How the stroopwafel became a sought-after in-flight treat — and developed a cult following among travel writers.
For more than 200 years the Dutch have been devouring a compact, circular confection known as the Stroopwafel. It is a texturally dynamic rendering of soft caramel syrup, sandwiched between chewy, cross-hatched cookies (English translation: syrup waffle). Buoyed by this on-the-nose branding — and the indisputable fact that they’re downright delicious — they’ve long existed as cultural sensations in the Low Countries of Europe. And yet it wasn’t until 2016 that the snack amassed a sizable following on this side of the pond. That’s when it first arrived in the coach cabin of a United Airlines flight. It’s been a favorite of frequent fliers here ever since.
Ali Wunderman counts herself as an early adopter. The travel writer and guidebook author still vividly remembers her first Stroopwafel encounter during a backpacking tour of Europe in 2009. “I had never encountered anything like it: sweet, crunchy but chewy,” she recalls of that fateful bite in a hostel in Amsterdam’s Red Light District. “Discovering Stroopwafels in their homeland allowed me to bring them back to America and spread the good word. When they became an airline snack staple, I just about called it a miracle.”
For that she can thank Oscar Munoz. When stepping into the position in late 2015, the former United Airlines CEO was eager to sweeten the experience of economy travel, which had slowly devolved into punchline fodder. Offering quality coffee and complimentary snacks was the easiest solution and the Stroopwafel, as noted in a press release from the airline at the time, “pairs perfectly with coffee or tea.”
Many aficionados actually set the sandwich atop their preferred hot beverage allowing steam from underneath to soften it as it sits. In fact, in some parts of Australia the treats are referred to as “coffee toppers.”
For Jake Emen, a spirits writer who spends hundreds of days a year in-flight, its appeal stretches far further than mere pairing rituals. “It’s calorie-dense and crumb-free — thanks to the syrupy mortar holding its cookie bricks together,” he muses. “A Stroopwafel is the ideal handheld airplane snack, not to mention that it's rich and flavorful enough to break through your dulled taste buds at 40,000 feet.”
And even if you’re not feeling it in that exact moment, its single-serve packaging makes it perfectly poised for stowage. “The best moment when traveling is when you’re starving at some pre-dawn hour and realize you have a Stroopwafel stashed in your carry-on,” according to food and drink author Carey Jones. “They’re delicious and calorically efficient and have saved me more than a few times when I’m ravenous on the road.”
At home, the average Dutch person is ravenous enough to plow through an estimated 20 Stroopwafels per year. In the Netherlands, the snacks are often served fresh from waffle irons by street vendors along city canals. As for the prepackaged version, Daelmans remains the gold standard. The native brand, which lays claim to the “authentic” iteration, sells 22 million units annually.
Incidentally, that’s commensurate with the number of international travelers connecting through Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport in a normal year. Tins stacked high with the cookies remain one of the most popular (and legal) take-homes from Amsterdam’s busiest airport.
“They're not an everyday snack, it's a delight that pops up in travel situations — like ginger ale,” notes Natalie Compton, staff writer reporting on travel for the Washington Post. “And yet it's an easy crowd-pleaser; less dusty and crumbly than a Biscoff, which, don't get me wrong, I also love.”
For those still questioning whether we had entered some sort of Stroopwafel Golden Age, McDonald’s removed all doubt in May 2019 releasing a McFlurry studded with the Dutch dessert. And while the crossover might have been at least figuratively life changing for some, there’s at least one human whose life was literally changed by Stroopwafels. “A good friend of mine started dating a Dutch guy in the early aughts,” recalls author and whiskey expert Aaron Goldfarb. “She fell for Stroopwafels and decided to quit her career and start making them in Brooklyn. She still makes them, and other things, at The Good Batch.”
For Benjamin Liong Setiawan, the enduring allure of the Stroopwafel is one of comforting nostalgia. Plain and simple, the snack reminds him of fond memories with family and friends. “Whenever I’m going to, or connecting through, Schiphol, I always grab a tin or two,” says the content creator who goes by @HungryEditor on Instagram. “It reminds me of the first trip I ever took to Holland with my mom when I was 10 years old. Ever since then, a bite of a Stroopwafel and a sip of coffee brings joy to even the most stressful travel day.”
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