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ESKIL ERLANDSSON

Sweden boasts better food than Italy: report

Sweden is a better place to eat that Italy, but has yet to become Europe's culinary capital, a title that goes to a country that might surprise you, according to a new Oxfam report on good eating.

Sweden boasts better food than Italy: report

Every year, hordes of Swedes flock to Italy, Spain, and Greece in search not only of sunlight, but also a chance to indulge in fresh pasta, savoury tapas, or tasty feta cheese.

But hungry Swedes may be better off staying home and stuffing themselves with meatballs and herring, a new Oxfam global food index published on Wednesday reveals.

Sweden was placed fourth among 125 countries, sharing the spot with Denmark, Austria, and Belgium, and ahead of Italy, Spain, and Greece.

I'm thrilled,"  Madeleine van der Veer, spokeswoman for Rural Affairs Minister Eskil Erlandsson, told The Local. "I've always known that Swedish food is good enough to make Sweden Europe's premier country when it comes to food."

SEE ALSO: Ten Swedish foods to remember

The ranking, which compares countries based on food quality, availability, and price, found the Netherlands to be the "best place to eat".

European countries dominated the top of the rankings but Australia made it into the top ten, to tie with Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Luxembourg at number eight. The United Kingdom was tied at 13th, with the United States landing in 21st place.

For the last five years, Sweden has been engaged in a proactive campaign to raise the country's profile as a culinary nation.

The campaign was launched back in 2008 with Erlandsson boasting that the 'Matlandet Sverige' campaign was "going to put Sweden on the world map as a country of good food".

Since the launch of the campaign, the number of food-related companies in Sweden has risen by ten percent, according to figures from the ministry.

In addition, Sweden's food exports are up 23 percent since 2008, bucking a general trend of slumping exports in the wake of the financial crisis.

Van der Veer sees the growth in Sweden's food industry and the Oxfam ranking as evidence that the world is starting to notice Swedish food.

"I'm convinced that the Matlandet campaign has helped draw attention to Swedish food," she said. "Today, 'foodies' choose to travel to Sweden to try fermented herring (surströmming), reindeer, and new restaurants both in the cities and in rural areas."

IN PICTURES: Top ten googled foods in Sweden

While the initiative may have failed to deliver when it comes helping spur jobs and economic growth in rural areas, the government's efforts have raised the profile of Swedish cuisine abroad, with a wave of Swedish-themed eateries popping up in New York and London in recent years.

"It's exciting to see how we've succeeded in exporting the 'fika', cinnamon buns, crisp bread, and meatballs," said van der Veer. 

Oxfam compiled the report to draw attention to inequality in access to healthy and affordable food around the world.

“Poverty and inequality are the real drivers of hunger. Hunger happens where governance is poor, distribution weak, when markets fail,” Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said in a statement. “Having sufficient healthy and affordable food is not something that much of the world enjoys.”

As well as affordability and health, the index weighed up the percentage of malnourished children, the diversity of food as well as food-related health problems like diabetes and obesity.

The rankings were based on figures from the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Foundation, the International Labour Organization and other international organizations. 

DON'T MISS: Ten soul-satisfying Swedish comfort foods

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The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.

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