Knäckerbröd: Sweden’s Answer To The Graham Cracker & Khakhra
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

WHEN it comes to bread, there are few things as satisfying as a crusty, chewy bite. Knäckerbröd, a type of flatbread from Sweden, offers just that. Made primarily with rye or a blend of wheat and rye flour, this bread is a Swedish breakfast staple. For an extra aromatic touch, it is often flavoured with fennel, anise, or caraway seeds. Whether swathed with butter, cheeses, jams, or sausages, Knäckerbröd is Sweden’s answer to the Graham Cracker, and closer home, the Gujarati Khakhra. 

Typically, Knäckerbröd is made from unsifted rye flour, yeast or sourdough, salt, and water. The dough is shaped into thin, flat cakes and quickly baked at high temperatures. A crushed cracker or breadcrumb coating was traditionally added to make it easier to break into pieces. Moreover, Knäckerbröd often features a large hole in the middle, as it was originally designed for drying and storage.

Knäckerbröd, which literally translates to “the bread that can be broken,” has been a part of the Swedish diet since ancient times, its origins dating back to the Middle Ages. Without yeast, the bread was baked on stones over a fire and later in large ovens on baking sheets. 

It was a staple food for shepherds, peasants, and Vikings, made from barley flour, water, and salt. The dough was traditionally kneaded with snow or ice powder, which evaporated during baking, giving the bread its characteristic crunch.

One of its remarkable qualities was its long shelf life. Olaus Magnus, in his 1555 book History of the Nordic Peoples, even mentioned that bread baked to celebrate a child's birth could last until their wedding. It was baked only once or twice a year, after the summer harvest and in the spring. The bread was pierced in the middle so it could be hung from a stick on the ceiling to dry and then stored in a storage room.

Bread held great significance in meals during that time. It was served in chunks in soups or hot drinks or enjoyed as a buttered slice of bread. In regions lacking grains or bread, dried fish served as a bread substitute. The fish was softened by pounding it with a stone and then spread with butter to be eaten like a sandwich.

During the Middle Ages, bread-making was considered a prestigious profession and primarily carried out by men.


In contrast, in rural areas, bread-making was the domain of women, and the art of bread-making was passed down through generations. Consequently, there is limited written documentation about bread-making during that era. Over time, recipes evolved, and rye became a common ingredient in Knäckerbröd. Rye gained popularity in Scandinavia due to its ability to withstand harsh weather and poor soil conditions. Rye was often mixed with barley or pea flour for cost-effectiveness, and during times of scarcity, bark flour was used.

Traditionally, Knäckerbröd in Sweden features a pattern created on the dough's surface using a toothed or patterned rolling pin known as a Kruskavel. While this specific rolling pin may not be readily available to everyone, a similar effect can be achieved by using a fork. 

While predominantly a household preparation, in the mid-19th century, the first Knäckerbröd bakeries emerged, marking the shift towards industrial production. As society transitioned to a more urban and modern era, industrialised consumption took hold, and pre-packaged sandwich loaves became prevalent. From the 1920s onwards, people started buying bread from shops and bakeries instead of baking it at home, as had been the custom.

Leksands Knäckebröd is one of the bakeries that has been baking Knäckerbröd commercially since 1929. Their production is limited to their hometown of Leksand in Dalarna, Sweden, where they prioritise local farmers and sustainable methods to create a Knäckerbröd. In 1929, Anna Karlsdotter and her husband Jon Olof Olsson started a bakery, using Anna's grandmother Jakobs Karin's recipe for Knäckerbröd. Today, that recipe remains unchanged, featuring a perfect combination of local rye, water, yeast, and salt.

Nowadays, the majority of Knäckerbröd consumed in Sweden is commercially baked. Swedes consume an impressive 4-5 kg of Knäckerbröd per person annually, surpassing any other population. It is a staple in 85 per cent of Swedish households, compared to a mere 8 per cent in France. 

Because it is high in fibres and low in calories, Knäckerbröd curbs hunger, and is a far healthier alternative to softer wheat bread. 

Additionally, Knäckerbröd has become one of Sweden's most exported foods.

Further, Knäckerbröd itself has undergone innovations and diversification. New varieties include those mixed with fine rye flour, pure wheat crackers, as well as flavoured options with seeds or spices. The traditional round shape has been accompanied by square and oblong alternatives. Common toppings for Knäckerbröd include butter, hard cheese, liver pâté, caviar, and spicy sausage. It is often served alongside pea soup and herring dishes, and is considered an essential part of Swedish cuisine. It wouldn't even be an exaggeration to call it their national bread.