v48: spiskummin

Supermarket shopping in a foreign country can be fun. It’s always interesting to see the range of food available, and also how it’s categorised. For example, I am used to spreads such as jams, honey, and peanut butter being together, whereas in Swedish supermarkets honey is with sugar and peanut butter is somewhere else entirely (I always forget where). Generally, supermarket shopping in Sweden has not been too problematic, with some exceptions. The first is dairy products: there seem to be an awful lot of varieties of milk, cream, yoghurt, and possibly other things, that all come in essentially the same packaging. I still haven’t sorted out what they all are.

Second is bread. There are many new choices in what I regard as “normal” bread (for example, potatislimpa), let alone crispread (knäckebröd). And it’s a long process to buy each one and taste them all until you finally find the one you like best!

Third is spices (spice=krydda; spices=kryddor). Many of them look pretty much the same in those little bottles, don’t they? And sometimes the names can  be difficult to translate, even the common ones; for example, UNT recently gave the following list of the spices that were most commonly imported into Sweden in 2008:

peppar pepper 1800 ton
chili chili 1700 ton
ingefära ginger 612 ton
kanel cinnamon 400 ton
kardemumma cardamom 256 ton
kryddnejlika cloves 148 ton
muskot nutmeg 63 ton
saffran saffron 3-4 ton

Once you’ve got the names down pat, there’s only one main trap for spice-buyers: (spis)kummin.

Swedish kummin is caraway (Carum carvi), whereas spiskummin is cumin (Cuminum cyminum). Both names are derived from the Latin cuminum, and their plants and seeds (fruits) do look somewhat alike. They both belong to the family Apiaceum, but then, so do celery, parsley, coriander, and fennel. However, carroway is native to Europe, while cumin is not. So in many European countries, carroway is called cumin, whereas cumin is called something equivalent to “foreign cumin”. For a much better explanation of this, read Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages.

In the Swedish name, spiskumin, spis means food or stove, and spisa is both an old Swedish word meaning eat, and a new Swedish word meaning listen to (jazz) music. Seriously! If I read SAOB correctly, the former meaning dates from the 16th century, and the latter is from the 1930s. This might help you make more sense of this line in the children’s song Var bor du lilla råtta? (Where do you live little rat?) by Britt Hallqvist:

Vad vill du ha att spisa? Korv och jazz.
What do you want to eat/listen to? Sausage and jazz.

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Published in: on November 25, 2009 at 14:40  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Damn! Where was this list of spices like 3 weeks ago when I was running through ICA freaked out? ha! I agree with you on all shopping points. Ask me how many times my husband poured something other than milk in his coffee? LOL.


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