Lebkuchenhertz, or The German Gingerbread

By Rebecca Cros
We’re going to do a quick food association here. Get ready…


Among the things that probably popped into your head were Beer, Bratwurst, Sauerkraut. I won’t say that the stereotyping is wrong here. Germans love their beer, bratwurst (actually all different kinds of delicious wursts) and sauerkraut, but there is just SO MUCH MORE to German food than this trinity of deliciousness.
There’s also dessert.

German Cookies and Desserts

My walk to school every day carried me directly by a bakery. Actually, it brought me by three bakeries. Walking by the first one awoke hunger. Walking by the second made my mouth water, and by the time I got to the third, a mere block away from the schoolhouse, my self control had been completely broken and I blame Bäckerei Burkhard Jess and their delicious confections for the 20 lb. that I gained in one year. That’s right. 20 lb. Don’t judge me.

German Gingerbread

Hanging in the window of this bakery was one of the most typical, well-known and recognizable German cookies of all time: The Lebuchenhertz.

The Germans are famous for concatenation, and this word is no exception. It’s actually two words squished together: Lebkuchen and Hertz. Lebkuchen is a type of Gingerbread and Hertz is heart. The word Lebkuchen is a concatenation in and of itself. Kuchen definitely means cake. The “Leb” part of the word has been the subject of nerdy discussion for centuries. Some think it comes form the latin “Libum” or flat bread or possibly from the term Laib which means loaf. Yet another theory stems from the term leb-honig, which is the crystallized honey harvested from beehives which isn’t good for much else other than baking.

As with many ancient types of baked goods, the ingredients for lebkuchen differ slightly by region. Honey is always present, and cinnamon, cardamom, anisseed, allspice, cloves, and ginger are the most common flavorings.

Lebkuchen has a long history. The modern iteration of the cake/bread/cookie has its roots in a monastery in the German town of Franconia in the early 13th century, but it’s origin can be traced back to the honeycakes of Egypt.

The Egyptians baked honey-sweetened and heavily spiced cakes similar to today’s lebkuchen and buried them in the graves of their Pharaohs as gifts to the gods. The Romans adopted the recipe and called it Panus Mellitus, or Sweet Bread. It traveled with them westwards and as the more exotic spices of the Orient and Middle East became more available in Europe, so did this sweet bread. But anyway, back to the Germany!

Though Lebkuchen was found in Franconia and then in Ulm at the in around 1296, the city of Nuremburg is the most famous exporter of the sweet in modern times. In fact, as of 1996, Nuremburger Lebkuchen is a protected product, and must be made in the city to be so called.

The Lebkuchen can be found in many forms. The harder type is typically made into the cookies pictured above and decorated decadently with icing. They are as synonymous with Oktoberfest as giant pretzels and can be found at any major or minor festival in Germany, all year round. These hearts are also one of the most popular cookie gifts in Germany today.

So, the next time you think of Gingerbread, don’t automatically think of gingerbread men. Think about the big hearted German Gingerbread!

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