If your knowledge of Swedish cuisine is defined only by meatballs, lutfisk and pickled herring, you may find it surprising that Sweden and the Near East consume half the world’s supply of a citrus-and-menthol-scented spice used in baked goods, meats, and mulled wine. Many spices in traditional Swedish dishes are not grown in Sweden, including one from a familiar spring flower that is used in a St. Lucia’s Day pastry.


Cardamom

Swedes use this orange-and-mint-flavored spice in baked goods and as a breath freshener, says food writer Sandra Bowen. They also use cardamom to make a drink called “Svart Vinbärsglögg,” which is mulled black-currant wine. Make glogg with whole cardamom seeds, cinnamon sticks, orange peel, dried whole ginger root and whole cloves to make the spices easier to filter from the water and black-currant wine, says Stockholm University professor, Eva Lindstrom.

Saffron

Saffron comes from the stigmas of the crocus, a small purple, yellow or white perennial flower that blooms in early spring, often pushing through snow. The December 13 holiday of St. Lucia’s Day would be bereft without this yellow spice, used to make “Lusskatter,” literally translated as Lucy Cats, an S-shaped saffron bun dotted with raisins. It takes 100,000 flowers to make one pound of saffron, according to David Perry.

Dill and Allspice

Pickled herring would not be nearly as piquant without dill and allspice. Packed in a cream sauce made from butter, egg yolks, lemon juice and cream, pickled herring is often a first course on the Swedish table. Dill seeds and leaves are both edible, and it is one of the few spices that can be cultivated in the Arctic Circle. It gives pickled herring a lemony tang, while allspice tastes like a combination of nutmeg, cinnamon and clove, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Ginger

“Pepparkakor” are ginger cookies made with butter, sugar, corn syrup, egg, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and flour, usually made with the toothed or “bar cookie” template of a cookie press, according to the website Food in Every Country. Another winter treat, “artsoppa” or split pea soup, also contains ginger.