Surströmming: Fermented Herring in Sweden

Surströmming is a Swedish delicacy made from fermented Baltic herring. Translated as "sour herring", it is Sweden’s most infamous food. This unique canned fish could also be one of those controversial foods just like durian – some may like it and some may hate it. Keep reading to know more about this stinky fermented fish!

    Fermented Herring in Sweden
    Surströmming: Fermented Herring in Sweden

    Surströmming: Fermented Herring in Sweden

    History of Surströmming

    The history of Surströmming (pronounced "soor-stroh-ming") is a fascinating one. There are several stories about how it came to be, but the most intriguing one is related to Finland. Its origins may be traced back to the 16th century when Swedish seafarers ran out of salt. According to folklore, they sold a barrel of herring at a Finnish port which could only be lightly-salted due to the shortage. Because salt was a key ingredient in food preservation, their barrel of herring started to turn bad.

    Some of the locals at the Finnish port bought the fermented fish from the Swedish sailors. However, as the year progressed and sailors returned, the Finns surprisingly wanted more herring as they loved the taste so much. They persuaded the Swedish sailors to try the fish for themselves and make even more. This practice is still being carried out today, but with contemporary food processing methods.

    Surströmming was created when brine was too expensive, and a weaker brine was used instead in the fermentation process. While the intention was to minimise expenses for preservation, it ended up giving life to a whole new delicacy. In the olden days, it was fairly common to keep and ferment the fish in wooden barrels. 

    However, it wasn't until the nineteenth century that Surströmming became a marketable product. It was traditionally eaten as a delicacy by the Swedes with a tunnbröd, which is the Swedish version of a flatbread that is cut into slices to create a sandwich.

    Fermented Herring Sweden
    Surströmming is a Swedish delicacy made from fermented Baltic herring

    Smell of Surströmming

    Surströmming has an unforgivably strong rotten egg smell. It is said that upon opening the can, the overwhelming odour will linger in your house for up to three days. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you crack open the can outside. It is up to you to enjoy the herring outdoors or in the comfort of your home.

    Surströmming taste
    Surströmming gives out a strong rotten egg odour

    How is Surströmming Made

    The best Surströmming is prepared by capturing herring during the spawning season in spring, and keeping them in barrels for two months in a salty brine. The partly fermented herring is then placed in tin cans to finish the fermentation process. When the cans begin to bulge owing to the build-up of gases from the fermentation process, they are then ready to be delivered to stores throughout Sweden for sale. This entire process takes time, possibly around six months to a year.

    How to Eat Surströmming

    Just like canned tuna, the Swedes usually enjoy Surströmming in a sandwich which they call surströmmingsklämma. The locals typically wrap the Surströmming fillets with buttered tunnbröd (flatbread), along with sliced potato and red onion. You can also add some crème fraîche or gräddfil (similar to sour cream) along with chives, tomato and chopped dill, which is the southern Swedish way of enjoying surströmmingsklämma.

    Surströmming wraps are generally served with Västerbottensost (a type of hard cheese), snaps, and lager, while some argue that milk is the ideal beverage to complement Surströmming sandwiches.

    How to Eat Surströmming
    Surströmming can be eaten as sandwiches or simply with potatoes and herbs.

    Where to Buy Surströmming in Malaysia

    It is easy to find Surströmming in Sweden as it is produced there, but you can also get it conveniently shipped to you. The price for a can of Surströmming is approximately $99.00. If you want a complete experience, simply include the Swedish sweetened flatbreads too. It might take up to 30 days for your order to reach you from Sweden. For those residing in Malaysia, you can purchase Surströmming online or through Shopee for RM170 per can.

    Surströmming sweden
    Surströmming is commonly sold in cans

    Every country has their own version of exotic food that some may love and some may hate. Take durian for example – many foreigners hate the smell but after tasting it, most of them end up liking the stinky fruit. We believe it is the same case for Surströmming. If you have tasted this unique traditional dish, be sure to tell us how you feel about it in the comment section!

    Don't forget to share your travel & dining moments with us on Instagram by tagging @rollinggrace or #RollingGrace. Happy travelling!


    1. It is an acquired taste, I would say, just like durian. Even some Asians don't eat durian right? Hehe

    2. Surstromming sounds like a healthy delicious fish. I'm sure they make yummy fish steak. Thank you for sharing this knowledge.

    3. Selalu tau ikan sardin merah tu je.. Hehehe.. Firstime dengar nama ikan ni. Enjoy masuk your blog kadang ada banyak benda tak tau jadi tau.. Hahaha

    4. Kalau Melayu panggil ikan apa ek? Ke memang di sana je ada ikan ni? Tengok rupa macam familiar hehehehe

    5. Interesting ya, i never heard about this before! Good tips about the unforgivable smells if I want to try it out.

    6. Thanks for sharing this, now you make me wonder how does it smells like, really bad ah

    7. The name and its look is nothing short of exotic...I wish I could sample it. Wonder if it will be suitable for my palate.


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