Bread is the ultimate comfort food and a global staple. Each culture and country has its own version synonymous with its cuisine. From Greek pita to Indian roti to French baguettes – no table is complete without some version of the delicious treat.
The Danes are no different, and their traditional Danish bread – rugbrød – is a firm favorite, enjoyed almost daily in most Danish households.
“Bread is better than the song of birds.” – Danish proverb
Not only is it delicious, rugbrød (or “rye bread”) is also healthy. Of course, just as delicious – but maybe, ahem, not quite as good for you – are Danish pastries, which you’ll also find in any Danish bakery (ideally fresh out of the oven).
Keep reading to find out the full spectrum of Danish bread out there, as well as how to get some yourself no matter where in the world you live.
What is Danish bread called?
The general Danish term for bread is ‘brød’. But the love of bread runs deep through Danish veins, and the simple word doesn’t quite sum up the variety and unique ingredients that make their bread genuinely Danish. From hearty rye bread to sweet pastries, brød is the glue that holds the Danish menu together.
Why is Danish bread called Danish bread?
What the world often refers to as Danish bread or Danish pastries is known as wienerbrød in Denmark. This translates to “Viennese bread”. The name hints at the true origin of the flaky pastry, so many of us enjoy with our morning coffee.
There are a few stories about the origin of what is often referred to as Danish bread (or Danish pastries, of course). In the 1800s, there was a strike among the local bakers, and workers were brought in from the rest of Europe to pick up the slack. As a result, the Austrians introduced their pastry-making traditions, which the Danes enhanced with sweet fillings.
That is, at the same time, a Danish baker traveled to Vienna to study their baking style. He brought his new skills back to Denmark and added his flair by including sugary fillings and toppings.
Another tale alludes to a French origin. In the 1700s, French baker, Claudius Gelee, forgot to add butter to his pastry dough. So, he added lumps of butter to his dough to cover his error and folded it in.
Overall, though, for the English speaking world, the answer to the question of “why is it called Danish bread” is pretty obvious. Specifically, Danish bread is called Danish bread because it comes from Denmark. But for the most part, as you can see, there’s a bit more to the story than that.
Danish bread types
There is a reason why we refer to bonding over food as ‘breaking bread.’ It is not just about eating together. It is about building a connection and enjoying each other’s company.
Bread is a cornerstone of Danish culture. Many strong connections, family gatherings, and historical events have taken place while savoring a good loaf.
“Spis lige brød til.”
Danish proverb – “Have some bread with that.”
The proverb sums up the value the Danes assign to enjoying a good slice. It means taking a break and breathing when you have worked hard and deserve proper rest.
While rugbrød is the most traditional Danish bread, they have a deep love for the comforting carb in general and have a range of options to suit both the savory lover and the sweet tooth.
Rugbrød, or rye bread, is probably what the Danes would consider true ‘Danish bread. The dark, chewy, whole grain bread is the oldest recipe in Denmark and an essential part of their culture.
Rye was the most common grain used in breadmaking for thousands of years and is high in energy, minerals, vitamins, and roughage. As a result, most Danes enjoy rugbrød with at least one of their daily meals.
It can be served simply with a generous portion of butter or smothered in decadent ingredients, making it a luxury treat.
Franskbrød, or French bread, is not the same as the iconic baguettes that come to mind when we hear the name. Instead, it is a light and fluffy artisan white bread enjoyed as a treat when nutrition is not the main focus.
The style was brought to Denmark by the Dutch in the 18th century and was reserved for the upper class. This is an excellent bread for French toast, thick luxury sandwiches, or a soup soaker.
You may also be interested in: 9 Best Cities to Live in Denmark (For Your Best Life)
Fuldkornsbrød – or whole grain bread – is a popular, everyday alternative to Rugbrød. It is a perfect balance between rugbrød and franskbrød. Fuldkornsbrød is healthier than refined white bread and much lighter than traditional rye bread.
While rye was a staple grain for centuries, wheat and other grains have become more widely produced. As the world places more emphasis on nutrition and health, Fuldkornsbrød offers the perfect solution. You will find artisan Fuldkornsbrød in most bakeries.
Wholegrain bread is versatile and great for toasting, sandwiches, and accompanying stews and soups if you want something to mop up the remains.
Wienerbrød is a general name for the variety of sweet pastries the rest of the world knows as Danish pastries – which means that some of the types of Danish bread mentioned below in this list would actually fall under this category too. As mentioned before, it translates to Viennese bread and was introduced to Denmark by the Austrians.
In its simple form, the sweet, buttery, filled puff pastry is a breakfast staple in Denmark as much as it is around the world. In addition, the pastry styles serve as a base for many other typed of sweet and savory Danish bread.
Kanelsnegle – or cinnamon snails – originated in Sweden and are a traditional favorite of the entire Scandinavian region. In fact, they even celebrate Cinnamon Roll Day (Kanelbullens dag) on October 4th. The Romans discovered cinnamon in Sri Lanka and brought it to Europe centuries ago.
There is something incredibly comforting about the scent of freshly baked cinnamon buns. It is enough to bring people off the street into the bakery. It needs no other advertisement, and if the media gets to the point where it can exude aromas through advertising, there will be a global shortage of cinnamon.
You will find this delicious breakfast bread in every bakery. Slightly sweetened dough is rolled out and painted with a cinnamon and sugar mix. They are then rolled up, baked, and covered in a glaze.
Some bakeries call the “Onsdagssnegle.” – or “Wednesday snails” – as, for some people, they are traditionally enjoyed during football games. The Danish fodboldlandshold (national soccer team traditionally plays on a Wednesday.
Frøsnappere is made with the basic ‘Danish’ pastry recipe that is rolled out and layered remonce – a truly Danish paste made by creaming butter and sugar. A generous portion of poppy or sesame seeds and a dash of salt make it lean towards savory. Frøsnappere is a perfect tea-time treat for those who don’t have a very sweet tooth.
There are technically two translations for frøsnappere. “Frø” is Danish for “seed” as well as “frog,” so while the bread is named ‘seed snapper’ in English, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong to order ‘frog snapper’.
Tebirkes are another popular poppy seed bread roll made with the buttery, flaky dough used in wienerbrød. The delicate pastries are similar to frøsnappere but folded over and stretched out into twists.
They can be savory or slightly sweetened with a subtle marzipan filling. The more poppy seeds, the merrier, as they add a satisfying crunch to every bite. One of the most alluring things about this bread is the aroma, stemming from the roasted seeds, sweet dough, and aromatic filling.
This Danish bread delight is a snack-size dough ball loaded with roasted sesame seeds and stuffed with sausage. A staple of a Danish child’s lunch box, the bite-size snacks make a perfect afternoon belly filler.
Is Danish bread good for you?
While it depends on your choice of bread, if we are referring specifically to rugbrød, the quintessential Danish bread, the answer is a definite ‘yes!’. Rugbrød is enjoyed by the Danes daily. It is highly nutritious and packed with fiber, minerals, and vitamins.
The high nutritional value and density keep the Danes full and satisfied. Bear in mind that rugbrød is sliced very thinly, so they don’t each contain as much bread as it seems. The toppings add to the value, and rugbrød is usually served as an open sandwich.
Rye bread has gained popularity around the world. It is a healthier choice than bread made with other grains. But not all rye bread is created equal.
Commercial brands are usually quite processed with diminished nutritional value. Sugar is also often added to the dough. However, rugbrød is artisan bread, focusing on using whole grain, ensuring it is enjoyed in its purest form.
How healthy is Danish Rye bread?
Danish rye bread is one of the healthiest you can get. This is because rye has a very low glycaemic index in its purest form. This means your blood sugar doesn’t spike like it does when you eat processed bread made with wheat flour.
While sourdough and other whole grain breads are better than bread made from refined wheat flour, Danish rye is loaded with other benefits. It has a very high nutritional value, and its high fiber and low GI maintain a healthy digestive system and prevent the onset of diabetes that can arise from spiking blood sugar.
High-quality rye bread is good for cardiovascular health, helps to lower blood pressure, and keeps cholesterol in check. In addition, it takes longer to digest than other bread, keeping you full and satisfied. This also helps with weight management.
How do you eat Danish bread?
Danes often eat Danish bread (rugbrød) with just some butter or other spread, like jam. More commonly, though, it’s used to make smørrebrød, the traditional open-faced sandwich that Denmark is famous for. It’s also a very common food in other Scandinavian countries.
Funnily enough, smørrebrød actually means “buttered bread” even though it’s much, much more than butter these days. In fact, as Nordic cuisine has exploded in popularity, especially in connection with Denmark, so too have the different varieties of smørrebrød expanded.
Now, you can find them piled high with all sorts of ingredients, from fish to cucumber to cheese to salami, tomatoes, walnuts, apples and more!
And while you could wait to visit Denmark before embracing this method of eating Danish bread, there are also plenty of recipes online letting you make your own smørrebrød at home.
1. Herring smørrebrød
For many people, if you ask them to name any staple of Scandinavian cuisine, herring is often the first thing that comes to mind. And you’d be 100% correct in saying that, as it certainly pops up in Danish (and other Nordic) recipes all the time.
One example of that is this recipe for herring smørrebrød. In addition to the herring, you’ll also be adding beets, sour cream, mustard, shallots, green onions, capers and cucumbers – which sounds far more complicated than it is, trust me.
But with very little effort, you’ll soon find yourself with a delicious open-faced sandwich – and healthy too!
(You could also replace the herring if you want to take things up a notch, like using stenbiderrogn – or Danish caviar – instead.)
2. Beets and pate smørrebrød
This recipe for beets and pate smørrebrød is much simpler than the last and is perfect for anyone wanting a quick, yet oh-so-Nordic snack.
Literally just take some pate, beets and some fresh dill to garnish it and you’ve got yourself a quick, great way to eat Danish bread.
3. Smoked salmon and fennel smørrebrød
Salmon is another staple of Danish cuisine so it’s only natural that it can also be used on Danish bread. And by combining it with some fresh ingredients, you’ll quickly be able to pull together a delicious and healthy lunch – while feeling like you’re in a Copenhagen cafe!
That is, this recipe for smoked salmon and fennel smørrebrød is very straightforward and tastes delicious. If you can’t get hold of fennel where you are, celery or leeks can be great substitutes.
4. Potato smørrebrød with garlic aioli
There are plenty of vegetarian options for smørrebrød as well. This is especially the case given the growing focus on sustainability in the Nordic region, which has led to many restaurants really expanding their meat-free options due to the lower climate footprint they offer.
One great example of this is this recipe for potato smørrebrød with garlic aioli.
Aioli on anything is a good idea in my books but combine it with cold (yes, cold!) potatoes and you’ve definitely got a winner on your hands.
5. Egg salad smørrebrød
This is a super quick way to eat Danish bread, especially if you already have some egg salad on hand.
Essentially, as you’ll see in this recipe for egg salad smørrebrød, place some sort of lettuce on the rugbrød, spoon on some edd salad and voila – lunch is served!
6. Blue cheese, pear and hazelnut smørrebrød
Did you know Denmark is known for its blue cheese? Known as “Danablu” in Denmark, this strong, soft blue-veined cheese will melt in your mouth. The softness also makes it perfect for smearing on Danish bread for a deliciously tangy snack.
And you can even upgrade this to a truly fancy version of smørrebrød. While, of course, you can always make this for yourself, this is one that would also be great served to a crowd. This is especially the case when you see that while it sounds fancy, it’s incredibly easy to make.
Just take a look at this recipe for blue cheese, pear and hazelnut smørrebrød to see what I mean – although I wouldn’t recommend looking at it if you’re already hungry.
Danish bread recipe (rugbrød)
If you’ve got all this way and are committed to making Danish bread yourself, this recipe for rugbrød has you covered. In particular, you may live somewhere that’s hard to find Danish bread in a store, meaning making it yourself may be your only option.
As mentioned, Danish bread is full of seeds, which is what gives it both its heartiness and healthiness. This means that you’ll want to make sure you have ingredients such as pumpkin seeds, flax seed and sunflower seeds on hand.
In addition, while traditional rugbrød recipes are made with rye chops, which are literally just chopped up rye grain pieces, this can be hard to find in certain areas. As such, this recipe actually uses 7 grain cereal, which tends to be much more widely available.
Check out the recipe for Danish bread here to get started.