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.

The Reason White Castle Slider Burgers Have Five Holes

White Castle
White Castle

While it’s not often mentioned in conversations about the best fast food burger on the menu alongside staples like Shake Shack or In-N-Out, the White Castle slider burger still holds a special place in the stomachs of those who enjoy their bite-sized convenience. In 2014, TIME even named the slider the most influential burger of all time, with its debut in 1921 helping begin our nation’s obsession with fast-service burgers.

Peel the bun off a White Castle burger and you’ll find the square meat patty has exactly five holes. Why? Thrillist writer Wil Fulton went looking for an answer to this gastronomic mystery. It turns out that the holes serve a very functional purpose.

In 1954, a Cincinnati-based White Castle employee named Earl Howell stuffed his location’s suggestion box with a note that said the patties might cook more quickly if they were pierced. The reason? The franchise steams its burgers on the grill, and the holes allow the steam to better penetrate the stacks of patties (usually 30 burgers tall) that are piled on the grill at one time. No one has to flip the burgers, and they wind up coming out of the kitchen faster. The steam also picks up the flavor of the onion acting as a bottom layer, allowing it to spread through the stack.

Howell’s idea soon spread from Ohio to White Castle restaurants nationwide. The company facilitates the creation of the holes by puncturing a “meat log” and then slicing it and sending the patties to locations.

If you enjoy their distinctive flavor, the holes have a lot to do with it. Enjoy.

[h/t Thrillist]

Why Do We Eat Candy on Halloween?

Jupiterimages/iStock via Getty Images
Jupiterimages/iStock via Getty Images

On October 31, hordes of children armed with Jack-o'-lantern-shaped buckets and pillow cases will take to the streets in search of sugar. Trick-or-treating for candy is synonymous with Halloween, but the tradition had to go through a centuries-long evolution to arrive at the place it is today. So how did the holiday become an opportunity for kids to get free sweets? You can blame pagans, Catholics, and candy companies.

Historians agree that a Celtic autumn festival called Samhain was the precursor to modern Halloween. Samhain was a time to celebrate the last harvest of the year and the approach of the winter season. It was also a festival for honoring the dead. One way Celtics may have appeased the spirits they believed still walked the Earth was by leaving treats on their doorsteps.

When Catholics infiltrated Ireland in the 1st century CE, they rebranded many pagan holidays to fit their religion. November 1 became the “feasts of All Saints and All Souls," and the day before it was dubbed "All-Hallows'-Eve." The new holidays looked a lot different from the original Celtic festival, but many traditions stuck around, including the practice of honoring the dead with food. The food of choice for Christians became "soul cakes," small pastries usually baked with expensive ingredients and spices like currants and saffron.

Instead of leaving them outside for passing ghosts, soul cakes were distributed to beggars who went door-to-door promising to pray for souls of the deceased in exchange for something to eat. Sometimes they wore costumes to honor the saints—something pagans originally did to avoid being harassed by evil spirits. The ritual, known as souling, is believed to have planted the seeds for modern-day trick-or-treating.

Souling didn't survive the holiday's migration from Europe to the United States. In America, the first Halloween celebrations were a way to mark the end-of-year harvest season, and the food that was served mainly consisted of homemade seasonal treats like caramel apples and mixed nuts. There were no soul cakes—or candies, for that matter—to be found.

It wasn't until the 1950s that trick-or-treating gained popularity in the U.S. Following the Great Depression and World War II, the suburbs were booming, and people were looking for excuses to have fun and get to know their neighbors. The old practice of souling was resurrected and made into an excuse for kids to dress up in costumes and roam their neighborhoods. Common trick-or-treat offerings included nuts, coins, and homemade baked goods ("treats" that most kids would turn their noses up at today).

That changed when the candy companies got their hands on the holiday. They had already convinced consumers that they needed candy on Christmas and Easter, and they were looking for an equally lucrative opportunity to market candy in the fall. The new practice of trick-or-treating was almost too good to be true. Manufacturers downsized candies into smaller, bite-sized packages and began marketing them as treats for Halloween. Adults were grateful to have a convenient alternative to baking, kids loved the sweet treats, and the candy companies made billions.

Today, it's hard to imagine Halloween without Skittles, chocolate bars, and the perennial candy corn debates. But when you're digging through a bag or bowl of Halloween candy this October, remember that you could have been having eating soul cakes instead.

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

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