Mjölk, Mjölk, Mjölk – The World of Swedish Milk

Honestly, I should have learned something about Sweden.

That is, I should now be master of the dairy section of a grocery store. Because I failed that, I am crawling back to become the master of the milk section of the Swedish grocery store. Folks, take heed, learning the different types of milk (mjölk på svenska) takes a highly skilled, milk loving ninja to figure it out. And so, I tried.

Just at the Coop (one of the local grocery stores), I counted 20 different milk-esque items (including different fat levels of the same type). Yes, madness. Bear with me as I try to explain all the pretty cartons of milk varietals.

mjölk, latte art, everything swedish milk
Regular milks comes in 1 liter cartons or 1.5 liter cartons. Easy to fit in the fridge, but a bitch to keep fresh. I noticed, once opened, this milk stays good for 5-6 days. But hey, they are recyclable, easy to break down, and stores neatly in the fridge. Just use a chip clip to keep it closed tight once the carton is open.
Milk also comes in different color boxes, in case you are lazy, just know the color.
Mjölk – The Red Box – The all american Swedish milk. It’s the regular milk at 3% fat.
Mellanmjölk – The Green Box – Slightly lower fat at 1.5% and literally means “middle milk”
Lättmjölk – The Blue Box – We would call this skim milk at .5% fat.
Minimjolk – The Yellow Box – Almost fat free milk at .1%.
Gammaldagsmjölk – “Old time milk” which is to say, this milk is pasteurized but not homogenized, which means the fat floats to the surface and you have to give it a good shake. (Thanks Melissa for this) Raw milk is pretty delicious stuff and slightly higher in fat than regular 3% milk.
Latte Art – As you can guess, this milk (in cartons that are blue or brown) is used to make lattes and hot drinks. Definitely worth it if you love lattes and hot chocolates.

Important Note: Emma pointed out that the colors don’t correspond to regional milks, like Skåne milk. The colors listed above are for the company Arla.
lots of types of Swedish fil
Matlagninsgrädde – Orange container – Light cream, ie. half and half in the US, that is 15% fat.
Vispgrädde – Red container – Heavy cream or heavy whipping cream that is 36% fat.

The Filmjölk Family

The wonder of Wikipedia is awesome yet again. I’ll summarize what they say though.

Fil is like yogurt but less thick and a bit less sour. Fil is a major part of Nordic dairy culture, not just Sweden. But they all basically taste the same some more fatty, some with flavors, some plain. People eat fil with musli, very tasty stuff. But some folks have filmjölk with knäckebröd or just with jam. Up to you.

a-fil– Comes unflavored and flavored and anywhere from 0.5-3% fat. The “A” comes from lactobacillus acidophilus, a probiotic bateria. It’s advertised as a more digestive friendly fil.
Långfil– Has a slightly elastic feel to it because of the Lactococcus bacteria. This fil comes only as unflavored and in 3% fat.
Aktivfil– Has active cultures in the fil.

Fil, fil, fil, and Onaka
Filmjölk – The standard fil that comes flavored and unflavored. This fil ranges from 2.5-3% in fat.
Mellanfil – Middle fil as you can call it. Comes only in unflavored version and is 1.5% fat.
Lättfil – Light fil that is .5% fat and comes in a variety of flavors. There is blåbär/hallon (blueberry/raspberry), persika/hallon (peach/raspberry), jordgubb (strawberry), smultron/jordgubb/vinbär, and lime/banana (umm, strangest combination).
Onaka – Made with bacteria that is supposedly popular in Japan, which never made any sense to me since the Japanese didn’t really drink dairy until recently.
Thanks to Melissa of HuntGatherLove for some of these updates.
Kefir – Eastern-style fil, popular in Russia. There’s a similar style fil in Iceland called Skyr. It is truly delicious goodness.
Fjäll – This is not fil, it is a thin rich yogurt. Hjortron (cloudberry) is supposedly delightful.
Hälsofil – Literally ‘healthy fil.’ It’s been approved by the Swedish Medicinal Products Agency since this fil helps with immune and digestive systems.

And for kicks…
Turkisk yogurt
Greek Yogurt
On your next visit to the grocery store with your recyclable plastic bag, experiment with some crazy milk or fil.

17 thoughts on “Mjölk, Mjölk, Mjölk – The World of Swedish Milk”

  1. *Head explodes* So overwhelming I tell you! Great guide, now to have it in a credit-card cheat sheet! :)

    Oh, you completely forgot the whole lactose free milk selection! ;)

  2. Well, I have still not figured out what the hell skimmed milk, semi-skimmed milk and other claims about milk are or mean in the Anglo countries. When I lived in Scotland it was almost impossible to find out what kind of percentage of fat it was so in the beginning I bought several cartons each time, one needed to be right…

    So this is good stuff, because I guess the same problem may exist the other way around for people coming to Sweden.

  3. According to my animal scientist Swedish roommates, Gammaldägs is still pasteurized, it’s just not homogenized, which means the fat floats to the surface and you have to give it a good shake…unless you are like me and you scrape the fat off to make butter with.

    Onaka is made with bacteria that is supposedly popular in Japan, which never made any sense to me since the Japanese didn’t really drink dairy until recently. Regardless, the green tea and ginger flavors are pretty good.

    F-fil has fiber in it.

    Fjäll is not fil, it’s a thin rich yogurt. The cloudberry flavor is soooooooooooooo good.

    Kefir is Eastern-style fil, popular in Russia.

    All the fils have active cultures, I think Aktivfil has several more probiotic cultures that are supposed to improve digestion. It’s also very low in fat. I always bought this when I had a stomach ache.

  4. I love this post Sapphire! Almost as much as I love milk. Well, dairy in general really. A morning just isn’t without dairy products, there has to be a re-take. The colour coding of the milk is brilliant, I agree, only there’s one problem with it – as I soon discovered upon moving to Malmö. The colours are regional. In Skåne the red carton is lättmjölk…uh-oh. I wasn’t impressed. I was so unimpressed I decided to move back home.

  5. Emma and Melissa – Thanks for the updates; I put them in the post.

    Andrew, I should make a mini cheet sheet to stick in the wallet!

    apocalypse nowish – most definitely those definitions are really confusing. In the US, milk does tell its fat contents, but sometimes it’s obscured on the label. BTW, I enjoy reading your blog a lot.

  6. The cloudberry (Hjortron) Fjäll yoghurt IS delightful. It’s Fil cousin – Fjällfil is pretty great too. Fat content is that which is natural for the milk it’s made from and vary between 3,8% and 4,5% depending on time of year. It tastes best with a spoon of cinnamon sprinkled on top. Mixing in some apple sauce with the fil is pretty great too. But don’t forget the cinnamon. Maybe you’d call that ground cinnamon or some such? Not cinnamon sticks! The powdery stuff.

    Cinnamon works great with Kefir and those other types of fil too, of course.

  7. Also, Sapphire, Klöver mjölk stays “good” (sorto) longer than regular milk. I.e. It’s pasteurized at a higher temperature than regular milk and stays the same longer – but starts out tasting less good in my opinion. It’s also cheaper than regular milk for some reason which I can’t figure out. There are regional variant of the same in places that does not carry Arla products. But I don’t know what they’re called. Basically; If the milk is sold in 1,5L cartons and is for some inexplicable reason cheaper than regular milk, it probably the type of milk that stays good for longer.

  8. One of the first times I was in Sweden I ventured to the supermarket to buy some supplies, including milk. Made my self some coffee. It took me a while to work out what was happening when I poured milk into the coffee and it sank to the bottom and stayed there! That was my first introduction to the wonders of filmjölk! I can buy the right stuff now (most of the time)…

  9. It is a sign of degeneration, unfortunately – Sweden is after all called “the nation of middle milk”…

  10. Yeah, I was also lost in the milk maze when I got here. Funny, it was one of the first things I blogged about too! I guess that’s how exotic it is.

    Japanese do drink drinks containing milk (though maybe it’s true that they haven’t been drinking fresh milk until lately). For one thing, there’s the Japanese Yakult which is like the Activia drinks they sell in Sweden with a bacteria called Lactobacilli Shirota strain. It’s pretty popular in the Philippines too, and it’s been around as “the japanese drink with bacterias” for as loooong as I can remember!

  11. hey great info on milk products there. Anyone know where in Stockholm you can purchase ‘raw milk’ i.e. unpastuirzed and unhomogenized, natural milk??

    i sink about 4-8 litres of this stuff per week in australia and desperate to find out where it is available to the consumer in sweden. (in australia, it is not stocked as a product for consumption, due to ridiculous legislation but is stocked as a ‘bathing agent’)


  12. Just became acquainted with a-fil in the Far north of Sweden. Fabulous stuff. Loved it. Such a shame that we can’t get it here. Although some clam you can get the same effect with 1 tsp of lemon juice – to 3/4 cup ordinary milk…. not sure but know that it won’t have the good bacteria.

  13. Thank you. My daaghter and are spending 2 1/2 days in Stockholm and staying at a hostel to save money. Arriving at 6 am and will be shopping at the COOP near the Central Station before going to the Hostel to kill time. I think we could get totally lost in the Mjölk section, especially since we both love milk, yogurt and Kefir. Now we will know what we are trying.

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