“We have no source for it,” complained Richard Tellström, a lecturer at Stockholm University's Institute for Ethnology. “It's a sort of fake news definitely. You make something up for a political or a commercial purpose, and you spread the news without doing proper research.”
According to the story, King Charles XII brought back a recipe for the succulent meaty globes from Bender, a city in Moldova where he was exiled for five years between 1709 and 1714.
But according to Tellström references to 'frikadeller', a word for meatballs derived from the French 'fricandeau', have been found in Swedish literature as far back as 1650, more than 50 years before the warrior king's stay among the Ottomans.
“It's more likely, considering the linguistic source, that meatballs are French or Italian,” Tellström said. “Meatballs is historically a very expensive dish, because you have to have fresh meat. We are talking about the top levels of society.”
The word 'köttbullar' only appeared later, he added: “The earliest Swedish source is 1755, and we have no link to Charles XII.”
Tellström said he suspected that the dish's origins in Sweden might go back much longer, given that meatballs have essentially the same ingredients as sausages, whose documented history stretches back 3,000 years.
He said he had decided to sound the alarm
because he was concerned that the Swedish Institute, an official government agency, was sharing information it was not able to verify.
“The problem here is that the Swedish Institute is an authority, and they have to be careful about what they spread in our time, when we talk about fake news and troll factories,” he said. “Why don't you do proper research? Why don't you care what news you're spreading?”
Oliver Grassman, social media editor of the official Swedish Twitter account, said they had shared information they perceived to be true. Indeed, meatballs are often attributed to Charles XII.
“If it is a factual error it is not good because we write 'let's stick to the facts'. What we wanted to convey was that cultures inspire each other and the concept that something is totally Swedish barely exists any more. Especially when it comes to food,” he told Expressen.
But what about the much more established story, that Charles XII brought back 'kåldolmar', cabbage leaves stuffed with meat?
As the name suggests, Swedes believe the dish to be an approximation of the Turkish stuffed vine leaves recipe dolma.
“We don't have any source for that either,” Tellström said.