Created in the Dutch town of Gouda 200 years ago, this sticky gooey confection is an irresistible treat for cyclists around the globe. – By Whit Yost
Forty-eight kilometers into Stage 2 of last year’s Tour de France, the race passes through the Dutch town of Gouda. And while the city is most famous for the wheels of pungent orange cheese it shares its name with, Gouda is also the home of the Netherlands’ sweetest culinary export—and beloved ride food of cyclists everywhere – the stroopwafel.
According to Lineke Eerdmans, co-author The Wonderful World of the Stroopwafel, waffles have been dated to the 7th century thanks to irons found in the graves of Viking women in Sweden and Norway. The Dutch Stroopwafel is a more recent concoction that can be traced back to the beginning of the 18th century, when bakers in Gouda began hand-pressing stroop, a sweet syrup made with beet sugar from nearby refineries, between small, crisp wafers. The result is a caramel-flavored snack that’s crunchy, chewy, and irresistible.
The stroopwafel’s portability, sweetness, and high-carb content makes it popular among endurance athletes, especially cyclists looking for a yummy snack to enjoy during mid-ride coffee breaks. In the Netherlands, where the weather can be as wet and biting as in nearby Belgium, riders traditionally warm the wafel on top of a hot cup of coffee or tea before consuming. The beverage’s steam softens the gooey center, making it just the thing to fill a hungry cyclist’s belly during a long, cold training ride.
“When I was a junior, I used to eat five or six stroopwafels before a four-hour ride and I’d be fine,” says Dutch Tour de France competitor Laurens ten Dam. “Now when we stop at the bakery during a long training ride we will get one. If you don’t want to bonk, it’s good food to have.”
Retired professional Leon Van Bon, who won two stages at the Tour de France and was a two-time Dutch professional road-race champion, enjoyed stroopwafels after a race or hard training ride. “They were a nice treat for after races,” he says.
An estimated 320 million stroopwafels are consumed yearly in the Netherlands, or approximately 20 per person. But the snack’s popularity is not restricted to the Dutch. Since their invention 200 years ago, stroopwafels have spread all over the world. Many American cyclists have discovered the pleasures of the tasty treat thanks to energy-food maker Honey Stinger, which began making stroopwafels in 2010 at the encouragement of company co-owner Lance Armstrong. Armstrong enjoyed eating the wafels while racing in Europe and brought samples for the company to try. Today Honey Stinger offers stroopwafels in seven flavors and uses organic honey instead of corn syrup. Each wafel is individually wrapped, making it perfect for jersey pockets and on-the-bike consumption.
Even though Honey Stinger offers unconventional flavors like ginger and lemon (and calls them the more Americanised term “waffle”) the company understands the wafel’s traditional appeal. “My Czech husband introduced me to my first stroopwafel at Super Vafel, a street vendor in the Old Town Square in Prague,” says Honey Stinger’s Sara Tlamka. “Their vafel is a top-secret family recipe featuring two waffled cookies sandwiched together with homemade caramel topped with Nutella and strawberries.”
Even Mexicans are becoming enamored with the stroopwafel. Koen Houwen was born into a family of artisanal bakers in the southern Netherlands, but moved to Mexico 10 years ago to work on a graduate degree. After marrying a Mexican woman, he started his own Dutch bakery. His most popular item? Stroopwafels.
“We love watching our customers try our wafel for the first time with a little hesitation,” says Houwen, “and then see a big smile appear on their faces when the combination of crunchy wafel and smooth caramel filling hits their taste buds.”
Rip Pruisken, founder of San Francisco’s Rip Van Wafels, began his company while he was a student at Brown University. “I brought a suitcase of stroopwafels to my freshman year of college and remember being the most popular kid in my dorm as everyone came to my room to grab a wafel,” he says.
In 2009, Pruisken began baking stroopwafels in his dorm room and selling them to hungry students on Brown’s Main Green. Now, Rip van Wafels are sold in coffee shops and specialty stores all over the country and, like the versions sold by Honey Stinger, have become popular with cyclists.
But Pruisken cautions against one of the hazards of the stroopwafel: their irresistible and almost addictive appeal. “Stroopwafels were my favorite treat as a kid in Amsterdam,” he says. “I loved eating them so much that my mom used to hide them from me and give me one a day.”
Had his mother not kept a careful eye on her son’s taste for the sugary snack, the young Pruisken’s appetite for stroopwafels might have evolved into a full-blown addiction. Had that happened, he would not have been the first: the tongue-in-cheek Association of Stroopwafel Addicts (ASA) exists for those whose passion for the stroopwafel has reached “life-changing” proportions.
“Nothing compares to eating a stroopwafel,” an anonymous ASA member commented on the group’s Facebook page. “They are so delicious and so addictive! I had my first one in a Dutch town called Beverwijk. From the moment I’d eaten it, I couldn’t stop!”
So if you’ve never had a stroopwafel, you owe it to yourself to give one a try; just keep your consumption in moderation. My favorite method is something I’ve come to affectionately call the “Double-Down.” To make it, take two stroopwafels (I prefer chocolate) and one packet of Justin’s Honey Peanut Butter. Spread the peanut butter on one wafel, then gently place the other wafel on top to create a stroopwafel peanut-butter sandwich. It’s filling, packed with protein and carbs, and easy to digest. In other words, it’s the perfect mid-ride fuel.
And don’t worry, if you happen to become addicted, there’s always the ASA.