Why does Sweden have a salad dressing named ‘Rhode Island’?

How did Sweden end up with a salad dressing named after the smallest state in the US? American Ken Appleman discovers that the answer is clouded in mystery.

Why does Sweden have a salad dressing named 'Rhode Island'?
Rhode Island is similar to the Thousand Islands dressing, but otherwise not related. Photo: Oliver DelaCruz/Wikimedia Commons

When moving to a new place, a new country, it's nice to see things that remind one of home. It can make one feel more comfortable, more welcome. When I first arrived in Stockholm, a city that is very different than the one I grew up in, I was happy to see many things that made me realise that it wasn't quite as different as it first appeared. There was one thing among these, though, that had me really baffled.

I'm a New Yorker. A Brooklynite, to be precise. New York is a tall, noisy city. The sounds of a New York City streetscape – honking horns, sirens, midnight trucks grinding gears, people shouting, radios blaring, an unidentifiable, sourceless, pervasive din that makes it necessary to shout just to think – these things are lullabies to me, the sounds of warmth and energy that, without which, for a good portion of my life, I struggled to sleep.

Stockholm isn't like that. I still tell friends back home this thing which makes the place sound almost idyllic – but you'd have to be a New Yorker, or a native of any of the other very noisy metropolises in the world, to know why it isn't – that there are parts of Stockholm where the loudest thing one hears is the sound of children playing.

It's a low, quiet city, dimly-lit. Do I mean “sleepy” – no, not really. Just more like a place that doesn't feel it needs to shout – or build tall buildings – to get one's attention.

But, as I said, there are plenty of things to comfort a homesick New Yorker. Brooklyn Beer. I-Heart-NY logos and its local derivatives. Baseball caps from the New York teams. The strange presence of lots of 7-Elevens (I haven't seen any place in the US where they are as densely packed as here – though since in the US they are known for providing huge sizes of extremely unhealthy food – “Big Gulps” of soda, for example, or the “Big Bite” hot dog – perhaps in calorie density their distribution is similar). McDonald's. Starbucks. Subway.

But, with all of these actual, authentic, US referents, why is there this weird, baffling, inauthentic thing mixed in? Why, everywhere salad is sold, in bottles, in single-serve packets, on menus, is there a salad dressing named “Rhode Island”?

Rhode Island is the smallest state in the US, a state that consists of suburbs and beaches (great, if you like either of those things) located pretty much where the arm-making-a-fist-shaped piece of land that is Cape Cod connects to the mainland.

A few years ago, I had to leave New York to move there. I was not happy to be there. Nor, I soon discovered, were most Rhode Islanders.

“The armpit of New England,” a native Rhode Islander told me of the place, not long after I moved there.

“Everyone here is crabby, but no one ever leaves.”

“If it takes more than 20 minutes to go someplace, no Rhode Islander will go there.”

So, clearly, as you can see from these unsolicited Rhode Island facts I received from helpful locals upon my arrival (I was an Uber driver at the time; I met a lot of locals quickly), it's not exactly the best place to live, and certainly not a place to name something after, even if it's just salad dressing.

One of many lovely beaches in Rhode Island, but no trace of the eponymous dressing. Photo: JJBers/

I will say, though, that with those beaches – and there are lots of them – it is (again, if you like beaches) a nice place to visit. And, if you do like the beaches, and you do travel from distant locations just to get to them, then there are also terrific restaurants in which to eat after a long day of sun or water bathing. And, inevitably, when those restaurants sell salads, they are all almost certainly dressed, in one way or another. There is no dressing, though, in any of those restaurants, that is uniquely Rhode Island – or, if there is, that resembles the eponymous stuff sold all over Sweden.

Even the president of the Rhode Island Swedish association – a US organisation that celebrates Swedish people and culture in Rhode Island and the surrounding states – had no idea why there would be a salad dressing with that name in Sweden.

So, what is the deal? Why does this dressing have this name throughout Sweden? Is it named after the US state? Or, perhaps, are it and the US state somehow named after the same thing in Sweden? (This is not a difficult theory to come up with for a kid who grew up in “New” York, a city that had once been known as “New” Amsterdam, across the river from “New” Jersey). Is the Rhode Island in the US a “new” Rhode Island? Is there an old one somewhere in Sweden (and do they make salad dressing there?).

While an interesting theory, a little bit of Googling told me that it is not the case. While there is, in a sense, an old Rhode Island, it is the Isle of Rhodes, in the Mediterranean – which early explorers found an island in the bay of the state someday to bear that name vaguely reminiscent of. So, no shared Swedish origin of the name. And, while both the state and the dressing could still possibly be named after that Mediterranean island, it seems unlikely. The explorers saw reddish clay hills on both that island in the Mediterranean and the nascent US state. Reddish clay is really not an evocative substance for beige lettuce sauce.

So, what is the story? I asked the maker of the most popular Rhode Island dressing brand in Sweden, Felix, why the dressing had that name. I got the following response:

Dear Ken,

Thank you for your e-mail and how nice to hear that you seem to appreciate our products!

Classic Rhode Island sauce has actually nothing to do with the state of Rhode Island in the US. It is a Swedish innovation by our well-known Swedish chef Tore Wretman. Wretman was also one of the founders of the Academy of Gastronomy. Tore came up with the basic recipe of Rhode Island Dressing which since then has been developed in many ways.

I hope you enjoy living in Sweden 🙂

Have a wonderful day!

Best regards,

Orkla Foods Sweden

Okay. Is it not immediately obvious that they – despite the interesting response – did not answer my question?

And when I went to Tore Wretman's Wikipedia page, this creation of his was not even deemed important enough to mention.

All of which leads me to the only possible conclusion. No one here can tell this occasionally homesick New Yorker why he is regularly accosted by reminders of a place near his home for which he is not at all sick. The reasons are just not known (one entertaining discussion that I found on the net conjectured that the original creator – who, as we just found out, was Tore Wretman – saw a blob that was roughly the shape of the State of Rhode Island upon first pouring it out on a surface, and so named it thus – but the likelihood, I think, of a chef in Sweden thinking first of the State of Rhode Island upon observing a salad dressing Rorschach test just seems to me to be very slim).

All of which leads me to my favorite response, offered up by a long-time Stockholmer when I asked her what she knew about the origin of the name. She looked at me a bit baffled and said, “Why? What is Rhode Island?”

This article was written by The Local's reader Ken Appleman. Would you like to share your story about life in Sweden with The Local? Get in touch with our editorial team at [email protected].

Swedish chef Tore Wretman (right). Photo: TT

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Should Sweden abandon a weak krona for the euro?

With the 20th anniversary of Sweden's euro referendum this month, the weak krona has revived the long dormant debate over Swedish membership. We look at why joining the single currency looks more attractive today.

Should Sweden abandon a weak krona for the euro?

The krona hitting rock bottom has reawakened a debate that had been dead for twenty years.

Hedge fund manager Christer Gardell kickstarted the debate before the New Year, when he said Sweden should abandon the krona, which was now “a shitty little currency”. In January, the Moderate Party grandee Gunnar Hökmark, chief of the Frivärld think-tank and long-term euro advocate, argued that Sweden should join.

Veteran economist Lars Calmfors, who chaired the government inquiry which in 1999 recommended that Sweden stay outside, made a similar call shortly afterwards. Carl Hammer, chief strategist at SEB, who had voted against joining in the 2003 referendum wrote in May that he, too, was now “leaning towards a ‘yes'” on euro membership. 

Now one of Sweden’s three government parties has started to campaign on the issue. The Liberal Party, long in theory in favour of euro membership, on September 4th called for a new government inquiry on joining the currency. 

“We can quite simply no longer afford to stay outside [the euro],” the party’s leader Johan Pehrson wrote in the Aftonbladet newspaper. “Let’s upgrade our EU membership from ‘basic’ to ‘premium’. Let’s bring in the euro now!'” 

Is it a hot topic? 

According to Calmfors and Hammer, the debate is raging in the circles they move in, but has yet to really spread to the general public. 

“Between 2010 and the end of last year, I don’t think I was asked even once to speak about Sweden and the euro. But now I have two or three invitations each week, and in fact six this week when we are approaching the 20th anniversary of the referendum.” 

“I see a lot of academic and business seminars on the weak krona,” Hammer agreed.

For both of them, the revival in interest has come about mainly due to the weakness of the krona, which Calmfors complained had been trading as if Sweden were a “banana republic”. And unlike during the 1999 internet crash or the 2007 financial crisis, when a drop in the krona helped bolster Sweden’s economy, this time the weak currency was causing problems. 

“Earlier it has benefitted us,” Calmfors said. “The krona depreciated and firms could gain market share. It helped stabilise output and employment,” he explained. “But this time, it’s different. Now, the depreciation of the krona counteracts the efforts of the Riksbank to get inflation down and reduce aggregate demand. So this time, it is a problem.” 

For Hammer, the weakness of the krona was more understandable, reflecting a flight to strong currencies in reaction to the war in Ukraine.

“Had we not had Ukraine, and had we not had other global issues, I think the krona would have been stronger,” he said.

Calmfors isn’t so certain about this, pointing out that the Swiss Franc, another small floating currency, has not been similarly weak. He does, however, see the invasion of Ukrainian as the second big reason why the euro debate has revived. 

“The war in Ukraine has made Swedes recalibrate our view of our position in the world,” he said. “The application for Nato membership is the most obvious evidence for this, but I think it spills over to the euro issue as well.”

Lars Calmfors, Professor Emeritus in Economics at Stockholm University. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT


1. Sweden’s government finances are much stronger

While the weak krona is the catalyst for the debate, for Calmfors, the improvement in Sweden’s government finances is a much better reason for sceptics to change their minds. 

When he submitted his report in 1999, his committee’s main argument against joining was the risk of a country-specific economic shock which would affect Sweden, but not other EU countries. Such a shock would be hard to combat if Sweden no longer had the freedom to set its own interest rates or devalue its currency. 

“We argued that (…) it’s good to have your own monetary policy, an exchange rate that can change,” he said. 

At that time, Sweden’s national debt was at 70-75 percent of GDP, well above the 60 percent that is the (increasingly theoretical) maximum for countries signed up to the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact.

“This was very important in the 1990s, because we had a sovereign debt crisis in Sweden, so fiscal policy could not be used as a substitute for monetary policy,” he remembered. 

Now, Sweden’s national debt is just 35 percent of GDP, well below that of France at 98 percent or Germany at 60 percent and, for Calmfors, this removes the biggest obstacle to joining, as Sweden’s government would be able to spend its way out of any country-specific shock.

“That’s very low in an international context, so we have a lot of fiscal firepower. No one would argue with us if we had an expansionary fiscal policy.” 

Hammer, arguing along the same lines, pointed out that in the years before and since the euro referendum, Sweden had never in fact suffered the sort of country-specific shock that Calmfors and his committee had worried about. The Riksbank, meanwhile, had always run a monetary policy in line with that of the European Central Bank. 

“For the past 30 years, Sweden has been living with a floating exchange rate but living as if we’ve had a fixed exchange rate,” he said. 

The country, he explained, had had strict limitations on government spending, a surplus target, a very coordinated and orderly wage bargaining process, and a fully funded pension system. “So if any country would have the room and possibility to live with a fixed exchange rate, it’s Sweden.”  

2. Businesses don’t use the krona anyway 

For Hammer, the biggest new argument against the krona is not so much improved government finances as the fact that Sweden’s big companies now barely use it.

And the same goes for Sweden’s pension funds.

“Large corporations don’t want to deal in the krona – they prefer to make transactions and trade in euros and dollars – and we channel a huge part of our surplus or excess savings into foreign asset markets,” he said. “So, we’ve already to some extent adopted foreign currencies, but we’ve also kept the krona, which from my perspective makes the arguments for having it less strong.”

It is this which has pushed him towards a “yes” despite continuing to believe that the euro is “a suboptimal currency union”.  

“I’m leaning towards voting yes if we were to have a new referendum on the basis that the foundation for the currency has been undermined by the fact that we’re so dependent on foreign currency,” he said. “From that perspective, I think, you can make a case for joining the euro on the grounds of greater financial stability.” 

3. After Brexit Sweden looks more and more alone

With the UK leaving the European Union altogether, Croatia joining the euro this year, Bulgaria scheduled to join in 2025, and Romania in 2026, the number of countries who are in the EU but not the eurozone is falling. 

“If you ask people, like Swedish commissioners in the EU or people that have been doing negotiations in in the EU, they have the view that we have lost out by not belonging to the core,” Calmfors said. “The risk that we will lose out probably becomes bigger, the greater the share of EU countries that adopt the euro.”

Carl Hammer, chief strategist at Sweden’s SEB Bank. Photo: SEB


1. The risk of country-specific shocks is real 

Just because Sweden has more fiscal firepower to deal with a country specific shock does not mean the risk of such shocks is not a major drawback to euro membership. 

Finland suffered one when Nokia, far and away the country’s biggest company, mismanaged its reaction to the launch of the iPhone and exited to the mobile phone business. Between 2008 and 2022 its debt to GDP ratio more than doubled from 33 percent to 74 percent. 

Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal arguably suffered from the issue during the European banking crisis.

As Sweden’s economy is unusually sensitive to interest rates, with much higher private debt and a high share of variable rate mortgages, the ECB could easily set an interest rate that, while right for most eurozone countries, would be too high for Sweden. 

“That could be a problem, but it’s also a problem that could be dealt with by using fiscal policy,” Calmfors argues. 

2. The risk of bank bailouts and country bailouts remains 

The other big argument against joining the euro, which was clearly demonstrated during the European debt crisis from 2009 until about 2014, is that Sweden would have to help bail out countries, such as Italy and Greece, which have been less disciplined in the management of their government finances. 

Joining the euro would also mean joining the European Banking Union, which means that Sweden might also have to participate in rescuing banks in countries with less well-functioning financial supervision.

Calmfors acknowledged that this was still a risk, but argued that members of the European Union who are not part of the eurozone were increasingly being asked to contribute to rescue packages anyway. 

“If you look at the support after the Covid crisis and during the Covid crisis, we had to pay that as well, even though we were not a member of the monetary union,” he said. 

And when it came to bank bailouts, Sweden was, he argued, as likely to benefit as to lose out, given the high indebtedness of Sweden’s citizens. 

“We might end up having to pay for bank crises in other countries. But on the other hand, we would also be helped if we had a financial crisis, which of course is not something we can rule out,” he said. 

Also, he said there might be an advantage in having banks and other financial services regulated by the European Central Bank and other European regulators, as a European regulator might have more expertise, there are many cross-border links between banks, and there would be less of a risk of a cosy relationship building up between local banks and the regulator.   


Calmfors argues that while the negative risks of adopting the euro have diminished, the advantages remain more or less the same. 

“The biggest benefit is of course that having different currencies is a kind of trade impediment and that would be eliminated, which would mean more trade, which would mean that we use our resources more efficiently, so it would give slightly higher growth over a long period, which, even if small each year, would accumulate to quite a lot in the long term.” 

Recent research suggested, he added, that this effect might be more significant than people previously thought. 

“Studies seem to point to much bigger effects than we expected in the 1990s. We’re talking about a 10 to 20 percent increase in trade, not from one year to another, but over a number of years,” he said. 

The problem with the debate over euro membership had always been, he concluded, that the benefits and risks were of such a different character. 

“You can’t really make an economic calculation, because you are comparing different things: We are comparing small, but certain positive gains – because there will be more trade that we will get slowly over years – with a risk of big macroeconomic shocks that can have huge effects over a few years.”

This makes it hard for economists to reach a firm conclusion. 

“You can’t really say what is right and wrong, but I think what you can say is that the balance has shifted in the direction of being a more positive calculation for being a member today than there was 25 years ago.”