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A pretzel can either be

1. any bread or sweet pastry looped in a certain way (“pretzel loop”), for consumption within a few days,

Left: German Laugenbrezel (lye pretzel).

2. a bread pastry, basically made from wheat flour, water and yeast, pretzel looped, glazed with lye (caustic soda) and sprinkled with coarse salt, soft inside, usually about hand-sized, for consumption on the same day, or

3. a party snack basically made from wheat flour, water and yeast, glazed with lye and usually salted, but thinly shaped in various forms (usually sticks around 4 millimetres (0.16 in) thick and 12 centimetres (4.7 in) long), baked to a crisp and thus very durable, when airtight.

The first two types have the special “pretzel loop” in common, the second and third the flavor because of the lye and salt. All three types have different backgrounds and purposes. To avoid confusion the Germans call the second type "Laugenbrezel" (lye pretzel).

The pretzel loop is also used for a variety of different sweet pastries. The (lye) pretzel is popular in southern Germany and adjoining German speaking areas as a variety of bread, a side dish or a snack. The crispy hard pretzels originate in the United States and have become popular in many countries.

The pretzel in the first sense is of Christian Medieval European origin. Within the Catholic church, pretzels were regarded as having religious significance for both ingredients and shape. The classic pretzel's three-hole shape represents the Christian Trinity of "Father, Son and Holy Spirit". Pretzels made with a simple recipe using only flour and water could be eaten during Lent, when 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. 

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Today it is still used in southern German speaking areas on Christian holidays and in local customs. Some parts of Swabia know the “Palm Pretzel” made for Palm Sunday celebrations.

Left: Swabian “Palm Pretzel”.

Freshly baked every day, they are sold in every bakery and in special booths or stands in down-town streets. Often, they are sliced horizontally, buttered, and sold as Butterbrezel or even come with slices of cold meats or cheese.

In the 18th century, southern German and Swiss German immigrants introduced the pretzel to North America. Crispy pretzels have become a popular snack in the United States and Canada and come in many varieties.

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One American variety is yogurt-covered pretzels. Hard pretzels are also available with a sweet candy coating of chocolate, strawberry, and other flavors. Chocolate-covered hard pretzels are very popular, especially around Christmas time. Other serving possibilities include pretzels dipped in mustard or cheese. In the Philadelphia area, crumbled hard pretzels are a common accompaniment to ice cream. Soft pretzels are also popular in some regions of the United States.

Left: American style pretzel sticks.



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