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‘Ugly’ food to get second chance in Sweden

In an attempt to reduce food waste, several Swedish retailers have decided to sell "ugly" fruit and vegetables as well as food that is approaching its expiry date.

'Ugly' food to get second chance in Sweden
Ugly carrots will be sold cheaply at the participating Coop supermarkets. Photo: Epukas via Wikimedia Commons

In other parts of Europe, “ugly” fruit and vegetables have been sold in regular stores for a few years.

“The giant French food chain Intermarche had a great campaign for ugly food a year and a half ago,” said Louise Ungerth, director of the Stockholm Coop.

“And when I was in London in 2014 many stores had ugly fruit and vegetables in their basic range. For example misshapen carrots and potatoes with discoloured skin. The ugly potatoes were marketed as excellent for mashed potatoes,” Ungerth told the Swedish TT news agency.

According to Coop, 15 to 30 percent of fruit and vegetables are discarded before they reach shops, simply because of their appearance.

Some of this “ugly” stock will soon be sold for a reduced price in selected Swedish Coop stores.

This autumn will also see a new discount food store open, as Axfood launches a store in Stockholm in cooperation with the Stockholm Stadsmission (Stockholm City Mission).

There, old food, near its expiry date, will be sold. The prices will be up to 70 percent lower, but shoppers will need a special membership card in order to shop there, to prove that they have a higher need than others for discounted products.

According to Åsa Domeij, Head of Environmental and Social Responsibility at Axfood, “reducing food waste is an important part of our environmental and sustainability work. That we can also be involved in helping to make a social contribution is of course even better.”
 
Coca Cola Sweden, Nestle Sweden and Vinnova are among the other big corporate names involved in the new initiative.
 
The location of the new store is still being decided.

The move follows other similar 'social supermarkets' elsewhere in Europe including in Germany, Finland and France, the latter of which launched its first store of this kind some 15 years ago.

Coop's Louise Ungerth has a theory about why it has taken until now in Sweden to recognise that food is being wasted.

“In Sweden we are so used to the welfare state. Many seniors and families are struggling to keep up appearances, but they might be ashamed to buy cheap food.”

Coop’s main competitor, Ica, has no similar plans to sell ugly food or open discount stores at present.

“We donate old food to the City Mission,” said Ica press officer Ola Fernvall.

“And as for ugly fruit and vegetables the volumes are too small. In any case, these are still wanted by the food processing industry and restaurants,” she said.

While Sweden remains one of the most equal countries in the world, it has experienced a rapid surge of income inequality since the 1990s.
 
According to the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD), the average income of the top 10 percent of earners in the Nordic nation was 6.3 times higher than that of the bottom 10 percent in 2012. This was up from a ratio of around 5.75 to 1 in the 2007 and a ratio of around 4 to 1 during much of the 1990s.
 

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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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