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SURSTRÖMMING

What you need to know before trying Sweden’s fermented herring

Before you turn your nose up at Sweden's pungent-smelling fermented surströmming, read this.

What you need to know before trying Sweden's fermented herring
Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven enjoying the surströmming premiere in 2016. Photo: Susanne Lindholm/TT

What is surströmming?

Surströmming is Swedish for “sour herring” and is fermented herring. They are plucked out of the Baltic Sea before they are stored for months to stew in their own bacteria through a carefully calibrated autolysis method which creates rather smelly acids, using just enough salt to prevent it from rotting. Don’t look scared, this is an old food preservation method and has been around for thousands of years around the world. 


Canning the surströmming. Photo: Ralf Bergman/TT

When do you eat it?

The traditional “surströmming premiere” is held on the third Thursday in August. That’s when Swedes crack open their cans of surströmming – if the can has a slight bulge, don’t worry, it’s because the fermentation process continues even after the herring is canned.


See? Doesn’t that just look delicious? Photo: Vilhelm Stokstad/TT

How do you eat it?

Not like BuzzFeed’s American staff, who published a video of themselves trying it for the first time, using words like “dead body” and “baby diaper” to describe the smell. They incensed one Swedish surströmming expert so much that he published his own instruction video to how to really enjoy this unusual delicacy.

Eat it with onion, sour cream, bread, potatoes and a glass of snaps.

But before you eat it, remember to store it correctly. Ruben Madsen of the Surströmming Academy on the island of Ulvön says “it must always be stored in a cool environment. If it is stored in a warm place, then the lactic acid destroys the proteins and there is no fish left inside the can”.

Baby diaper?!

It does have a strong smell, there’s no denying that.

If you don’t like it, there are various tactics to make it a little bit easier to stand. One is to open the can under water. Another is to eat it outdoors. Alternatively, as soon as you open the can, stick your nose as close as possible and take a deep breath to immunise yourself – nothing will smell bad after that.

Don’t worry, it tastes better than it smells, after your nostrils get over that initial shock.

And all Swedes eat this?

Admittedly, it is not to everyone’s liking. Traditionally, it is also more common in northern Sweden, and especially on the north-eastern coastline around the High Coast and further north in the Norrland region.


Cans of surströmming. Photo: Ulf Palm/TT

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FOOD & DRINK

Five sweet treats you should be able to identify if you live in Sweden

Do you know your biskvi from your bakelse? Your chokladboll from your kanelbulle? Here's a guide guaranteed to get your mouth watering.

Five sweet treats you should be able to identify if you live in Sweden

Kanelbulle

The most famous of all Swedish cakes outside Sweden, the classic kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) is the symbol of Sweden abroad, no doubt helped by the fact that Swedish furniture giants IKEA stock frozen buns in their food stores for customers to bake off at home.

Forget American tear-apart cinnamon rolls baked in a pan and slathered with cream cheese frosting: a classic Swedish cinnamon bun is baked individually using a yeasted dough spread with cinnamon sugar and butter. The dough is then rolled up, sliced into strips which are then stretched out and knotted into buns, baked, glazed with sugar syrup and sprinkled with pearl sugar.

Home-made varieties skip the stretching and knotting step, rolling the cinnamon-sprinkled dough into a spiral instead which, although less traditional, tastes just as good.

Kanelbullar in Sweden often include a small amount of Sweden’s favourite spice: cardamom. If you’re a fan of cardamom, try ordering the kanelbulle‘s even more Swedish cousin, the kardemummabulle or cardamom bun, which skips the cinnamon entirely and goes all-out on cardamom instead.

Sweden celebrates cinnamon bun day (kanelbullens dag) on October 4th.

Photo: Lieselotte van der Meijs/imagebank.sweden.se

Chokladboll

A great option if you want a smaller cake for your fika, the chokladboll or ‘chocolate ball’ is a perfect accompaniment to coffee – some recipes even call for mixing cold coffee into the batter.

They aren’t baked and are relatively easy to make, meaning they are a popular choice for parents (or grandparents) wanting to involve children in the cake-making process.

Chokladbollar are a simple mix of sugar, oats, melted butter and cocoa powder, with the optional addition of vanilla or coffee, or occasionally rum extract. They are rolled into balls which are then rolled in desiccated coconut (or occasionally pearl sugar), and placed in the fridge to become more solid.

Some bakeries or cafés also offer dadelbollar or rawbollar/råbollar (date or raw balls), a vegan alternative made from dried dates and nuts blended together with cocoa powder.

Chocolate ball day (chokladbollens dag) falls on May 11th.

Photo: Magnus Carlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

Prinsesstårta

The lime-green prinsesstårta or ‘princess cake’ may look like a modern invention with it’s brightly-coloured marzipan covering, but it has been around since the beginning of the 1900s, and is named after three Swedish princesses, Margareta, Märta and Astrid, who were supposedly especially fond of the cake.

The cake consists of a sponge bottom spread with jam, crème pâtissière and a dome of whipped cream, covered in green marzipan and some sort of decoration, often a marzipan rose.

Prinsesstårtor can also be served in individual portions, small slices of a log which are then referred to as a prinsessbakelse.

Although the cakes are popular all year round, in the Swedish region of Småland, prinsesstårta is eaten on the first Thursday in March, due to this being the unofficial national day of the Småland region (as the phrase första torsdagen i mars is pronounced fössta tossdan i mass in the Småland dialect).

Since 2004, the Association of Swedish Bakers and Confectioners has designated the last week of September as prinsesstårtans vecka (Princess cake day).

Photo: Sinikka Halme, Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0.

Budapestbakelse

Belonging to the more traditional cakes, a Budapestbakelse or “Budapest slice” is a type of rulltårta or “roll cake” similar to a Swiss roll, consisting of a light and crispy cake made from whipped egg whites, sugar and hazelnut, filled with whipped cream and fruit, often chopped conserved peaches, nectarines or mandarines, and rolled into a log.

The log is then sliced into individual portions and drizzled with chocolate, then often topped with whipped cream and a slice of fruit. 

Despite its name, the Budapest slice has nothing to do with the city of Budapest – it was supposedly invented by baker Ingvar Strid in 1926 and received the name due to Strid’s love for the Hungarian capital.

Of course, the Budapestbakelse also has its own day – May 1st.

Kanelbullar (left), chokladbollar (centre) and biskvier (right). Photo: Tuukka Ervasti/imagebank.sweden.se

Biskvi

Another smaller cake, a biskvi (pronounced like the French biscuit), consists of an almond biscuit base, covered in buttercream (usually chocolate flavoured), and dark chocolate.

Different variants of biskvier exist, such as a Sarah Bernhardt, named after the French actress of the same name, which has chocolate truffle instead of buttercream.

You might also spot biskvier with white chocolate, often with a hallon (raspberry) or citron (lemon) filling, or even saffransbiskvier around Christmastime.

Chokladbiskviens dag is celebrated on November 11th.

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