If you’ve ever spent time in the Netherlands around the beginning of December, you may have noticed something interesting: the appearance of small, round or square cookies called pepernoten and kruidnoten. These treats are a beloved part of the Dutch holiday tradition surrounding Sinterklaas, a legendary figure similar to Santa Claus who brings gifts to children on the night of December 5th.
Pepernoten and kruidnoten are both types of spice cookies, but there are some differences between them. Pepernoten are slightly larger and softer, with a chewy texture and a rich, warm flavor. They are made with a mixture of spices that typically includes cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger, as well as flour, sugar, and butter. Kruidnoten, on the other hand, are smaller and more crispy, with a crunchy texture and a more intense spice flavor. They are also made with a similar blend of spices, but are often made with a mixture of rye and wheat flour, which gives them their distinctive crunch.
Both pepernoten and kruidnoten are traditionally eaten during the Sinterklaas celebration, which typically lasts from late November until December 5th. They are often served alongside hot chocolate or speculaas, another type of Dutch spice cookie, and are a popular snack for both children and adults.
In addition to their delicious taste, pepernoten and kruidnoten are also steeped in tradition and folklore. According to legend, Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands from Spain by boat, accompanied by his helpers, formerly known as Zwarte Piet (Black Pete). These helpers are often portrayed by people wearing blackface makeup, which has become a controversial issue in recent years. During the Sinterklaas celebration, children leave their shoes out by the fireplace or front door, and Sinterklaas and his helpers fill them with candy and small gifts, including pepernoten and kruidnoten.
in recent years, there has been a movement in the Netherlands to change the traditional portrayal of Zwarte Piet, which was seen by many as a racially insensitive caricature. The new portrayal of Zwarte Piet, sometimes called Regenboog Piet (Rainbow Piet) or Roetpiet (Soot Piet), features helpers with soot-streaked faces rather than blackface makeup, and sometimes includes a variety of colors to represent diversity.
Despite the controversy surrounding the Zwarte Piet tradition, pepernoten and kruidnoten remain an important part of Dutch culture and holiday celebrations. They are a delicious and comforting treat that are perfect for snacking on during the cold winter months, and their rich history and traditions make them even more special. So if you ever find yourself in the Netherlands during the Sinterklaas season, be sure to indulge in some pepernoten and kruidnoten – your taste buds (and your cultural education) will thank you!