How Did Pumpernickel Bread Get its Name, What Does it Mean, and Where Did it Come From?

During the winter of 1812, while Napoleon’s army was retreating from Russia, the only available food was stale, dark bread.

Although his men were dying from hunger, Napoleon ensured that his great white horse, Nicholl, always had enough to eat.

This decision caused the soldiers to grumble that although they were starving there was always enough “pain pour Nicholl,” or “bread for Nicholl.”

When anglicized, “pain pour Nicholl” became “pumpernickel.”

Pumpernickel is a heavy, slightly sweet rye bread traditionally made with coarsely ground rye.

Today, Pumpernickel is often made with a combination of rye flour and whole rye berries, and has traditionally been associated with the Westphalia region of Germany.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

2 thoughts on “How Did Pumpernickel Bread Get its Name, What Does it Mean, and Where Did it Come From?”

  1. Pumpernickel was baked the first time in 1570 in Soest in Westphalia/Germany. The bakery still exists today and run by the same family. Pumpernickel is still baked in Germany according to traditional recipes.
    It has nothing to do with Napoleon and nothing with the English language.

  2. Anneliese,
    Thank you for your answer to the Pumpernickel question. My husband & I were just discussing that very question a few days ago., I read your answer to our question and remarked, “You learn at least one new thing every day and today we learned something. He did recall something about Napoleon being involved, now he knows that isn’t true.

    (If I may suggest that your ending sentence should read, “The name has nothing…” For me it doesn’t detract from the answer, however, proper English usage does lend a lot to your image and knowledge of any subject matter.)

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