Cardamom is Queen: Sweden’s Surprising Spice
This week, The Feast looks at the surprising history of Sweden’s favorite spice: cardamom! From its origins in India and the Middle East, how did this unlikely seed pod make its way to the chilly climes of Scandinavia? We break down how cardamom became the flavor backbone in Swedish favorites such as mulled wine (or glögg), flavored coffee, and Christmas sweet bread. Talking with everyone from culinary archaeologists to Swedish-Canadian grandmothers, we’ll uncover the unlikely history of this millenia-old spice!
Written and produced by Laura Carlson
Assistant production and research by Emma Allen
Sound Mixing by Mike Portt
Daniel Serra, culinary archaeologist and author of An Early Meal: A Viking Age Cookbook and Culinary Odyssey
Anna Tvinnereim, former owner of Toronto’s Beaches Bakery and Cafe
Betty-Ann Duncan, Emma’s grandmother, Swedish-Canadian, and long-time baker of Swedish coffee bread
A Medieval Cardamom Recipe
This recipe comes from a compilation of several northern European cookbooks and manuals, probably dating to the 13th centuries, collectively known as the Libellus de Arte Coquinaria (The Little Book of the Cooking Art).
This particular recipe showcases a number of spices and herbs, most of which would have been fairly expensive, limited to the higher echelons of society. The name for the sauce often was simply known as “Lords Sauce”. Occasionally it’s also referred to as “Cinnamon Sauce”, given the large amount of cinnamon in it.
How to prepare a sauce for the lords and how long it lasts.
One takes cloves and nutmeg, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon – that is canel – and ginger, all in equal amounts, except that there should be as much canel as all the other spices; and add twice as much toasted bread as of everything else, and grind them all together, and blend with strong vinegar, and place it in a cask. This is a lordly sauce, and it is good for half a year.
A Swedish-Canadian Sweet Cardamom Bread (aka Coffee Bread)
This recipe comes from Emma’s great-grandmother, Doris, who was a first-generation Swedish Canadian, living in northern Ontario. Still made by her family every year for Christmas, Emma and her grandmother, Betty-Ann, still occasionally grind the cardamom pods by hand to make the core ingredient for this holiday bread.
Add a 1 tsp sugar to 1/2 cup lukewarm water. Sprinkle two packages of granular yeast without stirring. Let stand until the yeast has risen to the top of the cup and stir in gently.
Meanwhile, mix 2 cups of lukewarm milk, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tsp salt in a large bowl. Add the yeast to the mixture and stir gently. Beat in 4 eggs and 1/2 cup soft butter into the mixture, and add 12 pods worth of crushed cardamom seeds.
Add approximately 7 cups of all purpose flour. Stir and work the dough until it is a little bit sticky. Knead on a floured board for 2 mins. Shape into one large ball and brush the top with butter.
Let the dough raise in the bowl until doubled (approx 2 hours).
Punch down and knead for 1 more min. Cover and raise again until double the size (1.5 hours). Punch down again and form braided loafs.
Let the loafs rise in buttered loaf pans until doubled in size.
Bake at 375 F for about 30 mins until lightly browned. Brushed finished warm loafs with butter.
Glögg: A Swedish Spiced Wine
Similar in many ways to the English mulled wine or Germany’s gluhwein, this winter holiday staple probably has medieval origins and has traditionally featured the spices of cloves, nutmeg, and, of course, cardamom. Legend goes that the name derives from glowing, hot coals, which would have been traditionally used to heat the beverage. Almost everyone has a different preferred recipe for glögg, but here’s one featured from the Scandinavia Standard:
1 bottle red wine (not too expensive!)
1/2 bottle sweet white wine such as sauternes (optional but recommended)
2 cinnamon sticks
5-10 cardamon pods (depending on spice preference!)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup blanched almonds, slivered if preferred
1/2 cup white sugar, to taste
1/2 cup aquavit, vodka, white rum or bourbon whiskey…whatever liquor you like! (optional)
Combine wines in a saucepan.
Zest and juice both lemon & orange. Add juice to wine mixture.
Put lemon & orange zest, as well as all spices, in a cheesecloth or straining bag, tie and add to wine & juice mixture.
Add raisins and almonds directly to saucepan.
Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. You may need to remove foam from the top of the glögg a few times. Taste the mixture and add sugar to taste.
If desired, add alcohol of choice before serving. Serve with a spoon; garnish with a cinnamon stick or orange zest.