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November 2002

Brand Fame

Delving into the history of Bavaria's home-grown specialties

In trying to understand a region and its people much can be discovered by looking at the local food and eating habits. But what about the stories behind the popular regional brands, which are just as much a part of any area’s gastronomic history? In the first of a two-part series exploring some of Bavaria's most popular foods and beverages, munich found looks at the colorful histories of some of Bavaria’s local brands.

For connoisseurs of Bavarian Weisswurst, nothing complements the succulent sausage better than Händlmaier's Süsser Hausmachersenf, or sweet mustard. Created in 1914 by Johanna Händlmaier, the mustard was an immediate hit at the family-owned butcher shop in Regensburg. In 1945, the Händlmaier’s son Joseph and his wife, Luise, took over the butcher shop, continuing production and expanding the business to include six branches within a short time.

Ten years later the widowed Luise took the helm, running the operation until 1964, when she sold it to a local company in Regensburg called Ostermeier. She did not, however, hand over the secret family mustard recipe and continued making the condiment for Ostermeier, working two hours a week at the outset and increasing gradually until once again production of the mustard became a full-time endeavor. Keen to satisfy the growing demand she then founded Luise Händlmaier GmbH & Co KG ( and contracted the Regensburg Milchwerke to take over production. Rapid expansion soon saw the product carried by more than 400 vendors in and around Regensburg. Following Luise Händlmaier's death, in 1981, management of the company passed to her daughter and then to her grandson, in 1988. All this time, since its 1914 debut, the mustard had been made in the kitchen of the original butcher shop in Regensburg's historic center. Inevitably space became a problem and in 1992 the company headquarters moved to new premises in the town’s commercial district.

Today, a single shift at the factory produces 50,000 jars of the delicate, golden-brown mustard. Yet, despite the exponential increase in production, the company claims an uncompromising devotion to quality: superior Canadian mustard seed, sugar, brandy vinegar and fine spices go into each jar. Händlmaier's not only dominates the German sweet mustards market, the company's other products, including honey mustard, dill mustard and horseradish, are big sellers as well. Their Web site offers creative recipes and even a cookery book (€ 24.90) that uses mustard as an ingredient for everything from appetizers to desserts.

Bad Reichenhaller Salz ( has been producing salt since the seventh century. But according to Bernd Zinsmeister, Public Relations Manager at Südsalz, Bad Reichenhaller's parent company, “production” actually dates back millions of years to when geological shifts caused a massive basin of saltwater to collect in the southeast corner of Upper Bavaria, where the salt-rich towns of Bad Reichenhall and Berchtesgaden lie, and in bordering Austria, from Innsbruck to Salzburg. Over the millennia, the evaporation of the water left huge deposits of salt and other minerals to be covered by the earth and the developing Alps. “Where the Alps are now there was once the Mediterranean Sea or the north African coast,” Zinsmeister says.

In Bad Reichenhall, precipitation slowly seeped into the ground and began dissolving the salt deposits approximately 30,000 years ago. Here Zinsmeister is keen to point out the difference between his company's production methods and those employed in neighboring Berchtesgaden. In Berchtesgaden, “water is channeled into the salt reserve to dissolve the rock salt. The resulting brine (Sole) is then pumped back up. In Berchtesgaden the human workforce carries out the work done by Mother Nature in Bad Reichenhall. Here we need only drill down to the reserve and bring the brine up to where it's processed,” he explains. In neither location is the rock salt itself mined. This is why no one knows how deep the reserve is, but only that it begins around 800 to 1,200 meters below ground.

After being retrieved, the water is evaporated from the brine and the resulting salt is dried in centrifuges, treated with minerals that prevent clumping and then fortified with iodine (Jod). The practice of adding iodine to salt started in the 1970s when iodine deficiency, a cause of thyroid problems, was considered a health risk throughout Germany. Although found naturally in seawater—Zinsmeister emphasizes that Bad Reichenhaller Salz, like all salt, comes from seawater—iodine is present in such small amounts that fortification is necessary. The company still produces its original, non-iodine salt but the other salts are iodine-fortified, including two new items: salt with fluoride and salt fortified with both fluoride and folic acid, or vitamin B9 (an unusual, pale yellow salt).

Today, Bad Reichenhaller dominates the salt market in Germany, processing 300,000 m3 of brine each year. The company has nearly two dozen products, including a variety of specialty salts, such as potato salt (a blend of salt, herbs and spices designed to complement the beloved spud) and a selection of salts and herbs sold in their own jars. The company is also a major supplier to cheese and cured-meat producers, and its coarse pretzel salt (Breznsalz) is popular among bakeries. Free of artificial ingredients, Bad Reichenhaller Salz is, according to Zinsmeister, the purest salt on the market. And the company’s strict quality controls result in what Zinsmeister calls “the Alps in a box.”

Bad Reichenhall has another culinary claim to fame as the production center of the Mozartkugel. Paul Reber GmbH & Co. KG (, maker of this delicious treat, has been a fixture there since 1938. Originally founded by Peter Reber as a café-confectioner in Munich in 1865, the business has been run by the family ever since, relocating in 1908 to the Klostergebäude on Herzog-Spital-Strasse 9 and, then, to Bad Reichenhall.

According to company representative Peter Reber, no one knows exactly how this sweetmeat originated, but it can be traced with some certainty to an Austrian confectioner. The name “Mozartkugel”, so called because of its round shape (Kugel means ball or sphere), was adopted shortly before the turn of the 20th century. The marzipan and nougat-filled chocolates were so successful that other confectioneries, including Reber, were inspired to produce their own versions. Although a small number of Austrian producers still make them, Reber claims that his company leads the industry with 95 percent of the Mozartkugeln marketed in Germany and that, naturally, it produces the highest quality using the best ingredients available.

Reber produces a great deal of other confectionary aside from the Mozartkugel (a half million of which are produced each day). Numbering over 250 in all, the line includes other high-quality chocolates (filled with various creams, nougats, fruits and nuts), seasonal specials like holiday gift chocolates and five or six new items that are introduced every year. Reber notes that the company has been “quite pleased with the response to our Mozart-Schokis, small milk chocolate bonbons filled with creamy nougat and pistachio marzipan,” which were introduced earlier this year. Reber's specialties are sold in about 30 countries worldwide and the full assortment is available at the company's shop and 1,000-seat café in Bad Reichenhall. Munich residents are in the enviable position of being able to sample some of Reber's most exclusive creations: Kaufhof on Marienplatz has a special Reber shop that makes fresh chocolates, some of which are available nowhere else in Germany.

While brands such as Händlmaier's, Bad Reichenhaller Salz and Reber symbolize old Bavarian traditions, newer brands have also attained prestige by combining tradition with modern attitudes to food, health and lifestyle. One of the most notable is Rapunzel ( Founded in Augsburg in 1974 by three friends who identified a need for healthy, organic, vegetarian foods, Rapunzel has become a leading producer of organic foods internationally. Product Manager Eva Heusinger explains that the company's guiding philosophy is to “take better care of our environment and nature in the long-term so that it will benefit our children and grandchildren, and to grow healthy foods without the use of dangerous chemicals.” Interest in organic farming took off in the 1970s in Germany, but a shortage of raw materials on the domestic market forced the company to look elsewhere. Turkey turned out to be a good address. So Rapunzel set up partnerships with farmers and began importing products like hazelnuts and raisins for its müsli.

Now based in the Allgäu region of Bavaria, the company manufactures over 350 products, including Samba (a tasty chocolate-hazelnut spread), olive oils, grains, legumes and dried fruits. Many of these items are made in Bavaria with ingredients from local producers and are available in health-food shops (Naturkostladen) throughout Germany. The company also has subsidiaries in several European countries, the United States and Madagascar.

Heusinger stresses Rapunzel's dedication to quality and the extensive measures the company takes to ensure that its products make the grade. “We know exactly where and in which fields, for example, our sugar is being grown and every batch is assigned with a tracking number,” she says. “This means that we don’t test our raw sugar only once a year, we test it regularly, during every step of production.”

Naturally such controls are costly but Rapunzel, like the other well-established Bavarian brands, knows that focusing on quality is the key to the continuing success of these respected brands.

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