US herring video is 'an insult to Sweden'

Sophie Inge
Sophie Inge - [email protected]
US herring video is 'an insult to Sweden'
Screengrab: BuzzFeed Video/YouTube

A fermented herring expert has expressed outrage at a BuzzFeed video in which Americans turn up their noses at the Swedish delicacy. Their comments, he says, are an “insult to the Swedish people and Swedish culture”.


In the YouTube clip, titled ‘Americans try surströmming for the first time’, employees of the website BuzzFeed are filmed tasting the Swedish delicacy of fermented herring.

As the can is opened, there are screams from the staff who then reach for colourful metaphors to describe the smell.

“Sewage”, “baby diaper”, “dead body” and “a national park bathroom that someone just dumped a bunch of dog food in” are just a few of the pungent comparisons.

One member of staff says more poetically that it “smells like regret”. Another adds: “It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever smelled in my life and I can’t wait to get out of here.”

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The clip went viral, even in Sweden, and while many Swedes commented that they had found it funny, fermented herring expert Ruben Madsen was incensed.

“Never, ever should surströmming be served like that,” he told The Local.

“It must always be stored in a cool environment. If it is stored in a warm place, then the lactic acid destroys the proteins and there is no fish left inside the can. In the film, there's just a mess inside.”

Surströmming lover Ruben Madsen. Photo: TT  

All this, he says, is explained clearly on the label of the can in English.

“The film is an insult to the Swedish people and Swedish culture,” raged Madsen. “I would like to take those hamburgers that Americans like and eat so much, and store them in the sun for a few weeks - then ask some foreigners to eat it and ask what they have to say.”


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Moreover, he adds, surströmming is supposed to be served with onion, sour cream, bread and potatoes.

Madsen, who works for the Surströmming Academy on the island of Ulvön, where he promotes the dish, has now offered to show the Buzzfeed team exactly how the Swedish delicacy is supposed to be eaten.

Only a few of the Buzzfeed staff actually agree to test the food in the viral video. One woman refuses to put the fermented herring anywhere near her mouth, while the others simply spit it out into a bin.

Another employee describes the food as “the worst thing I’ve ever eaten.”

But others are kinder with one noting: “It doesn’t taste a quarter as bad as it smells”.

An example of how surströmming is supposed to be eaten in Sweden. Photo: TT

But Madsen told The Local:

“Yesterday, I served it to two groups of visitors. Very few of them had eaten it before and everyone said it was fantastic.” 

However if Buzzfeed wants a lesson in Swedish gastronomy, he insists that the firm must first apologise.

“They should call me up and say that they’re sorry about this presentation. It’s a total insult and shouldn’t be on internet.”

The Local contacted BuzzFeed for comment.


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