Swedish Salty Licorice

Image by /kallu It's unfathomable to most, coveted by some. Enthusiasts keep an emergency stash of the stuff in their purse; others take a nibble and promptly spit it out. It elicits passion, nostalgia, pain, discomfort, and satisfaction.

Ah, yes, Swedish salty licorice.

Swedish candy is notoriously fantastic, but salted licorice is the black sheep of the otherwise delectable family of gummy sweets. The stuff is potent and undoubtedly polarizing.

Licorice itself is the root of a plant called Glycyrrhiza glabra that is native to Spain, Italy, and Asia. The plant contains a component that is 20-40 times sweeter than sugar, so it is logical flavoring option for candy.

No one quite knows how or why licorice candy was first combined with a salty flavor, but its history as a confectionary began in Scandinavia in the 1930s. Salted licorice, however, doesn’t actually contain any salt. The brininess comes from the chemical ammonium chloride, so salted licorice is often called salmiakki, the Finish word for ammonium chloride. Modern salty licorice ranges in color from light brown to deep black, and it may be chewy or hard. Salted licorice is popular in Sweden, of course, as well as The Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, and Germany.

Image by Accidental Hedonist

What is so enticing about salted licorice for Scandinavians? Consider the classic dishes gravlax or pickled herring. Bitter saltiness is deeply embedded in Scandinavian cuisine and home cooking, so a salty flavor is intertwined with notions of comfort and home. Curing meat and fish with salt during the long winter months is standard practice for many Scandinavians in past and present time, so an affinity for salt is deeply rooted in the Scandinavian palette.

On the other hand, salty licorice could merely exist as national entertainment. Many Scandinavians admit to enjoy feeding salty licorice to tourists just to watch them squirm. Some say it’s almost a national sport!

Most Swedes consume salted licorice as typical candy, but many also enjoy Turkish Pepper Shots, which are hard salted licorice popped into a shot of vodka. If you’re hooked to the flavor, it’s easy to want to infuse everything with salmiakki. However, too much licorice can cause a spike in blood pressure, so be careful not to overdo it.

Salty licorice is a unique treat for a large part of the world. It acts to demonstrate the diversity of global food preferences and the fascinating ways in which tastes are formed through the forces of climate, culture, and ecology.

Have you ever tried salty licorice? What was your experience like?


5 Great Spring Food Celebrations Around the World

By Leah Riley

Spring is a great time to go outdoors and celebrate the good weather nature has bestowed on us. In America, that can mean celebrating outside with good food like barbecue and refreshing drinks or packing food for a picnic. Around the world, there are variations on this theme as several festivals and celebrations take place outdoors and involve food in some way, shape or form: 

Walpurgisnacht: Finland, Sweden, Germany and other Central and Eastern European countries. Walpurgis Night (or Walpurgisnacht) takes place annually on April 30th or May 1st and typically centers on dancing around bonfires but it also involves imbibing copious amounts of sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages. In Finland specifically, there is a tradition to drink sima, a homemade mead which is low in alcohol, along with delicious funnel cakes. Swedes celebrate with lavish picnics that start early in the morning and go late into the night with lots of sparkling wine and food. In Uppsala, they hold "Champagne Races" where students go and spray champagne or sparkling wine on each other. For the sake of the old buildings (and possibly to save the champagne for later), walls and floors are covered in plastic as sometimes it amounts enough to wade in.

Cheese-rolling: Gloucestershire, UK. Gloucestershire holds an annual festival during the UK's Spring Bank Holiday called the Chase-the-Cheese race where cheese-lovers and cheese mongers alike can chase wheels of Double Gloucester down Cooper's Hill. The cheese wheel (or cleverly disguised doppelgangers) is given a 1 second head start and competitors race down the hill after it. Ideally, one is trying to catch the cheese but it's nearly impossible. The person to hit the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins the cheese.

Holi: Delhi, India. The Holi festival is northern India's most colorful festival. It involves street parties where everyone sings, dances and throws water and pigment powder on each other. It takes place on the last full moon day of lunar month Phalguna (which is in February/March) and celebrates the end of Winter and the mark of the beginning of Spring. Along with the tradition of throwing paint at each other, drinking bhang (a cannabis derivative) is typical during the festival. Bhang is consumed with traditional foods such as pakoras and thandai as well as being added to the food.

Las Fallas: Valencia, Spain. Las Fallas means 'the fires' and is almost like a mix between Guy Fawkes' Night and a carnival that takes place all over the city of Valencia in Spain. It takes place annually from March 15th to March 19th where neighborhoods all over the city take part in daily paella contests then followed by burning a construction called "a falla". Away from the burning fires, people gather in the streets and have what can only be described as an open-air nightclub, except with less music and more fireworks. There are also stalls that sell traditional snacks such as fried porres, xurros and bunyols, as well as roast chestnuts.

Songkran Water Festival: Chiang Mai, Thailand. The Songkran Water Festival may not have a lot of food involved, but indicative of the name it does involve a lot of water. During the days around April 13th-15th, which is the old Thai New Year, people in the streets douse each other with perfumed water (fragrant with herbs) to ward off bad luck. Buddhas from monasteries are brought out in the streets and more water is thrown at them resulting in a mass water fight with buckets and super soakers galore. Towards the end, people may pray and bring traditional food to the monasteries as an added way to pay their respects.

How do you celebrate spring?