When I decided to write about cardamom ice-cream, I knew I had to begin by tracing the spice’s origins in Swedish baking. And it’s been a journey, one possibly even longer than cardamom’s itself!
From what I’ve been able to gather, its path to Sweden is shrouded in mystery, starting in the distant lands of South Asia and the Middle East. As trade routes expanded, the spice eventually found its way to Europe and the Nordic countries, carried by the Moors, perhaps, or by Roman or Byzantine traders.
Magnus Nilsson, chef-owner of the – closed – restaurant Fäviken, wrote that “cardamom is a spice that has been used in the Nordic countries since the Middle Ages, most likely because of trade links with the East. It was and still is a very expensive spice, and historically it was a marker of wealth and status.” (Nilsson, 2015, p.96).
Fast-forward many centuries, and cardamom has found a home in every Swedish kitchen. From kardemummabullar to semlor, from pepparkakor to vörtbröd, cardamom is most definitely not used scarcely.
Is it its warming and pungent flavour that pairs so perfectly with the harsh winters. Or Sweden’s history as a trading nation, where spices like cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron were highly sought after?
Whatever the reason may be, there is one thing I know for sure. Cardamom’s journey as a staple in Swedish baking is as fascinating as it is delicious.
I then proceeded to research its etymology and first documented appearance – a glögg [mulled wine] recipe from Åke Rålamb’s dating 1690!
By the mid 18th century, cardamom was used in many recipes as pictured by Cajsa Warg’s 1755 book Hjelpreda I Hushållningen För Unga Fruentimber.
In a recipe for små pepparkakor [small gingersnaps] she writes about cardamom – cardemummor [modern spelling: kardemumma] along with cinnamon, lemon zest, and bitter orange zest.
For a reason I quite can’t grasp the name of these spices are written in a different typography and other ingredients – like flour or cream of tartar – are not.
“Make a sirup using 5 pounds sugar and one liter water, which is beaten in a trough. Then, add 5 pounds good flour in there and mix immediately with 1 1/2 lod* cardamom, 1/2 lod mace, 1 1/2 lod cinnamon, 1/2 lod cloves, 3 lods broken bitter orange peel, 3 lods broken lemon peel, 1 1/2 lod grains of paradise, and 1 1/2 lod cream of tartar, which is first strained and mixed with rose water. Then stir it all into the syrup, while it is still warm, for a full hour using a wooden pestle, and let it ferment for half a day.”
ー Hjelpreda I Hushållningen För Unga Fruentimber, Cajsa Warg (1755)
* Lod: an old Swedish weight unit, approximately 13 grams or 1/32 pound.
- 500 g whole milk
- 500 g whipping cream
- 2 tsp cardamom seeds finely ground
- 1 tsp green cardamom pods coarsely crushed
- 200 g egg yolks
- 200 g golden caster sugar
- a pinch of sea salt
- Bring the milk, cream, and ground cardamom seeds and crushed pods to the boil. Cover and allow to infuse for one hour.
- Bring to the boil again.
- In the meantime, combine the egg yolks, sugar and salt in a bowl using a whisk. When the cream has boiled, pour it over the egg yolks, whisking as you do so; then whisk the egg yolk mixture back into the pan.
- Heat gently, mixing with a heatproof silicone spatula until the ice-cream base is 81℃ - thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Pass through a coarse-sieve - you just want to remove the cardamom pods.
- Immediately transfer into a heat-proof container. Clingfilm to the touch and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight.
- Churn the ice-cream according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
– America’s Test Kitchen. (2020, January 13). Cardamom: How Did It Become Scandinavia’s Favorite Spice? https://www.americastestkitchen.com/cooksillustrated/articles/3076-cardamom-how-did-it-become-scandinavia-s-favorite-spice
– Lundtan. (2018, December 12). The History of Eastern Spices in Swedish Baking. Lundtan. https://lundtan.lundaekonomerna.se/the-history-of-eastern-spices-in-swedish-baking/
– Nilsson, M. (2015). The Nordic Cookbook. Phaidon Press.
– SAOB. (2023). Kardemumma. In Svenska Akademiens ordbok. Hämtad 2023-04-14 från https://www.saob.se/artikel/?seek=kardemumma&pz=6.
– Swedish Spoon. (n.d.). Cardamom Buns (Kardemummabullar). Retrieved April 14, 2023, from https://swedishspoon.com/cardamom-buns/