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CHRISTMAS

#AdventCalendar: The curious history of the chocolate box you’re bound to receive this Christmas

Each day of December up until Christmas Eve, The Local is sharing the story behind a surprising Swedish fact as part of our own Advent calendar.

#AdventCalendar: The curious history of the chocolate box you're bound to receive this Christmas
Has it really been Christmas if you haven't dug into one of these? Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/SCANPIX/TT

If you're spending part of the Christmas season in Sweden, chances are high that at some point you'll be digging into a bright red chocolate box with the name Aladdin.

The boxes contain a selection of pralines and truffles, a mix of dark, milk and white chocolate with fillings including orange truffle, chocolate crisp and rum and raisin.

People in Sweden buy 2.5 million of Aladdin boxes each year, almost 2 million of them over the Christmas season, and they are a perfect go-to for that hard-to-buy-for relative, a Secret Santa exchange or, let's face it, the person you almost forgot. 

So how did Aladdin become the official Swedish Christmas chocolate box?

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The box was first produced by Swedish chocolate makers Marabou in 1939, available in three different sizes with a 500-gram box costing four kronor at the time.

Marabou were copying British confectioners Rowntree & Co, who had launched boxes of a variety of chocolate flavours a few years earlier and, with some clever marketing, were able to turn their ailing finances around. 

The first Aladdin boxes were filled with the company's 18 most popular individual chocolates (since Swedes are huge consumers of pick'n'mix, that data was readily available). With a simple design and fixed content, it lent itself perfectly to mass production, allowing for a low price point.

In 1957 the alternative chocolate box Paradis was introduced, with no dark chocolates since these became less popular with customers in the post-war period.

The contents has changed over the years, with fruit creams dominating at the start, to be replaced by many liqueur chocolates in the 1970s, and today nougat is the most popular flavour. In 2014, the three-nut and cherry liqueur flavours were ditched in favour of raspberry liquorice and elderflower (the latter was replaced by lime in later years) to a huge uproar and unsuccessful campaigns to bring them back.

While the exact selection might vary over time, there are two rules to be aware of if you'll be celebrating Christmas with Swedes and an Aladdin box. Firstly, never take from the lower of the two layers until the top one is completely empty (even if all your favourite truffles are gone) and secondly, don't take the final chocolate from the box.

Each day until Christmas Eve, The Local is looking at the story behind one surprising fact about Sweden, as agreed by our readers. Find the rest of our Advent Calendar HERE and sign up below to get an email notification when there's a new article.

 

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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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