Cinnamon Bun Day: Six sticky facts about Sweden’s beloved bun

On October 4th, Swedes celebrate National Cinnamon Bun Day in honour of their favourite sweet treat. But what's the history of the pastry and its special day?

A smiling child eats a Swedish cinnamon bun
Swedes love their cinnamon buns. Photo: Susanne Walström/

1. The bun has been around since the 1920s…

The modern cinnamon bun (kanelbulle) was created after the First World War. Although Sweden remained neutral during the four-year conflict, heavy restrictions were put on the import of several goods such as sugar, egg and butter as the country prepared for potential combat.

In the 1920s these products eventually returned to shelves and cinnamon buns began to appear in cafés and bakeries across the country. But the spicy ingredients – cinnamon and cardamom – were expensive and not everyone could afford to munch on the sweet rolls.

A bakery in early parts of the 20th century. Photo: Scanpix

2. … but did not become popular until the 1950s

In the mid-20th century more cash was trickling into the Swedes’ pockets, mattresses and bank accounts, as a result of the Nordic country’s booming economy, and the average Swedish household suddenly found itself able to splurge on the pricey cinnamon bun ingredients.

While Sweden today may be at the forefront of breaking down gender walls and crushing glass ceilings, in the 1950s the housewife trend was still alive and well and the popularity of home-baked goods rose. 

Though these days most can afford them, the buns are getting pricier: according to stats from Statistics Sweden (SCB) the cost of buying one from a cafe or patisserie increased by 74 percent between 1990 and 2015. Baking them at home isn’t as cheap as it once was either – homemade buns cost around 52 percent more than they did in 1990 thanks to the increasing cost of flour. Even the price of supermarket buns increased by 21 percent in the same period.

Here’s a great recipe for Swedish cinnamon buns. Photo: Leif R Jansson/SCANPIX

3. Its official ‘birthday’ is a relatively modern creation

The tradition of National Cinnamon Bun Day (October 4th) is not all that old. It was invented in 1999 when Sweden’s Hembakningsrådet (Home Baking Council) tried to think of ways to celebrate the organization’s 40th anniversary. Perfectly gauging the tastes of a nation, it announced the introduction of an annual feast day.

“We found that the cinnamon bun was the best symbol for Swedish home baking. I don’t think there are any Swedes who don’t like them,” its project manager Birgit Nilsson Bergström told The Local back in 2007.

READ ALSO: Seven delicious dates in the Swedish calendar

Anyone in the mood for a cinnamon bun? Photo: Per Folkver/AP

4. It’s an essential part of Swedish ‘fika’

The cinnamon bun is a staple diet of the Swedish ‘fika’ tradition. If you’ve lived in Sweden for more than five minutes you are hereby given permission to skip this bit of the article – we bet you are well aware of this social institution.

While the French have their wine and the British their tea, in Sweden people stop what they’re doing to have a ‘fika’ at least once a day, often twice. This almost sacred tradition designates a moment to savour a cup of coffee and eat something sweet (very often a cinnamon bun), and it is factored into most people’s daily schedules whether they are at home, at work or running errands.

Thanks to a separate obsession with exercise, most Swedes avoid piling on the kilos at the same time.

READ ALSO: Seven reasons to love autumn in Sweden

Ever enjoyed a Swedish ‘fika’? Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

5. It’s becoming trendy worldwide

The fika tradition, and the cinnamon bun along with it, is going global, thanks to a growing amount of interest in Sweden abroad. A number of cafés offering Swedish-style cinnamon buns and black-as-the-night coffee have popped up around the world in recent years, including London, New York, Toronto, Australia and Singapore.

“Sweden is very trendy right now, and since ‘fika’ is a Swedish tradition that makes it even more cool,” Swede Anna Brones – co-author of the book ‘Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break’ published in the US in 2015 – told The Local that year

In the British capital, Nordic Bakery specializes in all things Scandinavian buns, including traditional versions as well as their own takes.

6. But the tradition is more controversial than you might think

Despite being known for their generally active and outdoorsy lifestyle, the Swedes have a sweet tooth that extends not only to cinnamon buns. According to the Swedish National Food Agency, the average Swede eats on average 37 kilo added sugar a year, which has led to a big debate suggesting that politicians should introduce a tax on the sweet stuff.

In an opinion piece translated by The Local in May 2015, medical student Haroon Bayani called on the Swedes to give up on their adored ‘fika’ breaks to combat rising obesity figures.

“Just as in the 1950s when social norms dictated that smoking was ‘natural’, now these sugar-filled obesity-inducing cake breaks are completely acceptable,” he wrote, suggesting that cakes and buns be replaced with nuts or fruit.

So far few seem keen to abandon their beloved cinnamon buns.

Should Sweden ditch its cinnamon bun tradition? Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Have we convinced you to try to make your own Swedish cinnamon buns? Try The Local’s favourite recipe by food writer John Duxbury.

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The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.