Ode to the Pretzel
Pretzels are certainly one of the most widely known German foods and for very good reason. They are everywhere here. But pretzel is a shape, not a type of bread. Laugen (lye in English) is the bread type. Join me in an exploration of pretzels and laugen bread.
Bread Backed with Lye
What Americans see as pretzel bread is called Laugen, this is the bread type. In English the word Laugen is Lye, which is a very basic solution (as opposed to acid) often used in soap. The classic “pretzel” look of brown and smooth on the outside and soft and white on the inside comes from coating the bread in lye before baking. A more in depth description is here at wikipedia. They mention that baking soda is basic enough to work as well. I actually even remember making pretzels with a baking soda solution in high school as I was beginning to learn German. Unless they are stale, laugen breads from the bakery are soft not crispy.
A quick word about words:
- Laugen – Pronounced “Lau – gen” where the ‘Lau’ rhymes with house and the g is hard like in grape.
- Bretzel – This is the German word for pretzel and pronounced almost identically. The plural form is Bretzeln.
So laugen is the bread and pretzel is a shape. This shape is well known with the rounded bottom and crossed tailed laid back over it and the most common form of laugen bread that I have seen in my German travels. Laugen breads come in other very common shapes as well. Laugen shape are most often covered with grains of salt although sesame seeds and poppy seeds are common as well. In the fall come the pretzels covered from head to tail in pumpkin seeds.
In Many Forms
Other Things To Do With Pretzels
Given that laugen breads are so common, there are also many variations. The pretzel shape is as a filled version is most often cut in half and covered in butter. In perfect German language form this is called a “butter pretzel” (Butterbretzel, yup all one word). There is one bakery in town that does cremecheese instead of butter which is nice. The other shapes will also get split open and filled, but usually with salami or cheese and a slice of lettuce as a sandwich. These “belegte Brötchen” are available in every bakery and make good snacks for day trips. Like most sandwiches in Germany, they are also likely to have a layer of butter between the bread and the fillings, even if the filling is cheese.
I have seen Laugenstange (the rod shapes) with butter, though rarely. Another option for expansions upon a theme is having a piece of cheese (sometimes with a slice of ham underneath) baked over a pretzel. The snack is cooled and also available in bakeries.
Because pretzel is a shape not a bread, you get other types of pretzels too. There are sweet pretzels made of flaky pastry covered in glaze (called Rapunzel as I have seen) or pudding pretzels with the spaces filled with vanilla goo. I even saw a “Berliner Pretzel” at the bakery which was a donut made in that shape.
Pretzels and Mustard
Soft pretzels are something I remember from baseball games in the US, usually served with mustard. Germans do not put mustard on pretzels or really on bread at all. When asked I got the clear answer that mustard goes with the sausage (Wurst) not the pretzel. They may commonly be eaten together, especially sweet mustard with Weisswurst in Bavaria, but the mustard goes with the meat not the bread. So another odd food combination that came into the US. It must have all come together and due to whatever reason the sausage part of the trio dropped away.
What in the US are sold as pretzel sticks are here called Salzstange (salt sticks). Of course the snack food versions of pretzels and sticks are here as well. These are the more classically known small pretzels sold in bags next to the chips. These too are a form of laugen, but must be baked differently to be crispy. As mentioned above the pretzels from the bakery shouldn’t be crispy. I take that as a sign of them being stale.
Cheap Snacks For On The Go
Because the laugen breads are local and so popular, they are also cheap. I expect to pay 60 cents or so for a simple roll or pretzel and maybe 80 cents for a Zopf. A butter pretzel shouldn’t be more than 1.20 Euro. Every bakery in the south of Germany should have a range of these and given their popularity should have a good turnover. Buy salami or cheese and make your own sandwiches along the way.
More pictures can be found on the Grounded Traveler Facebook fanpage.
Submitted to My Expat Germany’s Food Friday on the Käse Spätzle Week.
December 16, 2014 @ 9:48 am
German pretzels with butter is one of the most amazingly satisfying and delectable foods in all of Germany. It is complemented well by a spetzi. Great post!
October 19, 2013 @ 7:41 pm
Ugh, all those combo/sandwich descriptions made me so hungry to try them…except I dont like the pretzel bread AT ALL! That’s a bit of a problem, aint it…
November 3, 2013 @ 11:59 am
Weird. Do you like bagels? They are not the same, but for me the two different textures reminds me of the other. I tend to like pretzels only when they are soft OR the tiny hard ones. Having large pretzel that is crispy makes me thing it is just stale.
Sightseeing around Bavaria - Grounded Traveler
February 14, 2013 @ 10:36 pm
[…] Pretzels? Well, not just Bavaria, but definitely the south of Germany. […]
July 12, 2012 @ 10:58 pm
Hi Andrew – Sine here from Joburg Expat. South Africans always tell me it’s fun to read my blog to see their country through expat eyes, and now I see what they mean. I loved reading about your perspective on life in Germany (even though I’m almost a stranger there myself now after almost 20 years away) and my mouth is watering for a good Laugenbrötchen this very minute. One tiny correction though – Bretzeln are not all over Germany, it is very much a Southern German specialty. My husband is from Hannover in the North and he had pretty much never seen a Bretzel before moving South to Stuttgart. The best way, in my mind, to eat them, is with a thick layer of butter. Or perhaps like my grandmother used to swear was the best way, with butter then honey than a layer of sliced radishes:-)
July 13, 2012 @ 8:17 am
I have heard similar comments from other Germans that it is interesting to see the place from a foreigner perspective. I hope I do the country justice. As for the regional-ness of the Pretzel that is really weird. That something that seems so typical to me is a regional thing and I swear I’ve seen them in Frankfurt at least. I am about as far south as you can get, which makes it more difficult to make day trips up north. We really want to go more places in Germany, but struggling to arrange the trips.
I like the butter pretzels and honey sounds really nice, but don’t get near me with a radish. 🙂
Reading your stuff on all the bureaucracy makes me glad how straight forward things are here in comparison. It is hard enough as an expat, let alone having to go through those kind of problems.
July 13, 2012 @ 9:01 am
Well – as I said in another comment, German bureaucracy is great as long as you show up during opening hours – on a Wednesday from 2:00 to 2:30. Yes, Germany is very regional in many respects, have you ever eaten Maultaschen? Don’t have those up North either. Same with Kehrwoche – do you have that in Frankfurt? My husband used to complain that he couldn’t understand anybody when he first moved South. I think it’s a common habit of us expats to attribute anything weird/interesting/endearing to the country instead of the region (or in my case I’ve been known to blame the lack of a concept of time on an entire continent).
Enjoy Germany, I hope you get to see lots more of it!
November 14, 2011 @ 11:45 am
I have a gluten allergy so sadly never get to try all the different kinds of Bretzlns. I love the idea of eating them on the go when you’re in a hurry and when I first moved here I was surprised at how big some of them are.
November 15, 2011 @ 8:22 pm
The Neujahr ones can be truly huge. I like a good butter-pretzel for a trip.
fotoeins | Henry
November 14, 2011 @ 9:57 am
I’m not a fan of pretzels, but your post did in fact make me want one. The photos definitely helped!
November 15, 2011 @ 8:21 pm
Excellent, convert the unbeliever. Why don’t you like pretzels? My normal thing against them is the large rock salt, so I just brush it off.
fotoeins | Henry
November 16, 2011 @ 3:16 am
Andrew, I’m not a fan of pretzels because I’ve had bad versions elsewhere. In all the times I’ve lived in and visited the `Schland, I believe I’ve had one or two. I admit they weren’t bad at all. And yet, I do not seek them out. I suppose it’s fair to say that I’m open to trying them again – I’ll be back in Germany next autumn. 😉
November 16, 2011 @ 8:58 pm
That sounds like my friends from the US about beer. They have had college beer and can’t imagine that it is better here. Next time you are here try one again, with an open mind and an open mouth.
Seven Smells that Remind me Of Germany » Grounded Traveler - Expat Adventures in Germany
August 26, 2011 @ 10:22 pm
[…] a pretzel. It isn’t just bread, there is something more about it. Maybe the remnants of the laugen (lye) or something else I don’t know. It is totally German. Since smell is a component of taste, it […]
July 12, 2011 @ 7:30 pm
Check out http://www.essentialdepot.com . their Lye is free of impurities and is great for Pretzels. If you use the discount code “ship30? you can receive an additional 30% off shipping.
February 15, 2011 @ 6:33 pm
Wow, I didn’t know there was so much to pretzels. Germany is one of the places I associate with pretzels and agree that they taste much better in Germany! I haven’t tried all the shapes so I have alot of work ahead of me… or I should say eating ahead of me!
February 16, 2011 @ 8:33 pm
Not every bakery has every shape, and I saw some reference that the profusion of laugen is mainly in the south, so places like Berlin may have fewer. I don’t think I ever really noticed when I was there.
Definitely try the laugen based sandwiches too.
February 14, 2011 @ 10:21 am
Laugenbretzeln are my favorite thing in this world, pretty much! Along with peanut butter – both will forever associated with Germany for me.. although the latter has nothing to do with Germany in principle.
February 14, 2011 @ 6:57 pm
Is there a story as to why you remember peanut butter along with Germany?
February 13, 2011 @ 1:33 pm
Andy, you must really love pretzels to have bought all of these huges ones and photographed them! Did you eat them too? They actually look incredibly delicious. This reminds me that I haven’t had a soft pretzel in years. I used to like them a lot, although they were nothing as delicious as what your photos depict 🙂
February 13, 2011 @ 10:56 pm
The whole pile plus butter pretzel cost me 4.30 Euro. I ate the butter and the knot and the braid. I can’t eat so much bread in a day happily, so the rest have gone stale. They are wonderful snacks, but don’t last more than a day or two at the most. Not much in the way of preservatives, which is an ok thing.
Thank you for the photo compliment. It was weird trying to photograph food, but I’m happy how it turned out.
February 13, 2011 @ 5:06 am
I have always wanted to try pretzels ever since I saw Rachel on friends talking about them. How many years ago was that? and I still have not done it!
February 13, 2011 @ 10:53 pm
Hah.. I don’t remember that episode, which is weird because I watch that show an awful lot. If you ever make it to Germany, definitely hard to avoid and a good snack to try.
I like your blog on Turkey. We are looking to plan a trip for next year so I will definitely be by your blog to help research.
February 13, 2011 @ 4:05 am
I only tried pretzels in NYC, I guess they’re different! (but I loved them!)
I didn’t know that pretzel was just the name of the shape, so good to know about the Lagen “kind of bread”… must be useful if I go to Germany!
Ohhh anyway this post made me so hungry :p inviting pics…
February 13, 2011 @ 10:52 pm
Thanks for the comment. I don’t remember trying pretzels in NYC. If they are big and soft on the inside with salt on the outside, then yes they are very similar to the laugen bread pretzels here.
February 13, 2011 @ 3:35 am
These all look amazing! This was a really informative article, I didn’t know there was so much to know about pretzels.
February 13, 2011 @ 10:32 pm
You can certainly go through life and not know such things. However if you travel in Germany and want to try some of the other fancy breads they have, knowing what you are looking at helps. Even if you point, ordering a pretzel is still going to get you a pretzel shape. So it is in your tastebuds interest to learn. 🙂 Try the butter pretzels. Healthy, not so much, but good.
Thanks for the comment.
February 13, 2011 @ 1:03 am
I didn’t know there was a difference between the shape and the bread name. Regardless, the last time I was in Germany, I found myself eating the round laugen pretzels. It’s funny how they can only taste that good in Germany. My sister tried to make “authentic” German laugen pretzel, but they don’t sell Lye in the US I guess.
February 13, 2011 @ 10:23 pm
I didn’t know about the difference until after several years of traveling here. Round pretzels? Do you mean like rings? I think that is almost like a bagel.
They have certainly had enough practice here. Yeah, while you should be able to find lye in some form in the US, it isn’t really safe, so she probably used baking soda. Which according to wiki, just gives you a much lighter color.
Thanks for the comment.
February 12, 2011 @ 3:39 pm
Yum! I love the food post, and of course it made me hungry for pretzels–I mean, laugen. 🙂 I think the shape I most want to try is the laugen stange. I’ve actually always wanted to try making my own pretzels, so thanks for the inspiration!
February 12, 2011 @ 7:12 pm
The stange are nice. They plump up and don’t go stale quite as fast as the pretzel shape. These are also great for packign and can take either meat or cheese or even peanutbutter and jelly as a snack.
Good luck making your own pretzels, please come back and share your results. I’m interested.
February 12, 2011 @ 2:03 am
Looks yummy! I really want to try one now! At the hockey games here, there is a pretzel store that sells cinamon pretzels…OMG they’re so good!
February 12, 2011 @ 7:09 pm
Ooo cinnamon sounds nice. We will definitely make time for you to try more pretzel types on your next visit.
February 12, 2011 @ 2:00 am
Yum!! I had not idea they came in so many shapes and sizes. Cannot wait for our travels to Germany later this year. I just recently found out that they make sandwiches with pretzels over there. Too good!
February 12, 2011 @ 7:07 pm
Yup all kinds of shapes. I saw a few shapes on the web while I was doing extra research that even I had never seen. Definitely do laugenbrot sandwiches here. And try a butter pretzel. Where are you guys traveling? Coming through the southwest at all?
February 11, 2011 @ 7:12 pm
I seriously think I could live on German beer and laugen pretzel!! I love them both so much. Thanks for the lesson Andy! Cheers!
February 12, 2011 @ 7:06 pm
Thanks Gillian. Man cannot live on bread alone, he needs beer too.
I am working on sausage next, but will likely do a beer roundup post at some point too.