About Gingerbread and Pepperkaker

Making, eating, and decorating with gingerbread has a long history throughout the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland.

In Norway, the most popular form of ginger confection is the pepperkaker. Other Nordic countries have similar cookies: pepparkakor (Swedish), brunkager (Danish), piparkökur (Icelandic), and piparkakut (Finnish). In the Baltic countries they have  piparkūkas (Latvian) and piparkoogid (Estonian).

Pepperkaker are thin, very brittle cookies or biscuits that are particularly associated with the extended Christmas period. In Norway and Sweden, pepperkaker are also used as window decorations, the pepperkaker  are then a little thicker than usual and decorated with glaze and candy. Many families bake pepperkaker as a tradition with their kids.

The harder style gingerbread is often used to build gingerbread houses similar to the “witch’s house” encountered by Hansel and Gretel. These houses, covered with a variety of candies and icing, are popular Christmas decorations, often built by children  with the help of their parents.

Since 1991, the people of Bergen, Norway, have built a city of gingerbread houses each year before Christmas. Named Pepperkakebyen, Norwegian for “gingerbread city”, it is claimed to be the world’s largest such city. The Duluth Gingerbread City is modeled after Pepperkakebyen in Bergen, Norway.

Gingerbread was brought to Europe in 992 by the Armenian monk Gregory of Nicopolis who taught French priests to make it.

During the 13th century, Gingerbread was brought to Sweden by German immigrants. Early references from the Vadstena Abbey show how the Swedish nuns were baking gingerbread to ease indigestion in 1444. It was the custom to bake white biscuits and paint them as window decorations.

The first documented trade of gingerbread biscuits dates to the 17th century, where they were sold in monasteries, pharmacies and town square farmers’ markets. In Medieval England gingerbread was thought to have medicinal properties.


Notes have been discovered dating back to 1444 describing how the nuns in Vadstena, Sweden, baked and ate spiced ginger thins to help their digestion. At that time, pepper, cardamom, aniseed, fennel, cedar oil, lemon and pomegranate peels were also ingredients in the dough, in addition to the traditional ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. During the Middle Ages, the dough was sweetened with honey rather than sugar.


The Swedish-Norwegian-Danish King Hans (regent 1497-1501) was prescribed ginger thins by his doctor, who may have heard about the nuns’ cookies in Vadstena. Apparently the King suffered from stomach aches and a bad temper. He got better after eating spiced ginger thins and that’s why people say that gingerbread made you happy.


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