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?

 

Catching Up with HEAF’s 2014 Learning for Social Impact Course

Last month a group of students from Harlem Educational Activities Fund (HEAF) spent an afternoon with me in Ginny’s Supper Club to learn about Swedish food and culture. The discussion and cooking demonstration were in preparation for the students’ trip to Stockholm as part of HEAF’s Learning for Social Impact cultural literacy course. I recently caught up with Jadira Mora, HEAF’s Program Coordinator of College Quest, to hear more about the group’s adventures in my homeland.

The students kicked off their trip with an invigorating bike tour of the Royal National City Park. They got to see the area the way most Scandinavians do – by bicycle. Other trip highlights include a tour of Stockholm City Hall, a fascinating lesson on the history of Swedish music, a visit with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, and a meeting with King Entertainment, the creators of Candy Crush Saga. Additionally, the LSI class enjoyed conversations with The Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce over a traditional Swedish Fika (coffee break). The HEAF students also met kids their own age to compare personal experiences, and attended the first World Cup game screening put on by Ortens Favoriter, a youth organization in the suburbs. I wish I could’ve been there!

Jadira facilitated debriefings each night so the students could discuss their experiences of the day. The students faced a lot of culture shock, and were surprised to encounter a different kind of diversity in Sweden. They found that diversity often relates to different nationalities instead of different colors of skin.

Of course, the HEAF students thoroughly enjoyed Swedish cuisine. They ate meatballs similar to the kind I made with them, enjoyed a lot of fish, and even tried Gubbröra, which is a traditional Swedish anchovy dish that translates to “Old Man’s Mix.” The students were surprised at the large portion sizes that were available in restaurants, and were delighted by Swedish chocolate. (We do have the best candy!)

It was great to hear about the students’ trip, and it was an honor to work with them beforehand to discuss my experience growing up in Sweden. I hope to see my HEAF friends again soon.

Photo courtesy of HEAF

Swedish Sweet Tooth: Desserts with Patrik Fredriksson

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Recently, Red Rooster hosted Norda’s executive pastry chef Patrik Fredriksson for a media tasting of some of his beautiful desserts. Flying all the way from Norda, in Marcus' hometown of Gothenburg, the pastry chef of the Swedish National Team served three gorgeous interpretations of classic Swedish desserts to a group of journalists from the Village VoiceSerious EatsTravel & LeisureThe Daily Meal and more.

After two courses from Red Rooster (deviled eggs and cornbread, and fish and grits), guests were treated to a deconstructed Swedish Princess Cake, an île flottante with candied kumquats and ice cream, and the Moln, a light meringue with rhubarb and finished with a champagne-laced coulis, which will live on the Red Rooster dessert menu for the rest of month.

A huge thank you to Patrik for coming to visit us in Harlem to share his beautiful and delicious treats with our guests. If you’re in New York, come up to visit us and try the Moln before it’s off the menu. And if you find yourself in Gothenburg? Be sure and stop by Norda and say hello to Patrik and his team.

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Best of the Week: Our Most Popular Stories

Princess Madeleine Wedding Brain freeze, illustrated.

This week, we took a closer look at what we realized we didn’t know, and learned a lot. Beginning with morels—those alien-looking, intimidating fungi—we fried them, and found that they weren’t scary, just addictive. At the farmers’ market, we learned the secrets to more produce (read: don’t be afraid to buy anything as long as it’s in season). The same goes for the colorful rainbow swiss chard, whose versatility adds to its healthy charm. And, if you've ever been struck by brain freeze and wondered what could have possibly gone wrong, look no farther. We found out, and you can blame sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia from now on. For Marcus, the adventure continued as he attended the beautiful, fairytale royal wedding of Swedish Princess Madeleine to her New Yorker, hedge funder Chris O’Neill.

Here’s a look at our most popular stories of the week:

What is Brain Freeze?

Scenes from a Memorable Weekend

The Sense of Morels

Farmers' Market Finds, Demystified

Swiss Chard, Five Ways

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