Swedish cuisine

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Due to Sweden's large north-south expanse there have always been regional differences in Swedish cuisine. Historically, in the far North, meats such as reindeer, and other (semi-) game dishes were eaten, some of which have their roots in the Sami culture, while fresh vegetables have played a larger role in the South. Many traditional dishes employ simple, contrasting flavours, such as the traditional dish of meatballs and brown cream sauce with tart, pungent lingonberry jam (slightly similar in taste to cranberry sauce).

Swedes have traditionally been very open to foreign influences, ranging from French cuisine during the 17th and 18th century, to the sushi and cafe latte of today.

General features

A traditional julbord, or Christmas table.

Swedish cuisine could be described as centered around cultured dairy products, crisp and soft (often sugared) breads, berries and stone fruits, beef, pork and seafood. Potatoes are often served as a side dish, often boiled. Swedish cuisine has a huge variety of breads of different shapes and sizes, made of rye, wheat, oat, white, dark, sour-dough, whole grain; soft flatbreads and crispbreads. There are many sweetened bread types and some use spices. Many meat dishes and especially meatballs are served with lingonberry jam. Fruit soups with high viscosity, like rose hip soup and blueberry soup (blåbärssoppa) served hot or cold, are typical of Swedish cuisine. Butter and margarine are the primary fat sources, although olive oil is becoming more popular. Sweden's pastry tradition features a variety of yeast buns, cookies, biscuits and cakes; many of them in a very sugary style and often eaten with coffee (fika) are enormously popular in Sweden.1

History

The dinnertable of Cajsa Warg (1703- 1769), a famous Swedish cookbook author.
Potato casserole called Janssons frestelse
Pickled herring, sour cream and chopped chives, potatoes and an egg half served at midsummer.
Surströmming, fermented herring served with boiled potatoes and salad

The importance of fish has governed Swedish population and trade patterns far back in history. For preservation, fish were salted and cured. Salt became a major trade item at the dawn of the Scandinavian middle ages, which began circa 1000 AD. Cabbage preserved as sauerkraut and various kinds of preserved berries, apples, etc. were used once as a source of vitamin C during the winter (today sauerkraut is very seldom used in Swedish cuisine). Lingonberry jam, still a favourite, may be the most traditional and typical Swedish way to add freshness to sometimes rather heavy food, such as steaks and stews.

Sweden's long winters explain the lack of fresh vegetables in many traditional recipes. In older times, plants that would sustain the population through the winters were cornerstones; various turnips such as the kålrot (rutabaga) (aptly named "swede" in British English) were gradually supplanted or complemented by the potato in the 18th century. A lack of distinct spices made every-day food rather bland by today's standards, although a number of local herbs and plants have been used since ancient times. This tradition is still present in today’s Swedish dishes, which are still rather sparingly spiced.

Both before and after this period, some new Germanic dishes were also brought in by immigrants, such as people related to the Hanseatic League, settling in Stockholm, Visby, and Kalmar. Swedish traders and aristocrats naturally also picked up some food traditions in foreign countries; cabbage rolls (kåldolmar) being one example. Cabbage rolls were introduced in Sweden by Karl XII who came in contact with this dish at the time of the Battle of Poltava and during his camp in the Turkish Bender and later introduced by his Ottoman creditors, who moved to Stockholm in 1716. Kåldolmar were already described in 1755, by Cajsa Warg, in her famous Hjelpreda i hushållningen för unga fruentimber.

Husmanskost

Gravlax on crisp bread with pepper and lemon
Pitepalt dumpling

Swedish husmanskost denotes traditional Swedish dishes with local ingredients, the classical every-day Swedish cuisine. The word husmanskost stems from husman, meaning "house owner" (without associated land), and the term was originally used for most kinds of simple countryside food outside of towns. Genuine Swedish husmanskost used predominantly local ingredients such as pork in all forms, fish, cereals, milk, potato, root vegetables, cabbage, onions, apples, berries etc.; beef and lamb were used more sparingly. Beside berries, apples are the most used traditional fruit, eaten fresh or served as apple pie, apple sauce, or apple cake. Time consuming cooking methods such as redningar (roux) and långkok (literally "long boil") are commonly employed and spices are sparingly used. Examples of Swedish husmanskost are pea soup (ärtsoppa), boiled and mashed carrots, potato and rutabaga served with pork (rotmos med fläsk), many varieties of salmon (such as gravlax, inkokt lax, fried, pickled), varieties of herring (most commonly pickled, but also fried, au gratin, etc.), fishballs (fiskbullar), meatballs (köttbullar), potato dumplings with meat or other ingredients (palt), potato pancake (raggmunk), varieties of porridge (gröt), a fried mix of pieces of potato, different kind of meats, sausages, bacon and onion (pytt i panna), meat stew with onion (kalops), and potato dumplings with a filling of onions and pork (kroppkakor). Many of the dishes would be considered comfort food for the nostalgic value.

Dishes akin to Swedish husmanskost and food traditions are found also in other Scandinavian countries; details may vary. Sweden is part of the vodka belt and historically distilled beverages, such as brännvin and snaps, have been a traditional daily complement to food. Consumption of wine in Sweden has increased during the last fifty years, partly at the expense of beer and stronger alcoholic beverages. In many countries, locally produced wines are combined with local husmanskost.

Husmanskost has undergone a renaissance during the last decades as well known (or famous) Swedish chefs, such as Tore Wretman, have presented modernised variants of classical Swedish dishes. In this nouvel husman the amount of fat (which was needed to sustain hard manual labour in the old days) is reduced and some new ingredients are introduced. The cooking methods are tinkered with as well, in order to speed up the cooking process and/or enhance the nutritional value or flavor of the dishes. Many Swedish restaurateurs mix traditional husmanskost with a modern, gourmet approach.

Dishes

Swedish traditional dishes, some of which are many hundreds of years old, others perhaps a century or less, are still a very important part of Swedish everyday meals, in spite of the fact that modern day Swedish cuisine adopts many international dishes. Internationally, the most renowned Swedish culinary tradition is the smörgåsbord and, at Christmas, the julbord, including well known Swedish dishes such as gravlax and meatballs. In Sweden, traditionally, Thursday has been soup day because the maids had half the day off and soup was easy to prepare in advance. One of the most traditional Swedish soups, ärtsoppa is still served in many restaurants and households every Thursday,2 a tradition since the middle ages. Ärtsoppa is a the yellow pea soup, served together with pancakes. This is a simple meal, a very thick soup, basically consisting of boiled yellow peas, a little onion, salt and small pieces of pork. It is often served with mustard and followed by thin pancakes (see pannkakor). The Swedish Armed Forces also serve their conscripts pea soup and pancakes every Thursday. Potatoes are eaten year-round as the main source of carbohydrates, and are a staple in many traditional dishes. Not until the last 50 years have pasta or rice become common on the dinner table. There are several different kinds of potatoes: the most appreciated is the new potato, a potato which ripens in early summer, and is enjoyed at the traditional mid-summer feast. New potatoes at midsommer are served with pickled herring, chives, sour cream, and the first strawberries of the year are traditionally served as dessert. The most highly regarded mushroom in Sweden is the chanterelle, which is considered a delicacy. The chanterelle is usually served as a side dish together with steaks, or fried with onions and sauce served on an open sandwich. Second to the chanterelle, and considered almost as delicious, is the porcini mushroom, or karljohansvamp, named after Charles XIV John (Karl XIV Johan) who introduced its use as food. In August, at the traditional feast known as kräftskiva, crayfish party, Swedes eat large amounts of crayfish, boiled and then marinated in a broth with salt, a little bit of sugar, and a large amount of dill weed. Some Swedish dishes are:

Meals

Meals consists of breakfast in the early morning (frukost), a light lunch before noon (lunch), and a heavy dinner (middag) around six or seven in the evening. It is also common to have a snack, often a sandwich or fruit, in between meals (mellanmål). In all schools including high school, a hot meal is served at lunch as part of Sweden's welfare state. Most Swedes also have a coffee break in the afternoon, often together with a pastry.

Breakfast

An open sandwich with hard-boiled eggs and cod roe caviar from a tube.
Swedish knäckebröd, or crisp bread.

Breakfast usually consists of open sandwiches, possibly crisp bread (knäckebröd). The sandwich is most often buttered, with toppings such as hard cheese, cold cuts, caviar, messmör (a sweet spread made from butter and whey), ham (skinka), and tomatoes or cucumber.3 Filmjölk (fermented milk), or sometimes yogurt, is also traditional breakfast food, usually served in a bowl with cereals such as corn flakes, muesli, or knäckebröd, and sometimes with sugar, fruit, and/or jam. Porridge is sometimes eaten at breakfast, made of rolled oats eaten with milk and jam or cinnamon with sugar.3 Common drinks for breakfast are milk, juice, tea, or coffee. Swedes are among the most avid milk and coffee drinkers in the world. Swedes sometimes have sweet toppings on their breads, such as jam (like the French and Americans), or chocolate (like the Danes), although many older Swedes chose not to use these sweet toppings. However, orange marmalade on white bread is common, usually with morning coffee or tea.

Many traditional kinds of Swedish bread, such as sirapslimpa (less fashionable today, but still very popular) are somewhat sweetened in themselves, baked with small amounts of syrup.3 Like in many other European countries, there are also lots of non-sweetened breads, often made with sourdough (surdeg). Swedish breads may be made from wholegrain, fine grain, or anything in between, and there are white, brown, and really dark (like in Finland) varieties which are all common. "Barkis" or "bergis" is a localised version of challah usually made without eggs and at first only available in Stockholm and Göteborg where Jews first settled but now available elsewhere.

Main courses

A traditional Christmas ham in modern Sweden
A plate of smörgåstårta, or sandwich-cake, usually a party dish
A plate with isterband (sausage), mashed potato, pickled beets and saurkraut
Crayfish party called Kräftskiva
Chanterelles often grow near birch trees
Black pudding from Sweden
Swedish English Definition
Ärtsoppa Yellow Pea soup.
Blåbärspalt Dumplings with blueberries.
Blodpalt Dumplings made out of blood
Blodpudding Black pudding The Swedish name literally means "blood pudding". Sweetened and spiced, it is eaten with lingonberry jam, and sometimes bacon.
Blodkorv Blood sausage Other than pig blood, the ingredients include flour, pork, raisins and spices.
Bruna bönor och fläsk A classical Swedish dish consisting of pork with stewed brown beans.
Falukorv Sausage, big and thick, originating from Falun. The lifts and pumps at the Kopparberg copper mine in Falun were, during the 16th and 17th centuries before the introduction of steam engines, powered by oxen. When these oxen died from strain or old age, the skin was turned into leather ropes used in the mine, and some of the meat was turned into Falukorv sausages.
Fiskbullar Fishballs, made from minced white fish meat.
Fläskkorv Sausages, pork.
Fläskpannkaka A thick pancake with diced pork, baked in a form in the oven.
Flygande Jacob Casserole based on chicken with bananas, peanuts and bacon. "Invented" in the 1970s.
Gravlax Salmon cured with salt and sugar with herbs.
Grisfötter Pigs' trotters served with rödbetor.
Inkokt lax Boiled salmon, together with onion and carrots, in a mixture of water, vinegar, salt, sugar and some other spices. Usually eaten cold, commonly together with mayonnaise spiced with dill and lemon.
Inlagd sill Herring pickled by the use of Acetic acid, water, sugar, ground allspice, red onion, carrot and salt.
Isterband Sausage, from Småland, made of coarsely ground pork, barley and potatoes. It is prepared by first fermenting it and then lightly smoking it. This method of cooking creates a distinct, both acidic and slightly smoky flavor. It's traditionally eaten with dill-stewed potatoes and pickled beetroot.
Janssons frestelse Jansson's temptation. Potato casserole made of grated potatoes, onion, "anchovy" and cream; the fish used is usually the sprat, a different species, but similarly spiced.4
Julskinka Cured ham, boiled and breaded with mustard, bread crumbs and egg, translates as Christmas ham. The Swedish equivalent to Christmas turkey.
Kåldolmar Cabbage rolls. These are a Swedish variation of the Turkish dolma, and date back to when Charles XII returned to Sweden from the Ottoman Empire.5
Kalops Meat stewed with onion, vegetables and spices.
Korv Stroganoff Sliced sausage pieces served in a creamy tomato sauce, a Swedish variation of Beef Stroganoff.
Köttsoppa med klimp Soup, made from beef and root vegetables, served with klimp, a distinct Swedish dumpling.
Kroppkakor Dumplings made of pre-boiled potatoes, filled with pork.
Leverpalt Dumplings with liver.
Lutfisk Lye fish made of stockfish.
Palt Dumplings made of unboiled potatoes, filled with pork.
Paltbröd A type of tunnbröd baked with blood. Traditionally served leached with white sauce and fried pork.
Pannkakor A thin pancake fried in an ordinary frying pan. In some parts of Sweden, all thin pancakes are called "plättar".
Pitepalt Dumplings from Piteå.
Plättar A "plätt" is a very small pancake, usually made in a "plättlagg", a sort of normal size frying pan with indentations to allow for several (normally seven) to be made at once. See Pannkakor
Pölsa Similar to hash or Scottish haggis without casing.
Prinskorv Small sausages, hot dog style.
Pyttipanna Mix of chopped and fried meat, onions, pre-boiled potatoes, often prepared from left-overs. Other ingredients are often added as well, such as sausages, bacon or even salmon (instead of the meat).
Raggmunk Potato pancakes.
Rotmos med fläsk Mashed rutabaga, potatoes, carrots served with long-boiled salted pork loin.
Smörgåstårta Sandwich cake Like a very big multi-layer sandwich. Comes with many different fillings and toppings.
Stekt fläsk med löksås och potatis Pork with onion sauce and potatoes.
Stekt strömming Fried herring. Fileted fresh herring, two filets put flesh to flesh, skin out, with dill, salt and ground white pepper between and breadcrumbs on the outside, and then fried in butter until golden. Eaten with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam. Very different from surströmming.
Surströmming Fermented Baltic herring Being fermented, Surströmming has a strong odor and unique flavour and is considered an acquired taste even among Swedes.
Wallenbergare Patty of ground veal, cream, eggs and coated in breadcrumbs.

Seafood

A limited range of fish and other seafood is an important part of the Swedish cuisine. Farmed salmon from Norway has become increasingly popular. And pickled, sweetened herring, inlagd sill, is the most traditional of Swedish appetizers. Shrimp and lobster are specialties of the Skagerrak coast. There is also the fermented baltic herring that with its pungent aroma is both loved and hated - in Swedish: surströmming.

Desserts

Christmas dessert, called Ris à l'amande ("Ris à la Malta").
Spettekaka

Common desserts include:

Swedish English Definition
Ostkaka Swedish cheesecake (very different from American cheesecake).
Äggost A dish originating from Bohuslän. In the southern parts of the county it is traditionally served as a dessert along with whipped cream, sugar and blackberry jam, but in the northern parts it is usually seen as a main dish or breakfast and often served with pickled herring.
Gotländsk saffranspannkaka Rice pudding dessert with saffron originating in Gotland, usually served with jam and/or whipped cream, or dewberry jam.
Smulpaj crumb pie Various kinds of pies and cookies are typical desserts, mostly served with coffee. Typical pies are apple pie, blueberry pie and rhubarb pie.
Smördegspaj Butter dough based pie.
Pannkaka Pancakes are almost never served for breakfast ("American style") but either as dessert with sweet jam and/or whipped cream, or as a meal in itself, using fewer sweet toppings. (Pancakes for dinner can be thick oven-baked pancakes with pork meat or apples inside.)
Spettekaka A sweet dry hollow Swedish cake, shaped like a cylinder, and similar to Meringue, found only in a southern province of Sweden, Scania.
Våfflor Waffles Often served with jam and whipped cream or ice cream. Waffles also have their own day on March 25.
Klappgröt Semolina pudding mixed with juice from either red currant, lingonberries, raspberries, blackberries etc. and then stirred or blended until the texture is fluffier. Eaten cold.

Pastries and treats

In recent years, American brownies, cookies and cup-cakes have become popular in cafés and restaurants.citation needed

Cinnamon roll (Kanelbulle)
Princess cake (Prinsesstårta)
Budapest pastry (Budapestbakelse)
Napoleon pastry (Napoleonbakelse)

Kaffebröd (coffee bread)

Bakelser and other types of kaffebröd (or more colloquially "fikabröd") are various forms of pastries, pieces of cake, cookies and buns that are usually consumed, with coffee (see fika). Popular kinds of kaffebröd available in a traditional Swedish konditori (coffee shop / patisserie) include:

Swedish English Definition
Kanelbulle Cinnamon roll with cardamom dough
Wienerbröd A Danish pastry; comes in several varieties and shapes; very similar to a Danish pastry in the US.
Chokladboll Chocolate ball. A round chocolate-flavored butter ball with oatmeal-cocoa-sugar-, coated in coconut flakes or pearl sugar. Chokladboll is something of a misnomer as it contains no cocoa butter.
Kringla A small pretzel-shaped (sweet) cookie with pearl sugar on top.
Punschrulle Punsch-roll A small cylindrical pastry covered with green marzipan with the ends dipped in chocolate, and inside a mix of crushed cookies, butter, and cacao, flavoured with punsch liqueur. This pastry is often called dammsugare ("vacuum cleaner"), referring not only to its appearance, but also to the practice of the pastry baker collecting crumbs from the day's cookies to make the filling. Other names are arraksrulle (as arrak is an ingredient in punsch) and "150-ohmer" (owing to the brown-green-brown coloring).
Biskvi A small round pastry with a base :made from almonds and sugar, filled with butter cream and covered with a thin layer of chocolate. First made in France during the 19th century.
Prinsesstårta Princess Cake A large cake, made of sponge cake layered with whipped cream, and custard under a green marzipan coating with powdered sugar on the top; often decorated with a pink marzipan rose.
Budapestbakelse Budapest pastry Basically made from sugar, egg white, hazelnuts, whipped cream, and pieces of fruit like apricot or mandarine, decorated with a little chocolate and powdered sugar.
Napoleonbakelse Napolitain Made of pastry dough, whipped cream, custard and jam, topped with icing and currant jelly.
Napoleon pastry
Kladdkaka A chocolatey and sticky flat cake.
Arraksboll A ball flavored with arrak, similar in appearance to a chokladboll but very different taste.

Treats

Saffron bun, also called St Lucia bun (Lussebulle)
A gingerbread house
Saffranspankaka, rice cake with saffron, a dessert from Gotland

In the summer, various seasonal fruit cakes are common. Strawberry and cream cake are highly regarded. Strawberries are also often eaten on their own with sugar and milk or cream. In the late summer and autumn, apple cakes and pies are baked. The apple cake is often served with vanilla custard, but sometimes with ice cream or whipped cream.

During the winter holidays, traditional candy and pastries include:

Treats Definition
Knäck Christmas toffee.
Ischoklad Coconut oil mixed with chocolate.
Marmelad "Marmalade candy", rectangular fruit and pectin based candy in various colours.
Lussekatt Saffron bun, a Swedish saffron bun eaten on the Saint Lucia celebration (13 December).
Pepparkaka Similar to a ginger snaps (has been eaten since the 14th century and baked at the monastery of Vadstena since 1444); associated with Christmas but consumed all year round.
Semla With the new year, the fastlagsbulle (Lenten bun), or semla, is baked. It is a wheat bun with a cream and almond paste filling, traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday.1

Candy

Salty liquorice gelatine fish, a typical Swedish candy

Other typical Swedish candy includes:

Candy Definition
Saltlakrits Liquorice candy flavoured with ammonium chloride.
Polkagris Traditional peppermint stick candy from Gränna, also made in other flavours.
Ahlgrens bilar A marshmallow candy shaped like a car. Marketed as "Sweden's most purchased car" (Swedish: Sveriges mest köpta bil).
Sockerbitar Similar to square, chewy marshmallows.
Geléhallon An early form of gelatine-based candy.
Daim Formerly called Dime in the UK.

Drinks

Sweden is one of the top 10 heaviest coffee drinking countries in the world. Milk consumption in Sweden is also very high, second only to Finland. Milk is bought in milk cartons, and it is no coincidence that Tetra Pak, the world's largest maker of milk cartons, was founded in Sweden. Milk is considered the standard drink to have with meals during weekdays in many families, for both children and adults.

Christmas beverages

Julmust
Drink Definition
Mumma A traditional Christmas beverage.6 Usually a mix of porter or another dark beer, some light beer (pilsner), port wine (or some other wine), and something sweet (sockerdricka or julmust); commonly spiced with cardamom.7
Glögg Mulled wine

Sweet drinks

A cup of blueberry soup, (blåbärssoppa) topped with cereals
Swedish English Definition
Blåbärssoppa Sweet soup or drink made from bilberries, served either hot or cold.
Enbärsdricka Juniper berry soft drink
Sockerdricka "sugar-drink" Sweet-sour soft drink (carbonated)
Fruktsoda Traditional lemon-lime soft drink (carbonated)
Champis Soft drink alternative to sparkling wine (carbonated)
Pommac
Trocadero Soft drink with the taste of apple and oranges, with its roots in the north of Sweden.
Julmust Sweet seasonal carbonated soft drink (jul means Christmas in Swedish).
Lingondricka Lingonberry drink.

Fruit soups

Rose hip soup

Fruit soups, especially rose hip soup and bilberry soup, are eaten or drunk, usually hot during the winter.

Liquor

Absolut Vodka in different flavours

The most important of stronger beverages in the Swedish cuisine is Brännvin which is a general term that includes mainly two kinds of beverages: The Akvavit, and the Vodka. When consumed traditionally it is often served as a Snaps, but Vodka is also popularly consumed as a drink ingredient. Renat is often considered to be the national vodka of Sweden, but other highly popular brands are Explorer Vodka and Absolut Vodka, the latter being one of the world's best known liquor brands. Most forms of Brännvin have around 40% alcohol.

The production of hard liquor has a tradition dating back to the 18th century and was at a high in the 1840s. Since the 1880s, the state-owned Systembolaget has a monopoly on selling spirits with more than 3.5% alcohol, limiting access. Hembränt (moonshine) used to be made in rural Sweden, but production has lessened in recent years due to more liberal rules for the import of alcohol as well as increased smuggling.

Punsch is a traditional liqueur in Sweden that was immensely popular during the 19th century. It was adopted as the drink of choice by universitystudents and many traditional songs from that time are about the consumption of punsch or are meant to be sung during the collective festivities that were part of the cultural life in the universities' student associations at the time and still is.

Beer

Beer is also widely consumed in Sweden and the typical Swedish beer is lager beer of a bright and malty kind. The brands Pripps Blå and Norrlands Guld are common examples. In the last few decades, many small breweries (microbreweries) have emerged all over Sweden offering a wide range of styles and brands. Nils Oscar Brewery, Dugges Ale och Porterbryggeri and Närke Kulturbryggeri are examples of these young Swedish microbreweries. Many microbreweries in Sweden are inspired by the US craft beer movement, brewing American styles and/or styles commonly associated with American craft breweries, e.g. American Pale Ale and American IPA.

Food and society

Different flavored potato chips by the Swedish snack manufacturer Estrella.

Brödinstitutet (The Bread Institute) once campaigned with a quotation from the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, recommending8 eating 6 to 8 slices of bread daily. Drinking milk9 has also been recommended and campaigned for by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare; it's often recommended to drink two10 to three glasses of milk per day.111213 52% of Swedes surveyed drink milk at least once a day,14 usually one glass with lunch and another glass or two in the evening or morning.

Low-fat products, wholemeal bread and other alternatives are common — grocery stores usually sell milk in four or five different fat levels, from 3% to 0.1%.15

See also

References

Further reading

  • Schildt-Lundgren, Margareta (2000) Simply Swedish. ISBN 91-974561-7-9
  • Widenfelt, Sam, ed. (1950) Swedish Food. Gothenburg: Esselte

External links








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