If I had to choose one spice that sums up Swedish baking, it's definitely cardamom. Some of the most classic fika recipes involve cardamom in some way, from yeast cardamom buns to cardamom cake.
The same is true for the rest of Scandinavia; cardamom is a spice that's widely used in Scandinavian baking. In fact, a woman recently told me Finnish cardamom is the best to buy, which I thought was puzzling since, of course, cardamom isn't produced anywhere near Finland.
Cardamom is far from being a local Nordic ingredient. Native to India, the spice is said to date back to the time of the Vikings, when they first encountered the spice in what is now Turkey, where at the time, Constantinople was the bridge between Asia and Europe, and a hub of trading.
Over the years, cardamom has come to be a staple in the Scandinavian baking pantry, so much so that it makes up one of the most significant markets for cardamom export. The entire European Union imports over 1,200 tons of cardamom a year, worth about $6 million, and Sweden tops its lists of leading markets. Per capita use of cardamom is about 60% more in Sweden than it is in the U.S.
It might sound odd to say, but if you want a little taste of Sweden, just add cardamom.