Mulled Wine and Ginger Biscuits: The Swedish Glögg And Pepparkakor

Column on Culinary and Cultural Currents

Kovuuri G. Reddy
5 min readNov 27, 2020
Ginger biscuits or pepparkakor in shops. Image by Kovuuri G. Reddy

As Advent approaches, glögg and pepparkakor surface in the supermarkets and almost all the households across Sweden. They are the basic culinary and cultural things but quintessential aspects preceding Christmas in the country.

Advent is the period of beginning of four Sundays before Christmas. Advent is observed in commemoration of the coming of Christ into the world. Other meanings of Advent are the Second Coming, the Coming of Christ into the world, and something coming into view or place or being. Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus referring to arrival, or approach of something or someone.

Lights, Lights, Lights:

Advent is also an indication that winter has entrenched. One of the ways the darkness is banished in Sweden is with artificial lights: electric candles, stars, twinkling lights on trees, strings of bulbs and such adorn many households especially by the windowsills and balconies or backyards or courtyards, and in public places.

Public space aglow in Gothenburg, Sweden. Photo Kovuuri G. Reddy

On the first Sunday of Advent people light one the candles in the Advent candlestick. Advent indicates the countdown to Christmas and also to the Winter Solstice, 21 December, the day with shortest light in the year, or the darkest day in the year.

According to Po Tidholm and Agneta Lilja, the tradition of opening an Advent Calendar began in the 30s of the twentieth century in Sweden. They mention in, “The Moravian (Czech Republic) custom of hanging a star made from paper, straw or chipwood in windows also found its way to Sweden in the 1930s, recalling the star that guided the Three Wise Men. The advent calendar dates from around this time as well. Children open a window in the calendar for each passing day until Christmas Eve.”

Irrespective of the practice of religion, buying an Advent calendar, glögg and pepparkakor are part of day to day life in Swedish culture. Even the most resistant one to embrace any of these cultural aspects may be aware of them. Every shop and supermarket stock glögg and pepparkakor in copious quantities.

Earlier, during winter preceding Christmas, many Christmas markets appear selling handicrafts and unique biscuits but because of coronavirus pandemic this year there were hardly any Christmas markets saving for the supermarkets. However, there are Advent calendars.

Children love the Advent Calendar. They open one box in one day on the calendar and discovering something in it beginning from the first Sunday of Advent and all the days until the final day: Christmas.

Glögg: Mulled Wine (Spiced Liquor)

Mulled wine is popular seasonal alcoholic beverage consumed in many countries in Northern Europe and in Iceland. It is a traditional drink, warm wine. They have different names such as glögg in Sweden, glogg or glögg in Denmark, gløgg in Norway, glögi in Estonia, and Glühwein in Germany and German-speaking countries.

Mulled wine in supermarkets. Photo Kovuuri G. Reddy

The recipes for glögg vary from country to country, and in the intensity of spiciness: the spices used in making the liquor are cardamom, cinnamom, cloves, ginger, and raisins. The uniqueness of the mulled wine is that it is served or consumed warm: after heating it up on gentle temperature.

Pepparkakor: Ginger Biscuits (Snaps)

Pepparkakor is a type of thin biscuit usually in the shape of a heart. Peppar in Swedish means pepper and kakor means a biscuit, cookie, and cake. Ateriet, a food culture website, says modern pepparkakor does not contain pepper: “But there are old recipes dating back as far as 1444 where there was pepper in the recipes. Another reason for the name is that earlier a lot of exotic species in Sweden were called peppers as a group which means that the name could just have meant spice cookies.”

Swedish Classic: Glögg and Pepparkakor

Drinking hot mulled wine and munching on ginger biscuits have become de facto things to do during and around Christmas.

Po Tidholm and Agneta Lilja place glögg and peppakakor among the Swedish classic things. Po Tidholm is a freelance journalist and a critic. Agneta Lilja is a lecturer in ethnology at Södertörn University College, Stockholm. They write in that since the Middle Ages, Swedes have drunk hot mulled wine (glögg) during Advent: “Glögg and Advent means arrival, or coming. Since the 5th century AD, it has heralded the Christmas season and the birth of Christ. Since the 1890s, the custom in Sweden has been to light a candle every Sunday during Advent. The candles used to be placed in tiny Christmas trees, but from the 1930s onwards these were superseded by candlesticks of iron or wood.”

Glögg from Germany to Sweden:

Ilmi Moren is a Swedish citizen of Finnish origin. She is married to American who has French extraction. She says the tradition of drinking glögg would have come to Sweden from Germany.

She likes the Swedish glögg than the German one because of the rich spicy taste in Swedish glögg. She started to drink glögg when she moved out of her parent’s home where alcoholic drinks were barred. She says, “We never had glögg in our family but when I got bigger and moved away from home, it is a Christmas thing. It is a Lucia thing.”

In 2020, Ilmi bought alcohol-free and apple-flavoured glögg.

Ginger biscuits with cheese:

Pyar Singh Mehra is a Swedish chef specialising in fusion food of different cuisines. He notes that biscuits made of ginger are not uncommon in many cultures. But in Sweden the ginger biscuits are eaten seasonally are available that are made of ginger.

One of the ways to eat the ginger biscuits is with cheese. Pyar Singh Mehra observes that the biscuits could be topped with mögelost, a type of green cheese or with brie. Brie is a soft pale-colored cheese with rind of mould. It is named after the French region called Brie. Brie is made of cow’s milk.

Ilmi Moren She says the way to eat pepparkakor has become a gourmet stuff: some people eat those biscuits topped with blue cheese, bleu cheese. She says, “It is a strong cheese. It smells so bad. But lot of people love it. Glögg and pepparkaor with blue cheese.”

Bleu cheese has veins of the mold that are in green and blue colour. It has distinct smell. It is eaten as it is or can be spread or crumbled or melted into or topped on ginger biscuits.

Environmental consciousness: how Ginger biscuits are sourced

For Ilmi, pepparkakor are the biscuits that one buys during Advent and winter. Nowadays she has become finicky about buying those biscuits. She says, “Oh god! You know, I am really a weirdo. I don’t buy those if they are made with palm oil.” Why? “They cut down the forests to grow palm trees.” Do anyone cares in Sweden whether those biscuits are made of palm oil or some other edible oil? Her response was spontaneous and sharp. “There is few of us.”



Kovuuri G. Reddy

Independent journalist; short, short story writer; living in Sweden. Worked as a broadcast journalist and teaching journalsim and media in England and India.