Sweden’s Dagen H – Leaving the Brits Left to Go Right

Forty five years ago today, Sweden switched it’s traffic from left hand side (like in the UK) to the right side of the road. After all, Sweden’s Scandinavian neighbors were on the right side of the road, most of Europe was on the right side of the road (props for Britain being the special one), and Swedish cars had left hand steering.

That’s right, errr, left. Saab and Volvo built their cars with left hand steering for drivers who drove on the left side of road.

You would think with a double blind spot, there would be a myriad of accidents. That was the government said. That was what all the campaigns said. “Switch to the right side of the road, and we’ll have less accidents.”

That worked for four years from Dagen H when traffic accidents fell. Then it was business as usual for cars to smash into each other again. And still remains today.

Göteborg on Dagens-H via GP

The campaign to switch Sweden to the right side of the road battled for more than forty years. And for forty years the people voted for against the measure. In 1955 through a public referendum, the measure lost 15.5% to 82.9%. More than two million Swedes said no to the right side. They wanted to be cool like the Brits.

But in 1963, the Riksdag voted for the switch. They created a new commiteee, Högertrafikkommission, to oversee the switching of every road sign, bus stop and traffic signal in the country. Dagen H {Right hand side traffic diversion} was the H-Day for Sweden to make history.

And Högertrafikkommission had four years to teach the country how to make the switch. From logoing the “H” on women’s underwear to pasting info on milk cartons, Swedes were bombarded with the new regulations.

At 5AM on September 3rd, 1967, Sweden made the switch. No one was run over and cars didn’t fall into the rivers. Overall, it was a success. Even Olaf Palme was estatic on September 3rd, “Fantastiskt! Kan någon tänka sig, att svenska folket upplevde en revolution för bara några timmar sedan.”

So was the government right {left}? Do Swedes miss being like the British or should island people stay on the wrong side of the road?

{Photograph by Jan Collsiöö / Public Domain}

Bargaining at Hötorgets Market

I love going to Hötorget’s fruit and flower market. It’s located in the big square near Stockholm central station on the side of Sergel Torgs. Hötorget is filled with small stalls with men, usually Arab and hilarious, selling strawberries, asparagus, and the latest bouquet of roses.

The open air market is my favorite spot because you can buy in-season fresh produce for cheap. Sometimes you can buy at half price of what you would pay at the local ICA. The guys working in the stalls will let you taste the food and most importantly, let you bargain.

Bargain, bargain, bargain, that’s how they work. Remember they’re mainly Arabs and their market system, like the Indian market system, is based on bargaining.

DN covered how bargaining works; which I think for many Swedes is mysterious. The only places I have seen in Sweden where I can bargain are places run by immigrants. No wonder there had to be an article on how bargaining works.

I am not the best bargain person – I just cannot haggle the way my aunts can in India and still walk away from what appears to be a good deal only to find that the shopkeepers cuts the price another 20%. Crazy! And then the deal is made.

For those of you like me, who aren’t the best bargainers or don’t know how, here is how to do it. Hötorgets market or anywhere:

1. The morning time and lunch time mark the highest prices for produce and flowers. This is when shoppers don’t have the time to bargain hunt so they buy and go. Produce in the morning is also the freshest since pickups occur early morning from the wholesale markets.

You won’t get much of bargain at this time but if you buy several items, you should be able to shave at least 10% of your total cost.

2. By late afternoon, shopkeepers intensify their battle with each and begin cutting prices. For the most part, these are cartels, they already know what prices to drop to and eventually all stalls drop to that price.

Your goal is to push them a bit further. Four boxes of strawberries for 50Kr? Make that five boxes for 50kr.

3. At 5PM, the markets will begin to close at Hötorget. They have to unload fast if they don’t want to pack things up or throw them away. Very delicates fruits, vegetables, and flowers will not survive to the next and must be sold.

Prices will further drop when buying in bulk: three bouquets of roses, 400 grams of cherries, 5 boxes of berries, etc.

You need to squeeze another box or cut the price another 20% to whatever your shopkeeper tells you.

If he tells you “no way!” then walk away. It’s all good, he will either not care to bargain or chase you and take your offer. If it is the former, then go to another and bargain the prices you want.

Whatever you Swedes do, you should bargain at the market. And you should go to Hötorget and buy fresh produce from them when possible. Because it is awesome and supports small folks and it is fun way to shop.

And for you Swedes with that look of aghast of buying produce on the street, get real. Street shopping is done all around the world and just because the food isn’t neatly packed on the shelf or sold at a saluhall, doesn’t mean it is any less delicious.

Oh, and women will fare the best at bargaining. Because we can totally bat our eyes and look stupid so a seller takes pity on us.

Fika – A Swedish Way of Life

Fika – it is a noun, a verb, and a way of life for Swedes.
Quiet possibly the best part of anyone’s day.

thanks lh for finding this!

Now don’t you just wanna fika right about … now?!
thanks to Rinse for the photo

In British English a fika could be referred to as “high afternoon tea” but the definition is limited. High Afternoon tea is had in the afternoon and with the company of friends and scones.

In America English a fika would be “to have a  coffee” (verb) or a “coffee break” (noun).  Both definitions have limited meaning but get the gist across.

The Swedish way of defining fika is drinking coffee (verb), to have a coffee (noun).  Most people understand also fika as having a coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, just nothing alcoholic. Glögg, a Christmas mulled wine is the only exception since it is consumed during one month of the year.

Fika is important because it gives employees a few minutes throughout the day to catch up on gossip, sports, and life. A bit reminiscent of the water cooler though with a darker, nuttier, acidic drink. With friends, fika is the easy way to grab a coffee and cake and hang out at the cafe for a few hours.

To have a fika:

  • A fika can be had anywhere, it is not physically limited to a restaurant or cafe or office. You can have a fika at home with friends or go to the park and fika.
  • Coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are the proper beverages to fika. Most Swedes drink a black death version of coffee (remember – quantity over quality) but if you are fancy, go for the French or Italian press.
  • A proper fika includes something sweet. It can be as little as chocolate truffles or more traditionally a pie {paj} or cookies. Swedes love berry pies, carrot cakes, princestårta, and the infamous chokladbolls {formally known as a negroboll}.

I am so used to using fika that I say it to even my American friends. Seriously, which is cooler: let’s grab a coffee, or, let’s fika. The latter duh.

Next time you want to show off your Swedishness, ask your friends or coworkers for a fika.

How often do you fika?

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Have a Swedish Midsommar at Home

Whether you’re in Sweden or far away across the globe, you can celebrate midsommar, the Swedish way. Perhaps minus the mind-blowing-drunkenness.

You can always cheat and head to one of the Swedish missions holding a midsommar party Saturday afternoon. I know NYC, London are definitely hosting parties with a maypole and picnic.

But if you want to celebrate at home with friends, setting up for midsommar is pretty easy.

1. Find a few Swedes. You’ll be thankful you have them when it comes time to singing små grodorna and other silly songs.

2. Make flower wreaths. Find seven flowers and make yourself a halo to have on your head. Girls only!

3. Foodwise – The good thing about cooking for midsommar is the food is not time consuming, there’s just a lot of stuff.
– Gravad Lax – also known as ‘lox’

– Salmon – to bake in the oven with some cream, chives, dill. Alternatively, grill with a dash of lemon and dill.

– Grill-able meats – I mean real meat, NOT hot dogs or any of that shit. Nice medallions of pork or steak seasoned the way you like.

– Fresh potatoes – buy the freshest potatoes at the farmers market. The grocery store won’t give you the quality. These potatoes take 10-15 minutes to boil (add dill to the water). Serve whole with or without the skin.

– Herring {sill}- Can be found in jars at a speciality supermarket. Not a fish fish person? Then skip it.

– Strawberries {jordgubbar} – Midsommar isn’t complete without a bowl of fresh strawberries served up with homemade whipped cream and ice cream. Alternatively, make a midsommartårta.

– Cheese and hard bread {knäckbröd} – to keep the people from starving, serve a plate of cheeses and hard breads.

4. Drinks {dryck} – Rhubarb and elderflower {fläder} are two of the most popular summer fruits. Find some elderflower extract and mix with pureed rhubarb and bubble water. Serve with or without alcohol.

As for alcoholic beverages, midsommar is built on schnapps {aquavit}. The best is OP Andersson and for a more floral flavor, get Fläder aquavit. Some supermarkets sell aquavit but check your local IKEA.

Once you have the basics covered, feel free to add more side dishes, vegetarian dishes and meat dishes. Dessert should consist of any berry to be kosher Swedish.

When you set the table, be sure to add vases of flowers and go local or pick your own. The beauty of midsommar is celebrating summer and what it has to offer, not buying roses flown in from Argentina.

Most importantly, have fun and eat outside at a park!!!

Sweden’s Democratic Twitter Experience Implodes – Stephen Colbert Offers to Take Over

UPDATE: June 21st, 2012. I found some more shocking things Sonia said that put together, qualifies her for a padded white room. Quotes are listed below.

You know it’s always fun when a country fucks up. And fucks up royally via Twitter.

I totally missed this but a few days ago, a Swede on the Twitter account @Sweden went a bit weird and started a debate about what is a Jew.

I.e. What’s the Fuzz about Jews?

If that wasn’t weird enough, she did it not on her personal Twitter, but on the Twitter account run by government of Sweden, run by the Swedish Institue. They’re a government entity responsible to pick these fine, outstanding Swedish citizens (citizens only…UT and PUT holders can take a hike) thought she represented the views of Swedes.

WOW, what an epic fail!

Sonja Abrahamsson, the “low educated” Swedish mother had her “I don’t know what a Jew looks like” moment and sparked outrage.

While I’m all okay on offending people, what she said went too far. It starts with:

Before WW2 Hitler was one of the most beautiful names in the whole wide world. I know. Its as chocking as dolphin rapists.
– @sweden / Sonja (@sweden) 10:37 PM – 11 Jun 12

On her blog, she even nicknamed herself Sonia “Hitler” Abrahamsson. Ummm, psycho, troll, or nutcase?

“Whats the fuzz with jews. You can’t even see if a person is a jew, unless you see their penises, and even if you do, you can’t be sure!?”

— @sweden / Sonja (@sweden) June 12, 2012

And then turns into:

“In nazi germany they even had to sow stars on their sleeves. If they didn’t, they could never now who was a jew and was not a jew.”
— @sweden / Sonja (@sweden) June 12, 2012
Poof! And Sweden’s democratic experience to be tech savvy and a neutral nation implodes.

The only useful statement she did make was:

Im sorry if some of you find the question offensive. Thats was not my purpose. I just don’t get why some people hates jews so much.

— @sweden / Sonja (@sweden) June 12, 2012

You can see the Twitter feed here:

While it is great a country allows its citizens to share their thoughts and ideas, there is a fine line of funny and apocalyptic stupidity.  But Sweden’s Twitter account has not been without controversy.  The first Swede to represent the account was an open masturbator, and though hilarious, not quite appropriate for the general audience.

And though Swedes are all about free speech, they have stifling strict hate-speech laws. Nearly every time Jimmy Åkesson opens his mouth (the leader of SverigesDemokraterna), he’s arrested for hate speech against the immigrant communities.

But when a Swede starts questioning what a Jew looks like, it is acceptable. Perhaps she has never met a Jew because they don’t want to be known as the people “wearing yellow stars or with cut penises.”

Those Twitter messages are still live and the Swedish Institute and the government has not apologized for them. Perhaps they want us all to wear stars so we can be figured out? Or it’s okay to make fun of hungry gays with aids.

At least there’s hope that Stephen Colbert can take control of the Twitter account and bring complete mayhem to Sweden’s face.

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,Video Archive

Sonia made a rebuttal video to Stephen Colbert’s second news coverage of the incident.

And if Sweden ever wants an immigrant to poke fun of Sweden (they’ve had very few colored people run their account…)…well, I am here!

10 Things To Do That Make You Definitively Swedish

If you haven’t been in Sweden long enough then you can do a few things that make you unquestionably Swedish. And I mean in a good way, not the get wasted and throw up on the tunnelbanan at 2am way.

1. Queue up – Getting that kölapp at the local apotek or systembolaget means you can waddle around the store and not have to stand in one position. When there is no kölapp, you’re utterly confused and wonder why i God’s name someone would make you stand single file when instead you could get a piece of paper with a number on it.

2. Fika fika fika – Drink coffee, have cake. 10AM, 1PM, 3PM, with your friends, in an office, on a boat (with a goat). Rinse and repeat.
tea time

3. Drink Bäska – Forget OP Andersson and Fläder brennavin. Want the real deal? Drink Bäska. If you survive two shots, consider yourself a true Swede. If not, go home and drink the Icelandic Brennivin to work up your tolerance.
more nubbe

4. Visit Drottningholm (or any castle) – Swedish castles are all located on beautiful grounds. For the most part, you can hike walk in the woods and enjoy the beautiful Swedish nature.

5. Pick berries and mushrooms – Part of the rights under allemansrätten, you can pick berries, fruits, plants, and flowers on any property as long as you don’t disturb the owners or are picking directly from their garden (that would be lame to take strawberries from the house garden – and illegal in this case). The summertime should be filled with berry picking and chanterelles.

6. Eat meatballs – You can eat them at a restaurant but the best is to make them at home with mashed potatoes and fresh ligonberry jam. Mums! Need a recipe? Just follow the Swedish Chef‘s instructions.

7. Take a boat ride – As long as you have access to water, hop on a boat and take a ride to a popular or deserted island. On the west coast there’s Marstrand and tons of uninhabited islands, on the east coast of Sweden, there are all the Stockholm city islands and boats to Fjärdaholmarna, Vaxholm, and Grinda.

8. Sunbathe at the beaches – I use the term ‘beach’ loosely as it could mean sunbathing by the water on a lot of rocks. Or it could mean having an actual sand beach. And by sunbathing I mean being a solar panel, with or without your clothes.

9. Picnicking at 10pm – In the summertime, you’re guaranteed to lost track of time because the sky is never dark. Have a early dinner outside grilling lax and meats and then enjoy the orange sunset while the sun disappears for a mere three hours. It may sound cheesy but on a good, clear night, the sun is bright orange like a fireball. Get on a hill to see it.

10. Watch Eurovision – There are two ways to watch Eurovision in Sweden: because you love it or you love to hate it. Both are acceptable forms of watching. And you get extra credit if shots are involved to make fun of your homeland Sweden.

Is there anything you do with friends that guarantee your Swedishness? And speaking Bork gets you double extra credit.

Swedish Drinking Oxymoron: 18 to Drink, 20 to Buy

If you are not already confused and irritated enough with the country’s most absurd company, Systembolaget, then you haven’t seen anything yet.

The bittersweet twisted relationship with Systembolaget just got weirder and with a museum to boot.

In order to carry those lovely purple doggie bags from the store to a party in order to get shitfaced, you have to be 20 years old or older to buy the ebullient, adult beverages.

Fair enough. 20 to buy.
But say as an 18-year-old you go to a restaurant. You would not expect you could buy a beer.

Or would you?

Actually, you can buy alcohol at a restaurant/pub and get shit-faced.

Now this is getting weird.

But you must be able to consume alcohol at 18 then? High school seniors roll around in trucks drinking beer and spraying alcohol everywhere so that must be legal.

Yes, if the alcohol is below 3.5%, otherwise, no.
Now I’m very confused…
Surely if a restaurant will allow me to drink at 18 and up, then I can drink with my parents when I am 18.

If you are as confused as I am, don’t worry, Systembolaget clarifies everything:
En viktig del i alkoholpolitiken är att skjuta upp alkoholdebuten för ungdomar så långt det går. Lagstiftaren (riksdagen) anser att 20 år på Systembolaget är en rimlig ålder för att köpa alkohol och konsumera exempelvis i hemmet. På restaurang anser man att det finns en större kontroll/översyn av konsumtionen (man sitter i en restauranglokal där det finns personal och andra gäster) och då är myndighetsåldern 18 år som anses vara rimlig. Lagstiftaren är också medveten om att det alltid finns risk för langning till kompisar som är yngre – och att då exempelvis ha 18-årsgräns på Systembolaget skulle motverka alkoholpolitikens syfte.

To sum up what Systembolaget wrote on their website: It is 20 to buy, 18 to drink at the neighborhood watering hole, but 20 to drink chez vous. Because according to the Swedish government, a restaurant is more capable of taking care of your child’s drinking habits than you are as a parent.

In Sweden’s defense, they are not the only country with idiotic drinking laws. In the Indian state of Maharashtra, each individual requires a drinking permit (foreigners excluded) to buy on a daily or yearly basis. It’s a bitch to obtain and no other state in India requires it.

In the US, the drinking age is 21 though most people begin drinking by 18. There’s a saying that if you vote at 18, fight at 18, you should be able to drink at 18. Oh, and for US citizen teenagers traveling abroad, drinking at a bar in France at 19 maybe legal there but not for the American.

Still, I love how high school graduates flaunt public drinking during graduation period in front of the police. No finer way to exhibit civil disobedience and drunkenness at the same time.

But on final note, I hate section 6, clause 9:
9 § På serveringsställe där serveringstillstånd gäller får inte någon dricka eller tillåtas dricka andra alkoholdrycker än sådana som har serverats i enlighet med tillståndet. Detta gäller dock inte på hotellrum.

You can’t bring your own alcohol to a restaurant. Nooooo!!! So now, I will buy an overpriced bottle of shitty wine at the restaurant.

Gay Marriage – Don’t Worry, America is Crawling out of the Dark Ages

I had originally written a long post about the right to gay marriage after watching the fallout in North Carolina and Colorado this past Tuesday.

On Wednesday, President Obama became the first president ever to endorse that gays “should” have the right to marry.

I do wish he said “right” instead of “should” but at least he’s taken the first step.

My original post went by wayside because everything I had written was outdated.

Instead, I will share a few thoughts and leave you with hilarious and bizarre quotes from the pundit wagon.

First, living in Sweden is a blessing when it comes to equality and rights. Sure, Swedes may not always see that have equality to the best extent and that at times some groups of people receive equality at the expense of others. But living in Sweden is so different from America for two reasons: gay rights and religion.

When I moved to Sweden, no one ever asked me what my religion is. Other immigrants do, especially those from Middle East/South Asia, but in general, no Swede has cared what my religious beliefs are. And I only talk about them when we have a discussion about religion related to culture/politics/society.

All in all, I feel safe being who I am and practicing my religion without requiring ‘absolution’ from others.

Second, gays and lesbians have the right to marry. Civil unions have been legal since 1995 while the Riksdag passed the marriage resolution in 2009.

And that is awesome. The right, the left, and the center parties don’t have wedge fights over gay rights. Krisdemokraterna is the only party opposed to gay marriage but they make up a very small percentage of the political spectrum.

Which brings me back to the United States. This is an election year. Everything is up for grabs and the conservative base is moving further right than anyone else. Yet they are a powerful group of citizens.

When Obama announced on Wednesday for his support of gay marriage, the conservative right said he was using social issues instead of economic issues as the center of the presidential race. They screamed he’s doing this for ‘political reasons’ and making this an issue when unemployment should be the driving issue.

But the conservative have been using social issues all year long to drive support for Republican candidates at the expense of discussing the economy and education.

And it is insane. Earlier this year Congress had to act on one of the dumbest provisions ever: that employers can refuse coverage for birth control under insurance plans if it “morally offends them.” That’s just one example of Congress and politicians making social issues more important than economic issues.

I would not be surprised if gay marriage becomes the center of attention this year like it did in 2004. George Bush Jr ran on the promise of a “constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman.”

He won. No amendment ever came to pass, or even close to it, but Bush successfully divided and destroyed the country’s ability to function as a united front in one go.

This time, I hope Americans come to the conclusion that gays are people too. That gay rights is a human right, not states’ right. Just like abortion was a state issue until Roe v Wade and interracial marriage was a state issue until Loving v Virginia, gay marriage will make its way to the Supreme Court one day.

Some rights are just bigger than a state’s right, and this is one of them.

Until then, let’s hope for a more open and tolerant America. Or, a banishment of idiots who pander on Fox News (brought to you by the same friendly wire-tapping parent company, Murdoch).

I will leave you with quotes from across the US from this past week. Some hilarious and some, downright frightening.

From Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidate
“My view is the same as it’s been from the beginning,” Mr. Romney told a CBS affiliate in Denver. “I don’t favor civil unions if it’s identical to marriage, and I don’t favor marriage between people of the same gender.” Asked why he opposed civil unions, in particular, he explained that in many cases they represent marriage by a different name for gay couples.

“If a civil union is identical to marriage other than with the name, why, I don’t support that,” he said Wednesday.


From Stephen Colbert, comedian:
“I would like to read to you what The Jesus said about homosexuality. I’d like to but he never said anything about it. Evidently. Evidently, Jesus was so filled with rage that he was speechless.”

From Jon Stewart, The Daily Show:

Don’t you love Fox News and their viewpoints on everything in life?!

Lakritsfestivalen {Licorice Food Festival} – From Panne Cotta to Massage Oil

I never expected I could be a licorice lover. Growing up, I loved one and one type of licorice candy: Jelly Belly licorice.

My mom love licorice, like real licorice candy in the US. The Swedish variety was too salty for her tastes but she still enjoyed them. And she’s the only person I know in the US that actually ate real licorice candy, not the “red licorice” or alternative fake licorices.

The Licorice Balloon Lady

On Sunday when I went to the Lakritsfestivalen {Licorice Food Festival}, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was on a mission to figure out why Swedes love licorice, but I did not expect to fall in love with licorice too.

Boy oh boy! Licorice is delicious.

Soft, chewy.

Sweet, salty (not too salty though!)…

And flavored with citrus or berries, yum!

I had so many interesting flavors and types of licorice at the festival.

Powdered licorice
It’s the new culinary ‘in’ thing. Martin Jörgensen, founder of Lakritsfabriken, says to “Use it as a spice and add a dash of it to your sweet and savory dishes.”

What licorice powder looks like

He made this delicious panne cotta with licorice
Licorice Panne cotta with a dollop of raspberries

And he also made raspberry smoothie. That was amazing! Raspberries and licorice are like best friends.

Others used the powdered licorice to season salads (no tasting available) and in cotton candy. That was nuts.

Candies, fudges, jams and everything else in between
At the show, there were the traditional candy powerhouses Malaco and Panda but the most exciting was meeting all the small boutique companies.

My stash of licorice infused goodies

The orange confiture with licorice from Liquorice Reglisse, an Italien company, will be exciting to try! I had no idea Italy is one of the largest produces of licorice from the southern region called Kalabria.

A favorite was the Australian soft and slightly sweet candy from Kookaburra

Licorice flavored cupcakes
Lots of interesting and somewhat odd flavors:
Michelle Obama – chocolate, almond, raspberry, licorice
Black Violet – licorice, violet, salt licorice
Old school – licorice, anise, fennel, pistachio nut
Finnish citrus – licorice, lemon, salt licorice
H&D – chocolate, star anise, salt licorice
Pingvinen {Penguin} – licorice, mint, salt licorice sauce

Super über salty licorice from Iceland
Icelandic Lakkrisdjöflar

Mini cupcakes from Damen med Bakelsen
Mini mini Truffles

Dark Milk Chocolate + Licorice

Frejyu Lakkris Draumur – Supposedly the first licorice+chocolate created
Frejyu Lakkris Draumur

Licorice Macaroon

Bath & Body infused licorice
Can you imagine candy-infested smelling store Bath and Body Works selling a licorice soap, shampoo, and massage oil?

Queen of Licorice did just that. They make organic soaps, massage oils, lip balms, shampoo and conditioners. Licorice is a medicinal plant and it’s ability to cure dry coughs, excema, dandruff, makes it magical plant used in ayruvedic medicine for thousands of years.

The Queen of Licorice products are meant to help people with dry and flakey as well as improve their mood (licorice releases adrenline in the body). I picked up a massage oil in the hopes of curing my excema on my arm. Let the experimenting begin!

Licorice Books
The books are not made of licorice; they’re books about licorice. I know, disappointed.

Annica Triberg and Annika Wallin wrote the definite guide to licorice called Lakrits. It’s a historical, cultural, and cookbook all rolled into one. So far it’s only in Swedish but available at the major bookstores. I already love the book and have learned so much about this little root.

Annica Triberg and Annika Wallin

Did you know that people used to brush their teeth by using a piece of licorice root and rubbing it on the teeth? True story.

Lakrits, Mynt, & Choklad is a cookbook by bestselling author Elisabeth Johansson. I flipped through the book and everything looks amazing. Still need to get my hands on one, I’m excited to try my own licorice panne cotta.

Elisabeth Johansson

All in all, it was a great time and I’m hoping to try out some licorice based recipes now!

The Swedish Obsession with Licorice {Candy Series Part III}

Today I attended Lakritsfestivalen, a new annual show dedicated to the plant, licorice. Yes, licorice is on the verge of the next culinary explosion and it’s fitting that the country to lead the licorice extravaganza is Sweden.

This is part III on my Swedish Candy Series. Be sure to check out parts I and II.
Plockgodis – Be an Expert at Picking from the Candy Bins
An Introduction to Swedish Candy

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Swedes love licorice, as they love candy. There is no group of people more obsessed by this root, say for the Finns, than the Swedes. Sweet, salty, neutral are ingrained in Swedish candy culture.

Americans on the other hand, find licorice to be downright bizarre. Even though the US produced two of the oldest licorice candies, Good & Plenty and Crows, you will see few Americans indulging in a licorice root.

And so I went on a quest for understanding why Swedes love licorice and where that love stems from.

A table full of candy from Beriksson’s Import at Lakritsfestivalen

The answers, from various licorice confectioners, writers, and a herbalist was surprising.

Annica Tryberg, coauthor of the book Lakrits, said, “Licorice falls into the Swedish palette: salty and sweet. Many Swedish dishes like gravad lax and types of sill are salty. Salty licorice brings out comforting, homely flavors that we love.”

Pelle Petterson who works with importing Icelandic licorice said, “Icelanders love strong, salty licorice, it matches our taste for food very well. They were also the first to commercially produce chocolate with licorice, Freyja’s Draumur, which could be loved by everyone.”

Many people said licorice candy is popular because of the love for salty foods. Sweden, and the rest of the Nordic region, had to rely on salted meats and fish to last through the long winters. That love of salt did not dissipate when licorice was introduced at the apoteket as a medicinal product in the 1800s.

I think that since licorice gives an adrenaline boast, it can improve people’s spirits during the long winters and combat SAD (seasonal affected disorder).

In the 1800s the apotek {pharmacy} sold licorice roots as a medicinal product. Lisan Sundgren, a herbalist and cofounder of Queen of Licorice, a natural beauty company using licorice, said, “To aid with digestion, psoriasis, dandruff, the dry cough, all common ailments in in Sweden, licorice was and still is a natural remedy. It’s cheap and safe for the body.”

Sweet licorice in the form of licorice paste could also be found at the apotek to satisfy a sweet craving. Liquorice’s sweet tasting component is the glycyrrhizin acid, a compound 30-50 times stronger than sucrose (natural sugar).

In the 1930s Malmö Lakrits Compani (later Malaco) formed and began selling Sweden’s first licorice candy.

While several licorice candies were on the market by that point, Swedish licorice differed in flavor from its Anglo counterparts. Swedish lakrits was stronger and salter. Part of it was the licorice paste (the extract) and part was the usage ammonium chloride to give licorice a strong, pungent flavor known as salmiak.

Today, licorice is enjoying rock star status as the next big thing in the culinary world. While children may still eat Panda lakrits and licorice ropes, adults are experimenting with licorice powder, paste, and syrups.

Cupcake STHLM licorice cupcakes

Still, the best answer to why Swedes are in love with licorice could be answer by Martin at Cupcake STHLM.

“Swedes and licorice have similar personalities: it takes time to become friends and break down a Swede’s barrier. In the same way, it takes time to learn and love the taste of licorice.”

I agree. Even though I may not allow the lakrits plockgodis to fraternize with the chocolate pieces, I feel in love with licorice today. It took me thirty years.

Do you love licorice?

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