Whether you like them warm and doughy or baked and crunchy, pretzels are a great snack. But what state is famous for pretzels?
You can get pretzels anywhere, but Pennsylvania is the state most famous for these salty little snacks. More than 80% of the nation’s pretzel supply comes from Pennsylvania, and the average Pennsylvanian eats many more pretzels than folk from the other 49 states.
So which Pennsylvania city eats the most pretzels? What’s the difference between hard and soft pretzels? What are the best things to put on pretzels, and where did they even come from, anyway? In this post, you will learn the answers to these questions and more.
A Pennsylvania Pretzel Primer
So how did Pennsylvania become so famous for pretzels and the biggest producer? The history of the pretzel dates back to the seventh century. Sometime around the year 600, a monk in the region that is now Italy took some leftover bread dough and twisted it into a fun shape in an effort to win over his distracted students. He named his creations pretiola, which means little rewards and the snacks were a hit.
As time went on, the popularity of the pretiola spread into the lands that are now Germany. The Germans refined the recipe, adding yeast and fat to make them a little chewier and airier.
Fast-forward a few hundred years, and many people from Germany began to immigrate to the Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania. The word Deutsch for German was misconstrued by the locals, who soon began calling their German friends the Pennsylvania Dutch.
When they moved here from Europe, these immigrants brought with them their long and storied history of baking what they called brezels. In 1861, the very first commercial pretzel bakery in America was opened in Lititz, PA, by a man named Julius Sturgis. His pretzel shop is still in operation today as the Julius Sturgis Soft Pretzel Bakery.
Sturgis inherited his pretzel recipe from his mentor, a baker named Ambrose Roth. Legend has it that Roth got his pretzel recipe from a hobo he fed and sheltered around the year 1850: the hobo provided the recipe to Roth as a way of thanking him.
But how did the pretzel then migrate from Lititz, which is about 75 miles west of Philadelphia, to the rest of the Keystone State? The answer lies in trading.
Merchants, farmers, and others who trickled in and out of the city often passed through Lititz, and before long, the potential of the pretzel was recognized by shrewd Philadelphians. Before long, the still-booming pretzel-cart economy had sprung into existence.
Modern Pretzel Making
One of the biggest pretzel brands to come out of Pennsylvania is Utz. Now an enormous food company, Utz’s humble origins can be traced back to Hanover, Pennsylvania, around 1921.
William and Sallie Utz started making potato chips at home and selling them to local markets and merchants. Before long, the couples’ business took off.
Utz focused mainly on chips until 1970, when they purchased another chip factory in Hanover and decided to convert it to a pretzel bakery. To this day, Utz pretzels are baked at this plant in Hanover before being shipped all across the land.
Another famous pretzel brand based in Pennsylvania is Snyders of Hanover. Much like Utz, Snyders’ history begins in the 1920s, with a mom-and-pop potato chip shop that blossomed into a sustainable food business. Eventually, the company purchased the Bechtel Pretzel Company, which they incorporated into their business as Snyder’s Bakery. Today, Snyder’s sells more pretzels than any other company.
Where to Get a Philadelphia Soft Pretzel
One of the things you simply must do when you come to Pennsylvania is to see Philadelphia – and while you’re there, you should get a legitimate Philadelphia-style soft pretzel. Pretzels can be found all over the city, in carts, restaurants, and convenience stores. Here are a few fan favorites.
Center City Soft Pretzel Co. is actually located in the Italian market near Center City. However, their massive variety of pretzels are baked to perfection: fresh, chewy, and just toothsome enough for the eater to enjoy the bite.
Many Philadelphians recommend heading to Miller’s Twist. Located at the Reading Terminal Market, renowned for its big, brown, buttery pretzels, Miller’s Twist is consistently ranked as a leading pretzel establishment in the Philadelphia area.
If you prefer a swankier, sit-down environment in which to enjoy your pretzels, you should go to Brauhaus Schmitz. This German restaurant features delicious sausages, schnitzels, and of course, plenty of freshly baked gourmet pretzels. Don’t conflate gourmet with fancy: these pretzels are traditional and scratch-baked.
Craving a twist (pardon the pun) on traditional pretzels? Then, head down to Rowhome Coffee. There, indulge in a savory breakfast sandwich served up hot on a sliced soft pretzel. Not in the mood for a breakfast sandwich? Just grab a regular breakfast pretzel and load it up with some tasty cream cheese for a Philadelphia breakfast you won’t soon forget.
Keystone Answers Fun Fact: The largest pretzel in recorded history was made by Pilsner of El Salvador, which baked a 1,728-pound pretzel in October of 2015. This giant-size snack measured 29 feet 3 inches in length and 13 feet 3 inches in width!
Which State Eats the Most Pretzels?
Pennsylvania consumes more pretzels per capita than any other state. While the average American eats about two pounds of pretzels a year, the average resident of Philadelphia consumes about six times as many, averaging out to about 12 pounds of pretzels a year!
Nobody really knows for sure why Pennsylvanians are so fond of these knotty treats. Some people believe that Pennsylvanians eat so many pretzels because so many pretzels are made in Pennsylvania. In fact, about 45 pretzel-making companies are headquartered in Pennsylvania, including major brands like Snyders of Hanover, Utz, Herrs, and even Auntie Anne’s. Pennsylvania’s pretzel industry is responsible for manufacturing about 80% of America’s total pretzel yield!
Another possible reason for Pennsylvania’s insatiable appetite for pretzels could just be that Pennsylvanians have good taste in snack foods. Pretzels, after all, are quite delicious, whether you’re eating a light snack of pretzel sticks or indulging in an enormous soft pretzel. And it seems like they are available everywhere; you can even get a soft pretzel at Sheetz when you stop for gas.
What City Eats the Most Pretzels?
The residents of the fine city of Philadelphia consume more pretzels than anybody else. Unfortunately, specific pretzel-consumption data is a little hard to come by, but most sources estimate that Philadelphians eat twelve times as many pretzels as average Americans. That is an impressive feat!
Philadelphia’s long and storied tradition of pretzel-making dates back to the 1800s and continues to this day. Philadelphian street vendors still sell fresh-baked soft pretzels from carts, making these delicious snacks far more tempting and accessible than they are in other places. That factor may be one of the reasons for the pretzel’s enduring influence in Philadelphia.
What’s the Difference Between Soft Pretzels and Hard Pretzels?
Legend has it that the first hard pretzels were baked by mistake, perhaps by an inattentive or novice baker. Over time, however, hard and soft pretzels have branched off and become distinctively different from one another.
The classic modern hard pretzel was invented by Julius Sturgis, the first commercial pretzel baker in Philadelphia. Sturgis wanted to extend the shelf life of his pretzels and ended up building a dough with much less water than traditional pretzels. The lower water content caused the dough to bake out into drier, more brittle snacks that would stay fresh for a long time.
Soft pretzels are also baked for a much shorter time than hard pretzels. Hard pretzels take up to an hour to cook to crunchiness. Soft pretzels bake for about 15 minutes, just enough to bring the dough to that perfectly toothsome consistency.
Why Do People Put Mustard on Pretzels?
Pretzels and mustard are a beloved combination, but why? In Germany – commonly believed to be the ancestral home of the modern American pretzel – mustard is generally served with wurst, not pretzels.
The tradition of putting mustard on pretzels originated when street vendors began selling the snacks in the 1920s. On humid days, the salt would form little blisters on the pretzel dough; to conceal this, vendors slathered the treats with mustard, and the natural synergy of salty pretzel dough and savory mustard was an instant success.
Mustard is definitely the leading pretzel dip, but sweet dips make a delightful treat as well. Chocolate, hazelnut spread, caramel, and even white chocolate are strong pretzel pairings. In addition, many modern pretzel enthusiasts enjoy dipping them in melty cheese, like beer cheese or queso.
A Twist Ending
Pretzels are one of America’s favorite snack foods. Indeed, about 181 million American eaters in states from Arkansas to Wyoming consume Pennsylvania’s finest snack on a regular basis. With more than 80% of the nation’s pretzel supply originating in the Keystone State, it’s safe to say that Pennsylvania is more famous for pretzels than any other state in the union.