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The Making of a Legal Cinnamon Bun

Today, October 4, marks Cinnamon Bun Day (Kanelbullensdag) in Sweden.

Despite being celebrated as a must-have in the Swedish fika culture, the cinnamon bun pastry did not become commonplace until the 1920s (after World War I), when its ingredients (flour, butter, sugar, yeast, and cinnamon) went from being on a list of rationed goods (ransoneringslista) to becoming more affordable. The real heyday of cinnamon buns appears to have come even later, in the 1950s (also known as the “happy fifties”(glada femtiotalet in Sweden). The cinnamon bun became a loved pastry, perhaps the most loved one, and in 1999, the Home Baking Council (Hembakningsrådet), which was celebrating its 40-year anniversary, announced that October 4 (celebrated as children’s day that year) would be Kanelbullensdag from now on. It has been celebrated passionately ever since.

Cinnamon Bun Day is marked by increases in cinnamon bun sales and homemade varieties. Some figures even suggest that Swedes eat as many as 300+ cinnamon buns a year. A recent study by the SCB (Statistics Sweden)—the Cinnamon Bun Index—found that the price of cinnamon buns in Swedish cafes has increased at a higher rate than the price of homemade ones– with a price increase of approximately 74% since 1990. The same survey also found that the costs of making homemade cinnamon buns have only risen by 54% in the same time period. Meanwhile, a cinnamon bun purchased in the grocery store is 21% more expensive than it was in 1990.

Cinnamon buns. Photo by Elin Hofverberg.

EU Regulation of Coumarin

The legacy of the Swedish cinnamon bun could have been derailed in 2011, when the European Union (EU) Regulation (EC) No 1334/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on flavourings and certain food ingredients with flavouring properties for use in and on foods entered into force. The regulation limited the amount of coumarin that could be included in food products. Coumarin is a component of cinnamon – the namesake ingredient in cinnamon buns. Sweden was quick to act, and the Swedish National Food Agency (Livsmedelsverket) announced that cinnamon buns fell under the “traditional and/or seasonal bakery ware containing a reference to cinnamon in the labelling” exception of the EU Regulation No. 1334/2008. (Art.3(c) in conjunction with annex II.)  Traditional and/or seasonal baked goods are exempt from the 15mg/kg (6.8 mg/lbs.) limit and instead subject to a 50mg/kg (22.7mg/lbs) limit. Denmark on the other hand initially interpreted the text differently and found that its cinnamon bun equivalents (kanelsnegle, kanelstænger, and kanelgiflercould not rely on the exemption. Public outcry ensued, and the Danish Food Authority later reinterpreted the provision and determined that, similar to Sweden, their cinnamon buns also fell under the 50mg/kg exception for traditional baked goods.

This may not mean that cinnamon buns are here to stay. In the event of a war, Sweden has legislation in place, the Law on Rationing (Lag om ransonering (Svensk författningssamling [SFS] 1978:268), which allows the Swedish government to declare that rationing provisions from the same law should start to apply. Although it can only be activated when there is a risk of war or if there is a shortage or a risk of shortage of importance for the Swedish Defense or the population’s food supply, luxuries such as the cinnamon bun (and its costly ingredients) could be the first to go.

Library of Congress Recipes

If you love baking like the Law Library’s own Margaret Wood and are brave enough to try baking a cinnamon bun yourself, the Library of Congress has many recipes that you may enjoy! Below are examples from the classic Swedish cook book “Sju sorters kakor” (Seven types of Cookies) in Swedish and in an English translation, as well as from other cookbooks honoring the cinnamon bun in their titles.

If you are more interested in Sweden during the post-World War I era, you might enjoy

Come visit us today! The Library of Congress collections can satisfy your sweet tooth as well as your thirst for knowledge at the same time!

Update: This was originally published as a guest post by Elin Hofverberg. The author information has been updated to reflect that Elin is now an In Custodia Legis blogger.

One Comment

  1. Raeann Handy
    October 4, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    This is so interesting. I’m new to this site. Now I know what I’ll do in retirement, which is only a few years away!

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