How Pretzels Really Got Their Shape

Pretzels are an American staple. According to How Stuff Works, every year, we consume approximately two pounds of these salty snacks per person. Of course, if you are from Philadelphia, you eat about 12 pounds of pretzels which is probably tied to the fact that Pennsylvania also has the most pretzel companies. Soft or hard, sweet or savory, filled with cheese or peanut butter, or topped with cinnamon and sugar (or everyone's favorite mustard), pretzels have come a long way from their humble beginnings. Seriously, who doesn't love a warm, soft pretzel from the likes of Auntie Anne's Pretzels or Wetzel Pretzels

But have you ever wondered why they are shaped the way they are? According to, the knotty shape of this salty, doughy food was heavily influenced by the Catholic Church. Some call it a heart shape, others a knot, and still others think of it as a loopy, twisty bow with arms that come together in the middle. Regardless, the pretzel is believed to have made its debut in 610 AD, per Wonderopolis. It is believed to be the creation of an Italian monk and quickly caught on in popularity. But that still does not explain the reason behind the pretzel's bow shape. 

Pretzels are supposed to resemble hands in prayer points out that, because the pretzel is strongly tied to the Catholic Church and its season of Lent, so is the shape. In those early days, meat, dairy, eggs, and sweets could not be consumed during Lent, so the pretzel, which is just flour, water, and some salt, was the perfect sustenance. Per So Yummy, they were originally invented as a reward for young kids who learned their lessons. But the pretzel's shape was not meant to look like a knot, but rather arms in prayer. This may be why pretzels were originally called "bracellae," according to, which is Latin and literally translates to "little arms."

Food & Wine takes the Catholic origins a little bit further by revealing that the three holes of the pretzel are also associated with the Holy Trinity — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The publication also shares that, during the Middle Ages, pretzels started appearing in artwork where they came to symbolize good health and prosperity. But regardless of why the pretzel is shaped the way it is, it is a delicious snack that can be enjoyed during Lent — or any other time of the year!