ANY TIME SNACK Trendy pretzels are popular worldwide for their great taste and wholesome nutrition

You may have heard the term ‘twisting yourself like a pretzel' especially when one is referring to those who do yoga and manage to be really flexible with their bodies.

Though it may look rather unusual, there's nothing quite like biting into a pretzel that's soft and sizzling hot from the oven. And then there are the crisp varieties that are sprinkled with coarse salt and can really work your jaw.

Made from a delicious combination of flour, wheat and yeast and glazed with a variety of interesting toppings ranging from cinnamon to yoghurt, pretzels are a good choice for dieters too because they are an ideal baked snack.

A great favourite in Germany, parts of Europe and in the US, apparently these snacks have religious connotations dating back to ancient Christianity!

Records state that an Italian monk first invented pretzels, as a reward to children who said their prayers. Indeed, the snack was created to resemble a pair of arms folded across a chest in prayer and till date, this remains the classic pretzel design.

The Catholic Church considered pretzels very holy, for both the ingredients and the shape. Made with rice flour and water, it could be eaten during Lent, an occasion on which Christians were forbidden from eating eggs or dairy products.

As time passed, pretzels were always associated with Lent and hidden on Easter morning, just like the gaily coloured eggs that are stowed away today.

The three holes in the pretzels were supposed to represent the Christian trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Perhaps this was why pretzels were thought to usher in good luck, prosperity and plenty.

However, some say that the holes in pretzels were there for a more prosaic reason. Apparently, these loops simply allowed bakers to hang them on projecting racks to cool after they were removed from the piping hot ovens!

Whatever the case, pretzels remain the perfect snack to enjoy at any time of day. In America, the variety that's dipped in cheese is most popular. American pretzels are crispier than the softer European kind.

Sesame, poppy, sunflower, pumpkin and caraway seeds are popular sprinkles that serve as toppings.

There is also the healthier variety of pretzel made from whole wheat and rye.

These are just as delicious as white flour and healthier.

Germans love a variety of pretzel called the lye. Lye was once a solution used in cleaning and disinfecting.

Legend has it that once, a famous chef dropped a batch of his pretzels by accident in this solution and they came out looking glazed and tasting good. Germany has been hooked ever since!

The biggest difference between different kinds of pretzels is not just the type of dough used but also its size, thickness, fat content and the temperatures involved in baking. Some pretzels have thin “arms” but a fat “belly.”

This makes it simpler to slice for use in salads and sandwiches. Others have low fat content and the arms are thicker than the body.

Whatever the shape or variation, no one can deny that this humble twist of bread has made quite a journey across the world.

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