A Brief History of Swedish Fish

Per-Olof Forsberg, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Per-Olof Forsberg, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The friendly Swedish Fish are a staple of the U.S. 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 know.

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 "starch jellies," a firmer version of gummy candy that doesn’t contain gelatin, making it a popular vegetarian food (another term for this type of candy is frequently wine gum, but rather confusingly, many wine gums—a type of candy that contains no wine—do actually contain gelatin.)

The Fish first washed up on U.S. 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 starch 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 U.S. and Canadian markets and proved almost immediately popular. Swedish Fish then became firmly entrenched in U.S. candy culture in the 1960s and '70s.

In the U.S., 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, and yellow, each with the word Swedish branded into their side. 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.

SWEDISH FISH—ON ICE

In 2009, the Pennsylvania-based icy treat chain Rita's Italian 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. Soon, other companies got into the Swedish Fish game, like Oreo came out with their limited release version and Trident has a Swedish Fish gum.

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. Surströmming 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.

A version of this story ran in 2009.

20 Attempts to Describe the Taste of Durian, the World’s Smelliest Fruit

iStock.com/Worradirek
iStock.com/Worradirek

The durian is a beloved delicacy in Malaysia, Singapore, and other parts of Southeast Asia. Its taste and smell, however, take some getting used to. The creamy fruit is notoriously potent—in fact, it’s so smelly that Singapore’s public transit systems tell passengers not to bring them onto subways or buses. And yet, despite its stinky reputation, it can be found practically everywhere: In curries, cakes, and even ice cream. For visitors, biting into the fruit can be an utterly confusing and contradictory experience. Here are some outsider opinions from the past 400 years.

1. “The flesh is as white as snow, exceeds in delicacy of taste of all our best European fruits, and none of ours can approach it.” —Jacques de Bourges, 17th Century Missionary

2. “Comparisons have been made with the civet cat, sewage, stale vomit, onions, and cheese; while one disaffected visitor to Indonesia declared that the eating of the flesh was not much different from having to consume used surgical swabs.” —The Oxford Companion to Food

3. “Tastes lightly sweet and deeply musky.” —Frommer’s Guide to Malaysia

4. “[I]ts odor is best described as pig-sh*t, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away.” —Richard Sterling, food writer

5. "To eat it seems to be the sacrifice of self-respect.” —Bayard Taylor, 19th-century Journalist

6. “To anyone who doesn’t like durian it smells like a bunch of dead cats. But as you get to appreciate durian, the smell is not offensive at all. It’s attractive. It makes you drool like a mastiff.” —Bob Halliday, Bangkok-based food writer

7. “Vomit-flavoured custard.” —The Rough Guide to Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei

8. “The smell of rotten eggs is so overwhelming. I suppress a gag reaction as I take a bite.” —Robb Walsh, food writer

9. “Like all the good things in Nature … durian is indescribable. It is meat and drink and an unrivalled delicacy besides, and you may gorge to repletion and never have cause for penitence. It is the one case where Nature has tried her hand at the culinary art and beaten all the CORDON BLEUE out of heaven and earth.” —a "good friend" of Edmund J. Banfield, Australian Naturalist, as quoted in Banfield's 1911 book My Tropic Isle

10. “[Has a] sewer-gas overtone.” —Maxine E. McBrinn, Anthropologist

11. “Like pungent, runny French cheese … Your breath will smell as if you’d been French kissing your dead grandmother.” —Anthony Bourdain, Chef and Host of Parts Unknown

12. “On first tasting it, I thought it like the flesh of some animal in a state of putrefaction, but after four or five trials I found the aroma exquisite.” —Henri Mouhot, French Naturalist, in Travels in the Central Parts of Indo-China: Siam, Cambodia, and Laos, During the Years 1858, 1859, and 1860

13. “[Like] eating ice cream in an outhouse.” —As reported in Jerry Hopkins's Strange Foods

14. “I must say that I have never tasted anything more delicious. But not everyone can enjoy or appreciate this strange fruit for the disgusting smell that distinguishes it and that is apt to cause nausea to a weak stomach. Imagine to have under your nose a heap of rotten onion and you will still have but a faint idea of the insupportable odour which emanates from these trees and when its fruit is opened the offensive smell becomes even stronger.” —Giovanni Battista Cerruti, Italian Explorer, in 1908's My Friends the Savages

15. “It tastes like completely rotten mushy onions.” —Andrew Zimmern, Host of Bizarre Foods

16. “Like eating raspberry blancmange in the lavatory.” —Anthony Burgess, Novelist

17. “A rich custard highly flavored with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavor that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes." —Alfred Russel Wallace, 19th-century British Naturalist

18. “You will either be overcome, seduced by its powerful, declarative presence, or reject it outright. And run screaming." —Monica Tan, The Guardian Journalist

19. “Carrion in custard.” —A “Governor of the Straits” quoted in 1903's Hobson-Jobson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive

20. “Yes, I freely admit that when ripe it can smell like a dead animal. Yes, the fruit is difficult to handle, bearing likeness to a medieval weapon. But get down to the pale yellow, creamy flesh, and you’ll experience overtones of hazelnut, apricot, caramelized banana and egg custard. That’s my attempt at describing durian. But words fail; there is no other fruit like it.” —Thomas Fuller, New York Times Journalist

What Is Nougat?

iStock.com/InaTs
iStock.com/InaTs

If you've ever had a Snickers, Three Musketeers, or Milky Way bar, you know what nougat tastes like. The sweet, creamy concoction can range in texture from chewy to fluffy, and it is the star ingredient in many popular candy bars. But aside from being delicious, what is nougat exactly?

In its simplest form, nougat is made of two basic ingredients: egg whites and a sweetener, traditionally sugar or honey. The signature texture comes from how it's prepared. Like a meringue, eggs and sugar are whipped together quickly until the mixture is aerated and stiff.

Nougat predates mass-produced candy bars, with the confection originating in the Middle East around the 8th century. It spread to southern Europe and gained widespread popularity in 17th-century France. Nougat is still a common component in many Middle Eastern desserts today, and torrone, a type of nougat containing nuts like almonds and pistachios, is enjoyed in Italy around Christmastime.

As more large candy companies have embraced nougat, its quality has suffered over the years, with corn syrup often standing in for the sweetener. But you don't need to head to the candy aisle of your local supermarket to get your nougat fix. If you have eggs and honey in your kitchen, you can make nougat at home today.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER