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We may know them as carnival fare or the crumbly, salty snacks appropriate for any occasion, but pretzels have a history unknown to many—just like many foods that originated in medieval Europe and made the transatlantic journey to the United States. In this case, the pretzel landed in Pennsylvania. There are two main types of pretzels: soft and hard. Beyond that, there are pretzels with fillings, toppings and those made for dietary restrictions.

Born and Bre(a)d

The first pretzel was a soft piece of warm, baked dough that French or Italian monks (it is unknown which) handed out to children as a reward for memorizing Bible verses. The shape represents “a child’s arms folded in prayer. The three empty holes represented the Christian Trinity,” according to KitchenProject.com. Initially known as the "pretiola" or small reward, this baked good was renamed "bretzel" once it reached Germany. Bretzel became "pretzel" and so it was born.

The Origin of the Hard Pretzel

According to pretzel mainstay Auntie Anne’s website, hard pretzels were born of a folly made by a baker’s apprentice. The apprentice fell asleep while the pretzels were baking and let them bake for too long. The coals had cooled, but the baker’s temper flared when he found out a whole batch of pretzels was ruined. Until he tasted one, that is. European immigrants who settled in Lancaster County, Penn., sparked the trend of selling these treats. Pennsylvania is now home to Auntie Anne’s, Tom Sturgis Pretzels, Hammond Pretzel, and other manufacturers.

Show Me the Dough

Pretzel makers have adapted to modern times by using different types of dough and eliminating unhealthy additives from some varieties, so even the most stringent eater can indulge in a "pretiola." Pretzel doughs range from whole wheat to sour dough, to no-yeast and gluten-free dough. Saltiness can also be adjusted from none at all to coarse grounds (sprinkled liberally).

Hard Pretzel Types

Hard pretzels usually don’t have fillings, but range from the ones mentioned above in dough, seasoning and additives. Common hard pretzel additives include honey, onion, pumpernickel, garlic, butter, sesame, jalapeno, mustard, barbecue and even soy. They also come chocolate covered. They vary in shape from the old style, arms-crossed cutout, to bite-sized logs, to waffle shapes, to thick rods and little sticks. A new pretzel shape can lend itself to better dipping, more salty surface area, or just a change of scenery.

Soft Pretzel Types

Soft pretzels are most often served hot, right out of the oven. However, some makers have started selling frozen pretzels that consumers can heat at home. These fresh creations usually have a filling. From sweet to savory, there is no lack of diversity in the pretzel world. Stuffing types include, but are not limited to, combinations of cream cheese, peppers, pizza style, cheese, egg, apples, cinnamon, berries, mustard, chocolate, caramel, pepperoni, sour cream and raisin. Soft pretzels also vary in dough and salt gradation. They also come in different shapes and sprinkled with toppings.