Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Underappreciated Pretzel's Sara Dickerman recently wrote:

While I rarely pass a day without a pretzel, I'm surprised by how little respect pretzels get in the snack-food world, particularly here on the West Coast.

They are generally viewed as innocuous -- an acceptable backup snack -- but they're no competition for whiz-pow-bang-flavor-dusted potato and tortilla chips. (This is echoed in sales statistics, where potato chips grab about 38 percent, and tortilla chips 26 percent, of the salty-snack market. Pretzels hover closer to 7.5 percent to 8 percent.)

But it is the very lack of flash that draws me to the pretzel. Pretzels do not need the lush fattiness of chips or cheese puffs. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the pretzel as a snack "used, esp. by Germans as a relish with beer," and it is perhaps this complementary quality that keeps pretzels below the radar.

Because of their link to beer and harvest-time drinking, I like to think of pretzels as one of those pagan holdovers like mistletoe, but, at least in legend, their invention is decidedly Christian. An Italian monk, in the year 610, is said to have twisted a rope of dough into the classic form -- the twist itself representing arms folded in prayer, and the three holes a nod to the Holy trinity. Some claim pretzel comes from the Latin pretiola, which means "little rewards," as the crunchy knots were purportedly given to children as prizes for piety. Other etymologies look back to the Medieval Latin term bracellus, meaning "bracelet."
I like pretzels, but if they were given out on the basis of one's piety, I suspect that my supply would be cut off or at least significantly reduced.

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