Written by Chia May
Curious about where the spices that infuse your favorite fika buns are from?
First and foremost, I’ll need to give some context to this. When I had my first cardamom bun and semla from the local bakery in Stockholm I was wondering what spices I was crunching on. Was it black pepper? No! It is cardamom!
It inspired me to research more about the usage of these spices because they are not native produces from Sweden, but yet are very much loved and well used in Swedish dessert and food.
While researching I found it difficult to pinpoint exactly when and how these spices appear in Swedish food, and unfortunately, the idea that it was brought in by the Vikings is very much speculation, and for anyone who knows more than this, I would love to be enlightened.
However, here are the top three spices and some fun facts about them!
Ah, the smell of freshly baked cinnamon buns! I think it is one of the most wonderful scents to smell. Have you wondered how cinnamon is harvested? Cinnamon is the commercially branded produce harvested from the inner bark of a cassia tree. Cinnamon is largely grown in Indonesia, China, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka.
There are two main types of cinnamon, one is the cassia cinnamon, which gives a hot and strong flavor. Ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka is considered a ” true cinnamon” and has a lighter, brighter citrus tone. The cinnamon purists will tell you that there is a major difference between these two, so when you are shopping for cinnamon, do look out and try the difference between them.
Where can you taste Cinnamon?
In your cinnamon buns! Even though the National Cinnamon Buns day on the 4th of October was inaugurated in 1999, Swedes really do love their cinnamon buns. Have you ever walked into a bakery in Sweden that does not sell these much-loved buns? No! Moreover, cinnamon is also used as a flavoring accent in the winter drink, glögg, added into a latte for that added spice, dusted on toast or Christmas rice pudding, and even as a flavor option for Swedish hard bread!
This spice tastes the most confusing for me when I first bite into a cardamom bun. The flavor reminds me tremendously about curry and felt almost wrong to be added to a dessert bun. I was initially taken aback by the flavor, but now I love the taste of it! Cardamom is largely produced in Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and India. Additionally, cardamom is considered an expensive spice too, and its value comes in second after saffron.
Cardamom is one of the world’s oldest spice, and the use of this spice dates back at least 4000 years. Ancient Egyptians have been using Cardamom for its many medicinal purposes, as part of rituals and even for embalming,
The Swedes love cardamom so much they are second to the Arabs for their hunger for Cardamom! Cardamom comes in two varieties, green cardamom, and black cardamom. The green cardamom is more commonly used, and it is the seeds within the pods that are ground and added into the dough.
Where can you taste Cardamom?
You can find cardamom typically used in Semlar, cardamom buns, flavoring glögg, or even added into coffee
When my sambo made me saffron buns back when we were living in Kuala Lumpur, my first thought was, wow! this is interesting, as I’ve never tasted saffron buns before. My knowledge about saffron was that it is one of the most expensive spices in the world, and it has this very unique scent and that bright neon color.
So, when was Saffron first used in Sweden? “The oldest notification of its use in Sweden is from a funeral dinner in 1327, 25 years before the big Black death,” explains Richard Tellström, a professor of food culture and history in Stockholm.
Hand-picked from the flower of crocus sativus — it is a flower that doesn’t really flourish in Scandinavia’s cool climate, although now, it can be found to be grown in Gotland and Skåne. Scandinavia had a vibrant spice trade, and since spice and wealth are often correlated, only the wealthy are able to afford these spices to infuse their food. However, the trend of using saffron slowly spread throughout society as ordinary people had more access to the previously exclusive ingredients, and the saffron bun tradition spread.
Where can you taste Saffron?
St Lucia’s Day first became widely celebrated in Sweden in the late 1700s, and a popular food eaten on St. Lucia’s day is saffron buns or Lussekatts. The word Lucia can be associated with light, which is really apt as saffron contributes to the bright yellow color of the saffron buns. Saffron buns are usually shaped in an ‘S’, and it is dotted with raisin and eaten for breakfast. You can also find saffron infused in ice cream, pancakes or added into savory food like pasta or soup.
About the Author
Hi! I’m Chia May. Born and bred in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I moved to Sweden at the end of 2020. My background is in Architecture, and my passions are exploring new cities and literally looking at it’s building, people watching, trying out new restaurants, listening to a good story shared by a stranger and petting all the cats and dogs that I can while taking a walk. Since I’m new in this city I can’t wait to share my perspective as a Newbie! I hope you’ll enjoy my post.