Kanelbullar : Sweden’s Little Secret

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Growing up in the USA, autumn always brought a chill in the air, American football games, changing colors of trees and the lovely smell of cinnamon. Autumn is cinnamon season in the USA. Here in Sweden, however, cinnamon is a year round spice and cinnamon buns or kanelbullar, are an everyday event.


Sweden has a serious sweet tooth and kanelbullar are by far the most popular pastry treat in Swedish culture. According to sweden.se, the average Swedish citizen consumes 316 cinnamon buns annually. That is almost one cinnamon bun per person, per day!!  I suspect this is the reason for all the biking, but I digress.
Kanelbullar are such a prominent part of Swedish culture that they even have a special day to celebrate this culinary delight.

Yes. You read that correctly. There is a national holiday for cinnamon buns in Sweden.

kanelbullar topped with sugar in a plate.
October 4 is Swedens official Kanelbullens Dag


How did Sweden come to devote an entire day all to the cinnamon roll you ask? A valid question.

Swedes have casually been eating kanelbullar for centuries, but in the late 90’s they decided to commit to the relationship. October 4 is Sweden’s official Kanelbullens Dag.

Kanelbullens Dag was the invention of the Swedish Home Baking Council in 1999 as a tribute to the kanelbulle and as a way to encourage citizens to bake at home.


Kanelbullar topped with sugar and cinnamon in a plate.
A culture crafted pastry

Cinnamon rolls, or some similar version of a sweet roll, are commonly served all over Europe, and have been served since people began baking. Sweden, however, claims to be the originator of the kanelbulle.

Somewhere around the mid-1700’s, bakers all over Northern Europe began developing doughy baked treats. Each culture crafted a pastry in their own way, unique to their culture.

In France, Belgium and Holland, bakers fried the sweet breads and developed beignets, smoutebollen and oliebol respectively. In the UK and Germany bakers crafted buns with nuts and berries.

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In Sweden, bakers added the spices brought back to them by the Vikings and they developed the very first prototype of the cinnamon roll.


The modern day version of the kanelbulle has ties to both world wars. During WW1, goods such as sugar, egg and butter were difficult to come by and thus, the traditional pastry took a backseat to political strife. Swedes had to give up their cinnamon fix for a time.

After the war ended, products began to return to every day consumption. Kanelbullar slowly began making a comeback and soon were being served in cafés and bakeries across the country. At this time, however, kanelbullar were considered a treat saved for very special occasions.

It was only after WW2, when the Swedish economy grew, and people had a little more money to spend on indulgences, that the little buns were welcomed no longer a treat, but a part of the everyday fika culture.


A glass window saying 'Theres always time for Fika'.
There’s always time for Fika. Truly!

Fika is the practice of stopping at least once a day to savor some conversation, a warm drink and something sweet. Essentially, one cannot have fika without kanelbullar and one cannot have kanelbullar without fika. They are 2 sides of the same coin.

In Sweden people stop what they’re doing to fika (it is both a noun and a verb) at least once a day. Sometimes people indulge twice a day.

Fika is such a critical component of the Swedish belief in a balanced life that it has been inserted into people’s schedules every day. Every.Single.Day.

Swedes fika whether they are at home, at school, at work, or at play. Fika is so important that when foreigners begin working in Sweden, one of the first things they are told is not to miss the office fika, for to do so is considered bad manners and a violation of Swedish culture.



plate with a kanelbullar called hagabullar.
Biggest Kanebulle called as Hagabullar in USA

Now, the cinnamon rolls that I grew up eating in the USA were just that – simple rolls with cinnamon. The Swedish kanelbulle offers the consumer a choice.

One can get a simple cinnamon bun or a bun with cinnamon and cardamom. And although the USA is known for making everything quite large, the biggest kanelbulle I have ever seen in person can be found in the charming old neighborhood Haga in Göteborg.

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Called the Queen of the Kitchen, these Hagabullar measure between 30 – 32 cm in diameter! The size of a baby’s head.

market stall with many kanelbullar buns.
The pearl sugar adds a bit of crunch

The traditional kanelbulle recipe is a simple, basic cinnamon roll. While both Swedish and American cinnamon rolls stick to the simpler recipe, they differ in flavor and consistency.

The American version is softer and almost has an uncooked consistency. They are also usually topped with a thick layer of sugar frosting on top. They are gooey and sticky. I must admit I like them, but they are quite different than their Swedish cousins.

Swedish kanelbullar are less sweet and are topped with pearl sugar. The pearl sugar adds just a hint of sweetness without overwhelming the flavors with sugary frosting. The pearl sugar also adds a bit of crunch which I like.

Both the American and Swedish recipes are good. They are just different.


Plate of kanelbulle and a cup of coffee.
In Sweden, cardamom is baked into the dough

The second incarnation of kanelbullar in Sweden have cardamom baked into the dough. At least that is the recipe I was given and told was a 100 year old authentic Swedish recipe.

I have lived in Sweden for a few years now, and I have asked many a Swedish person how, and when, a common Indian spice was incorporated into their cinnamon rolls? It seems such an unlikely pairing given the geographic distance between the two countries.

No one seems to have the answer, or the exact date that cardamom crept into Swedish culinary culture. Most people theorize that cardamom entered the Swedish culinary profile as a result of the prolific and far-flung Viking journeys.

While Sweden was too far north to be a regular stop along the spice route, the Vikings often visited Turkey. Legend has it that the Vikings enjoyed Turkish food so much they brought the spice back to Sweden where it has been a pastry mainstay ever since.

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Another theory is that the Vikings tasted Turkish coffee which is commonly made with cardamom. They enjoyed the Turkish coffee so much that they brought the spice back with them.

Soon cardamom became associated with coffee. Coffee is associated with kanelbullar, the two flavor components merged, and a marriage made in sweet roll heaven was made.

To give you an idea of just how significant kanelbullar are to Sweden, I have not noticed cardamom being used in any other Swedish cuisine, and yet, Sweden is a leading importer of cardamom in the European Union.

And, Sweden, a county with 3% of the population of the USA, consumes 60% more cardamom than the entire population of the USA.

As you can see, Sweden is serious about their kanelbullar.

It is cold here today. There was frost on the windows this morning and a wicked wind is whipping off of the Öresund Straight. I’m going to dip out now. It feels like the perfect weather for a fika, a kanelbulle and a fire.

Cinnamon buns or Kanelbullar.
Cinnamon buns or Kanelbullar

Author Info: Shelley from Niche Travel Design

Pic of woman looking at camera.
Shelley from Niche Travel Design

Shelley Jarvis has been traveling the world since she was a child. Curious by nature, travel stimulates her nomadic soul and soothes her need to explore. She loves history, a good story, belly laughs, great food and wine, and road trips. And despite the warnings, she always tops off her gasoline. You can follow her travels on her blog: Niche Travel Design and on social at Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.

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Pinterest image of kanelbullar.
Pinterest image of Cinnamon buns called Kanelbullar.

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