A Brief History of Swedish Fish

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The friendly Swedish Fish are a staple of the US candy scene, a denizen of nearly every movie theater counter and convenience store. But where did they come from? And why fish? Why not Swedish Reindeer? Or Geese? There isn't a lot of research on Swedish Fish out there, but here's what we got:

In the Beginning"¦

Out of the primordial ooze of the sugar sea, from whence the flora and fauna of the gummy earth have evolved, come the Swedish Fish. The Swedish Fish belongs to the genus of wine gums, a firmer version of gummy candy that, rather disappointingly, contains no wine, but is still extremely popular in Europe. It is also one of the few gummy-like candies that does not contain gelatin, making it an actually vegetarian food.

fishiesThe Fish first washed up on US shores in the late 1950s, an import from Swedish confectionery company Malaco. At the time, Malaco was looking to expand into North America with its varieties of wine gum and licorice-based candies. The fish-shaped candies—called "Swedish Fish" because, well, they were Swedish and the fishing industry in Sweden was very large—were developed specifically for the US and Canadian markets and proved almost immediately popular. Swedish Fish then became firmly entrenched in US candy culture in the 1960s and "˜70s.

In the US, Swedish Fish are currently owned and distributed by candy manufacturer Cadbury Adams. The fish come in the traditional "red" flavor, as well as green, orange, purple and yellow, each with the word "Swedish" branded into their side. (At least one person is agitating for an additional color, blue.) According to Cadbury, 7,000 metric tons of Swedish Fish are produced each year; that many fish weigh as much as 1,929 orca whales, they claim.

In Sweden, the fish-shaped wine gums are called "pastellfiskar" ("pale-colored fishes") and are distributed by Malaco; they also come in salmiak, a black salty licorice flavor that is evidently hugely popular in Sweden because it's everywhere.

A Friend You Can Eat

No, this isn't the Swedish version of Alive—it's the tagline for Swedish Fish. (Check out swedishfish.com to see this ad campaign in action.) My personal favorite Swedish Fish commercial is Kitten Sandwich:

Swedish Fish—On Ice

This past summer, with much, much ado, the Philadelphia-based icy treat chain Rita's Water Ice introduced a new flavor to their Italian ice line up. Vaguely cherry-ish and definitely red, the Swedish Fish flavor was available for only a limited time, but it made an indelible mark on the Swedish Fish-loving populace. Bloggers dedicated much virtual ink to the terrifyingly red concoction.

It Was This Big!

big-fishWhile not commercially available, this giant Swedish Fish—really, a fish-shaped gummy—weighed in at six pounds and was the expression of a brother's love for his sister. This does seem exactly like the kind of thing a brother would make for his sister on the occasion of her birth. [Read the whole story over at CrunchGear.]

What About Real Swedish Fish?

Fish are a major part of the Swedish diet, which shouldn't be too surprising, given that Sweden is home to one of the world's major archipelagos. But there's one Swedish fish dish that isn't likely to leave Swedish shores. Surstromming is a traditional dish that is essentially fermented herring that's been left to rot for several months in big barrels, before being tinned. The delicacy has been banned from several major airlines for its incredibly strong smell and the potential that the tins might actually explode in pressurized conditions.

October 28, 2009 - 9:40am
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