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20 Interesting Surströmming Facts

by Sankalan Baidya
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One faint whiff and your eyes are going to explode out of your skull and your skin will melt and your olfactory cells will hang themselves to death – that’s how the Surströmming smells. You know what it is? It is rotten fish and is actually a canned delicacy of Northern Sweden. Today we are going to learn 20 interesting Surströmming facts. Bon Appetite!

Interesting Surströmming Facts: 1-10

1. Think of a malodorous edible, the Surströmming will possibly top the list. This delicacy of Northern Sweden is actually made out of herring that has been fermented for months. In simple words, it rotten.

2. Some airlines have actually banned this food. You must be thinking that the smell is the primary culprit for this ban but no, it is not. They are banned because some airlines consider them to be explosive by nature. The fermented herring inside the sealed tin can leads to pressure buildup, making the tin can expand and bulge. It is because of this reason, the airlines consider them as an hazard.

3. A whole museum is dedicated to Surströmming. Known by the name Fiskevistet, this museum opened on 4th June 2005 and is located at Skeppsmalen – an ancient fishing village that is located in Örnsköldsvik’s Swedish Municipality.

4. The name Surströmming is very straightforward. While the pronunciation of the word almost breaks our jaws, the word “Surströmming” literally means “fermented Baltic herring”.

5. Surströmming should always recommended to be eaten inside the house but it is recommended that the can should be opened outside the house and if possible, it should be opened under a stream of water. The reason why it is asked to be open under a water stream is that the flies are very quickly attracted to the fermented herring and can create a nuisance.

6. The season for Surströmming is August. The herring that is caught during the spring is converted to Surströmming and sent to market by end of August.

7. This stinky food was once used as a piece of evidence in court. It was in 1981 that a landlord complained of dropping Surströmming brine on the building’s staircase and the fellow tenants were subjected to a smell which is far beyond being a smell reasonably tolerable. To establish his case, the landlord simply opened a can of this stinky delicacy inside the court room. He won the case!

8. The commonest method of eating this stinky delicacy in Sweden is to eat it with thin and hard bread slice, boiled potatoes of almond shape and onions. As a beverage, they will use milk, aquavit or beer.

9. Some Swedish people prefer eating the fish as is, we mean with all its smell intact. Some others will actually wash it with soda water to get rid of the smell.

10. There is a myth around this dish that dates back to 16th century. It is being said that Swedish sailors who failed to actually preserve their fish because of lack of salt ended up selling the rotten fish to islanders of Finland. Unexpectedly, the Finnish people actually ended up liking the rotten meat.

Interesting Surströmming Facts: 11-20

11. As far as availability of this bizarre food is concerned, it is available online for non-Swedish people willing to push their taste buds.

12. As far as nutritional value of Surströmming is concerned, it offers 138 calories, 14 grams of protein and 9 grams of fat in every serving of 100 grams.

13. As far as preparation is concerned, the herring is caught somewhere in April and May. It is the time when herring are about to spawn.

14. The blood is then drawn out by putting the herring in a very strong brine for about 20 hours. After that, the heads of the fish are removed and the fish are gutted.

15. The gutted fish are then put is comparatively weaker brine and the barrels are put in controlled room temperature of 15-20 degrees Celsius.

16. By June the canning process starts and continues for about 5 weeks and the final product is then sent to the wholesalers by July second week.

17. The spine of the fish actually contain an enzyme known as lactic acid which gets activated at right conditions and leads to fermentation.

18. Fermentation of the fish continues even when they are put in sealed cans. This is the reason why the cans actually bulge because of the pressure buildup.

19. During fermentation, the lactic acid along with bacteria leads to pungent smelling acid formation. Usually butyric acid, propionic acid and acetic acid are formed along with hydrogen sulfide. The bacteria which are responsible for the rotting can thrive in a zone above the brine but the osmotic pressure of the zone needs to be ideal. This is achieved by the Hydrogen Sulfide.

20. With proper osmotic pressure, the bacteria prevents the decomposition of the protein into amino acids and oligopeptides. The correct osmotic pressure leads to fish glycogen decomposition by Haloanaerobium bacteria. The glycogen decomposes into organic acid, giving Surströmming its acidic or sour taste.

Sources: 1,2,3,4

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2 comments

Viking Vikingsson August 21, 2015 - 11:05 pm

Surströmming is NOT rotten, it’s fermented – just like gorgonzola or sauerkraut isn’t rotten.

The reason why a can of surstömming should be opened in water is because the water trap the gasses inside the can. If you open the can under fresh cold water it’s perfectly fine to do it indoors.

Last years cans taste better then the seasons cans. Surströmming aficionados save their cans for at least a year before consumption.

Surströmming is one of the most food safe produce in the world.

Reply
Sankalan Baidya August 21, 2015 - 11:59 pm

@Viking,

Thank you for the valuable piece of info. Much appreciated.

Reply

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