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EUROPOL

Mafia-run food forgeries reach Sweden’s borders

Corn syrup laced with honey aroma but marketed as honey might be the least of Swedish food consumers' worries after Europol revealed the extent of the mafia-driven counterfeit food trade in Europe.

Mafia-run food forgeries reach Sweden's borders
Real honeycombe. File photo: Yves Tennevin/Flickr

The European police coordination body Europol has seized more than 1,200 tonnes of fake or substandard food and nearly 430,000 litres of counterfeit drinks in a joint operation with Interpol across 33 countries, its Hague headquarters announced in a statement this week.

Europol underscored that organized crime networks ran the counterfeit food trade, and that they had made 96 arrests worldwide at the conclusion of its latest sting. The operation, dubbed Opson III, confiscated 131,000 litres of oil and vinegar, 80,000 biscuits and chocolate bars, 20 tonnes of spices and condiments, 186 tonnes of cereals, 45 tonnes of dairy products and 42 litres of honey.

In Sweden, agents got their hands on a drink that claimed to contain honey.

"We found about five tonnes of a product that was said to be mixed with honey, but contained corn syrup and honey aroma," Pontus Elvingson, inspector at the Swedish Foods Agency (Livsmedelsverket), told TT on Friday.

The food crimes ran the gamut across the continent. In Italy, for example, an organized crime network was caught making and selling fake champagne. 

"Most people would be surprised at the everyday food and drink which are being counterfeited, and the volume of seizures shows that this is a serious global problem," said Michael Ellis, head of Interpol's Trafficking in Illicit Goods and Counterfeiting unit.

The crimes uncovered in Spain and France were, in contrast to faux honey and illicit bubbly, more gruesome. Paris officials closed down an illegal abattoir, while Spanish police confiscated 4.5 tonnes of snails illegally poached from the forests. The latter sting saw the arrests of 24 people in relation to migration and work infringements.

"It is important to keep the focus on this area of crime since the more information we collect, the more we realize that this illicit trade is managed and run by organized crime groups," said Chris Vansteenkiste, Europol project manager.

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DISCOVER SWEDEN

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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