraway seeds, mixed with the dough.