Swedish word of the day: surströmming

Swedish word of the day: surströmming
Your Swedish challenge of the day. Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
In Sweden, there are several words for herring.

Surströmming is the word for ‘fermented herring’, and it’s been a part of traditional (and smelly) Swedish cuisine for centuries. One of the most putrid-smelling foods in the world, eating this delicacy is one of the final frontiers for proving you’ve adapted to the Swedish palate.

It’s a controversial food to say the least, with several airlines banning the carriage of surströmming, and viral challenges where people film their first attempt eating the fish.

The sur means ‘sour’ and relates to the acidic taste. To prepare surströmming, fish caught at the start of the season are preserved with salt to stop them rotting.

The process takes about six months, so the first date on which you can eat surströmming is known as the surströmmingspremiär, traditionally the third Thursday in August. In 2021, that’s August 19th so if you’re reading this on Thursday, happy first day of fermented herring season! 

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There are guidelines on how best to eat the dish, the most important of which is to try it outdoors due to the odour. The traditional way to serve it is with onion, sour cream, bread, potatoes and a glass of snaps – not straight out of the can.

Most languages find one word for ‘herring’ is sufficient, but in Sweden there’s a difference between herring caught south of the Kalmar Strait, which are sill, and those caught in the Baltic north of Kalmar, which are strömming.

Is there any point in making this difference?

It’s based on a royal request from the 16th century which established the boundary, but whether the fish are actually different is up for debate. Generally, sill are larger and fattier than strömming, and some research suggests there are slight genetic differences, despite being part of the same species and very closely related.

Examples

Jag äter det mesta, till och med surströmming

I eat most things, even fermented herring

För många i Sverige är det en tradition att äta surströmming varje sommar

For many people in Sweden it’s a tradition to eat fermented herring every summer


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