Swedish cuisine tends to be practical and sustaining but due to Sweden's large north-south extent there have been regional differences. Historically, in the far North, meats such as reindeer, and other (semi-) game dishes were eaten, some which have their roots in the Sami culture, while fresh vegetables have played a larger role in the South. Many traditional dishes employ simple, contrasting flavours; such as the traditional dish of meatballs and gravy with tart, pungent lingonberry jam (slightly similar in taste to cranberry sauce). Swedish cuisine can be distinguished from that of its neighbours in Norway and Finland, with the dishes often being more sweetened.
Swedish cuisine could be described as centred around cultured dairy products, crisp and soft breads, berries and stone fruits, meats like beef and pork, seafood, shellfish, fish, pickled fish (and pickled vegetables), with vegetable staples including potato and the kale and cabbage families. Potatoes are often served as a side dish, most often boiled with a sauce. Swedish cuisine has a huge variety of breads of different shapes and sizes, made of rye, wheat, oat, white, dark, sour-dough, whole grain; soft flatbreads and crispbreads. There are many sweetened bread types and some use spices. Many meat dishes, steaks, game and meatballs are served with lingonberry jam. Fruit soups with high viscosity, like rose hip soup and blueberry soup (blåbärssoppa) served hot or cold, are typical of Swedish cuisine. Butter and margarine are the primary fat sources, although olive oil is becoming more popular. Sweden's pastry tradition features a variety of yeast buns, cookies, biscuits and cakes, many of them less sugary than those in the U.S. Coffeebreaks with a pastry (fika) is enormously popular in Sweden.
The importance of fish has governed Swedish population and trade patterns far back in history. For preservation, fish were salted and cured. Salt became a major trade item at the dawn of the Scandinavian middle ages, which began circa 1000 AD. Cabbage preserved as sauerkraut and various kinds of preserved berries, apples, etc were used once as a source of vitamin C during the winter (today sauerkraut is used very seldom in Swedish cuisine). Lingonberry jam, still a favourite, may be the most traditional and typical Swedish way to add freshness to sometimes rather heavy food, such as steaks and stews.
Sweden's long winters explain the lack of fresh vegetables in many traditional recipes. In older times, plants that would sustain the population through the winters were cornerstones; various turnips such as the kålrot (aptly named "swede" in British English) were gradually supplanted or complemented by the potato in the 18th century. Before the influences of French cuisine during the 17th and 18th centuries, a lack of distinct spices made every-day food rather plain by today's standards, although a number of local herbs and plants have been used since ancient times. This tradition is still present in today’s Swedish dishes, which are still rather sparingly spiced.
Both before and after this period, some new Germanic dishes were also brought in by immigrants, such as persons related to the Hanseatic League, settling in Stockholm, Visby, and Kalmar. Swedish traders and aristocrats naturally also picked up some food traditions in foreign countries; cabbage rolls (kåldolmar) being one example. Cabbage rolls were introduced in Sweden by Karl XII who came in contact with this dish at the time of the Battle of Poltava and during his camp in the Turkish Bender and later introduced by his Ottoman creditors, which moved to Stockholm in 1716. Kåldolmar were already described in 1755, by Cajsa Warg, in her famous Hjelpreda I Hushållningen För Unga Fruentimber.
Swedish husmanskost denotes traditional Swedish dishes with local ingredients, the classical every-day Swedish cuisine. The word husmanskost stems from husman, meaning "house owner" (without associated land), and the term was originally used for most kinds of simple countryside food outside of towns. Genuine Swedish husmanskost used predominantly local ingredients such as pork in all forms, fish, cereals, milk, potato, root vegetables, cabbage, onions, apples, berries etc.; beef and lamb were used more sparingly. Beside berries, apples are the most used traditional fruit, eaten fresh or served as apple pie, apple sauce, apple cakes or apple muffins. Time consuming cooking methods such as redningar (roux) and långkok (literally "long boil") are commonly employed and spices are sparingly used. Examples of Swedish husmanskost are pea soup (ärtsoppa), boiled and mashed carrots, potato and rutabaga served with pork (rotmos med fläsk), boiled salmon (inkokt lax), fishballs (fiskbullar), meatballs (köttbullar), potato dumplings with meat or other ingredients (palt), potato pancake (raggmunk), porridge (nävgröt), a fried mix of bits of small potato and meat (pytt i panna), meat stew with onion (kalops), and potato dumplings with a filling of onions and pork (kroppkakor).
Dishes akin to Swedish husmanskost and food traditions are found also in other Scandinavian countries; details may vary. Sweden is part of the vodka belt and historically distilled beverages such as brännvin and snaps has been a traditional daily complement to food. Consumption of wine in Sweden has increased during the last fifty years, partly at the expense of beer and stronger alcoholic beverages. In many countries locally produced wines are combined with local husmanskost.
Husmanskost has undergone a renaissance during the last decades as well known (or famous) Swedish chefs, such as Tore Wretman, have presented modernised variants of classical Swedish dishes. In this nouvel husman the amount of fat (which was needed to sustain hard manual labour in the old days) is reduced and some new ingredients are introduced. The cooking methods are tinkered with as well, in order to speed up the cooking process and/or enhance the nutritional value or flavor of the dishes.
Swedes have adopted some foreign influences, ranging from cabbage rolls and influences from French cuisine during the 17th and 18th centuries, to the pizza and cafe latte of today. Many Swedish restaurateurs mix traditional husmanskost with a modern, gourmet approach.
On the fast food side, hot dog sausage served in a bun or wrapped in flatbread is the classical Swedish fast food, but pizza has also been an integral part of Swedish fast food since the 1960s. Twenty years later, the same could be said about kebab and falafel, as many small restaurants specialise in such dishes.
Swedish traditional dishes, some of which are many hundreds of years old, others perhaps a century or less, are still a very important part of Swedish everyday meals, in spite of the fact that modern day Swedish cuisine adopts many international dishes.
In Sweden, traditionally, Thursday has been soup day because the maids had half the day off and soup was easy to prepare in advance. One of the most traditional Swedish soups, still served in many restaurants and households every Thursday together with pancakes, is the yellow pea soup, or ärtsoppa. It dates back to the old tradition of peas being associated with Thor. This is a simple meal, a very thick soup, basically consisting of boiled yellow peas, a little onion, salt and small pieces of pork. It is often served with mustard and followed by thin pancakes (see pannkakor). The Swedish Army also serve their conscripts pea soup and pancakes every Thursday. Potatoes are the main complement to most dishes. Only in the last 50 years have other complements such as spaghetti or rice become usual side dishes on the dinner table.
Potatoes are eaten all year around.
There are several different kinds of potatoes: the most appreciated is the new potato, a potato which ripens in early summer, and is enjoyed at the traditional mid-summer feast called midsommar. Midsommar is celebrated in Sweden as one of the most important holidays of the year. New potatoes at midsommar are served together with pickled herrings, chives, sour cream, and the first strawberries of the year are traditionally served as desert.
The most highly regarded mushroom in Sweden is the chanterelle, which is considered a delicacy. The chanterelle is usually served as a side dish together with steaks, or fried with onions and sauce served on an open sandwich. Second to the chanterelle, and considered almost as delicious, is the porcini mushroom, or karljohansvamp named after Charles XIV John (Karl XIV Johan) who introduced its use as food.
|Blodpudding||Black pudding||The Swedish names literally means "blood pudding". Eaten with lingonberry jam, potatoes and grated carrots.|
|Blodkorv||Blood sausage||Also contains pork and raisins.|
|Falukorv||Big and thick sausage of hot dog type, originating from Falun. The lifts and pumps at the Kopparberg copper mine in Falun were, during the 16th and 17th centuries before the introduction of steam engines, powered by oxen. When these oxen died from strain or old age, the skin was turned into leather ropes used in the mine, and some of the meat was turned into Falukorv sausages.|
|Fiskbullar||Fishballs, made from minced white fish meat.|
|Gravlax||salmon cured with salt and sugar with herbs.|
|Inkokt lax||Boiled Salmon|
|Isterband||Fermented sausage made of coarsely ground pork, barley and potatoes.|
|Janssons frestelse||Jansson's temptation||Potato casserole made of grated potatoes, onion, "anchovy" and cream; the fish used is usually the sprat, a different species, but similarly spiced.|
|Kalops||meat stewed with onion and some vegetables|
|Köttsoppa||A rustic beef and root vegetable soup.|
|Kroppkakor||Boiled potato-dumplings, filled with pork.|
|Lutfisk||Lye fish made of Stockfish.|
|Palt||Dumplings with a filling of pork.|
|Pitepalt||Palt from Piteå.|
|Blodpalt||Palt with blood|
|Leverpalt||Palt with liver|
|Blåbärspalt||Palt with blueberries|
|Inlagd sill||Pickled herring|
|Pölsa||Similar to hash|
|Rotmos med fläsk||mashed potatoes, carrotts and swede served with pork belly|
|Korv Stroganoff||sautéed pieces of sausage served in a sauce|
|Biff Stroganoff||Beef Stroganoff||sautéed pieces of beef served in a sauce|
|Stekt fläsk och bruna bönor||Pork with stewed brown beans|
|Prinskorv||Small hot dog sausages|
|Pyttipanna||Mix of chopped and fried meat, onions, pre-boiled potatoes. Other ingredients are often added as well, such as sausages, bacon, various herbs or even salmon (instead of the meat).|
|Smörgåstårta||Sandwich cake||Like a very big multi-layer sandwich. Comes with many different fillings and toppings.|
|Surströmming||Fermented Baltic herring||a rather different tasting species of herring. It has about 10% fat whereas Atlantic herring is 16%. This may occur because of the Baltic having half the salt concentration of many seas. Surströmming has a strong odor and unique flavour and is considered an acquired taste.|
|Stekt strömming||Fried herring||Very different from surströmming. Usually eaten with pickled root beets and boiled or fried potatoes.|
|Grisfötter||Pigs feet served with rödbetor|
|Flygande Jacob||Casserole based on chicken with bananas, peanuts and bacon. "Invented" in the 60s.|
With a long coast and many lakes and rivers, fish and other seafood is an important part of the Swedish cuisine. As the Baltic Sea is sensitive to pollution, and the previously popular cod has been overfished, and hydroelectric power has disrupted salmon reproduction in some rivers, farmed salmon from Norway has become increasingly popular. Pickled herring, inlagd sill, is the most traditional Swedish appetizer. Shrimp and lobster are specialties of the Skagerrak coast.
Common desserts include:
|Ostkaka||Swedish cheesecake (very different from American cheesecake).|
|Gotländsk saffranspannkaka||Rice pudding dessert with saffron originating in Gotland, usually served with jam and/or whipped cream, or Dewberry jam.|
|Smulpaj||crumb pie||Various kinds of pies and cookies are typical desserts, mostly served with coffee. Typical pies are apple pie, blueberry pie and rhubarb pie.|
|smördegspaj||butter dough based pie|
|Pannkaka||Pancakes are almost never served for breakfast ("American style") but either as dessert with sweet jam and/or whipped cream, or as a meal in itself, using fewer sweet toppings. (Pancakes for dinner can be thick oven-baked pancakes with pork meat or apples inside.)|
|Spettekaka||A sweet dry hollow Swedish cake, shaped like a cylinder, found only in the southern regions of Sweden, Skåne.|
|Våfflor||Waffles||Often served with jam and whipped cream or ice cream. Waffles also have their own day on March 25.|
|Klappgröt||Oatmeal porridge mixed with juice from either red currant, lingonberries, raspberries, blackberries etc. and then stirred or blended until the texture is more fluffy. Eaten cold.|
In recent years American brownies, cookies and cup-cakes have become popular in cafés and restaurants.
Pastries (kaffebröd or more colloquially bakelser) are usually consumed with relatively strong coffee (see fika), except for children. Popular kinds of ‘coffee-bread’ (kaffebröd) in a typical Swedish coffee shop ("konditori") with patisserie include:
|Wienerbröd||Danish pastry, comes in several varieties and shapes, very similar to Danish pastry in the US.|
|Chokladboll||Chocolate ball||is a round vanilla-flavored butter ball with oatmeal-cocoa-sugar-, coated in coconut flakes or pearl sugar. Chokladboll is something of a misnomer as it doesn't contain any cocoa butter (originally called negerboll, literally "negro ball", today a less accepted name).|
|Kringla||A small pretzel-shaped (sweet) cookie with pearl sugar on top.|
|Punschrulle||Punsch-roll||a small cylindrical pastry covered with green marzipan with the ends dipped in chocolate, and inside a mix of crushed cookies, butter, and cacao, flavoured with punsch liqueur. This pastry is often called dammsugare ("vacuum cleaner"), referring not only to its appearance, but also to the supposed practice of the pastry baker collecting crumbs from the day's cookies for filling. Other names are arraksrulle (as arrak is an ingredient in punsch ) and "150-ohmer" (due to the brown-green-brown coloring).|
|Biskvi||A small round pastry with a bottom made of almonds and sugar, filled with butter cream and covered with a thin layer of chocolate. First made in France during the 19th century.|
|Prinsesstårta||Princess cake||a big cake, made of sponge cake layered with whipped cream, and custard under a green marzipan coating with powdered sugar on the top; often decorated with a pink marzipan rose. The current king of Sweden, King Carl XVI Gustaf had four sisters, and there was no heir to the throne. So, the royal confectionest made this special cake for them.|
|Budapestbakelse||Budapest pastry||basically made of sugar, egg white, hazel nuts, whipped cream, and pieces of fruit like apricot or mandarine, decorated with some chocolate and powdered sugar.|
|Napoleonbakelse||Napolitain||Made of pastry dough, whipped cream, custard and jam, the upper plate covered with icing and currant jelly.|
|Kladdkaka||A chocolatey and sticky flat cake|
|Arraksboll||A ball flavored with arrak, similar in appearance to a chokladboll but very different taste.|
In the summer, various seasonal fruit cakes are common. Strawberry and cream cake are highly regarded. Strawberries are also often eaten on their own with sugar and milk or cream. In the late summer and autumn, apple cakes and pies are baked. The apple cake is often served with vanilla custard, but sometimes with ice cream or whipped cream.
During the winter holidays, traditional candy and pastries include:
|Ischoklad||Cold ice-chocolate "toffees"|
|Marmelad||"Marmalade candy", rectangular fruit and pectin based candy in various colours.|
|Lussekatt||Saffron bun, a Swedish saffron bun eaten on the Saint Lucia celebration (13 December).|
|Pepparkaka||Similar to a ginger snaps (has been eaten since the 1300s and baked at the monastery of Vadstena since 1444); associated with Christmas but consumed all year round.|
|Semla||With the new year, the fastlagsbulle (Lenten bun), or semla, is baked. It is a wheat bun with a cream and almond paste filling, traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday.|
Other typical Swedish candy includes:
|Saltlakrits||Liquorice candy flavoured with ammonium chloride.|
|Polkagris||Traditional peppermint stick candy from Gränna, also made in other flavours.|
|Winegums and gumdrops in all shapes, colours and sizes||a typical Swedish candy for kids|
|Sockerbitar||Similar to square, chewy marshmallows|
|Gelehallon||An early form of gelatine-based candy|
|Daim||formerly called Dime in the UK|
Sweden is one of the heaviest coffee drinking countries in the world, behind Finland. Milk consumption in Sweden is also very high, again only second to Finland. Milk is bought in milk cartons, and it is no coincidence that Tetra Pak, the world's largest maker of milk cartons, is Swedish. Milk is considered the standard drink to have with meals during weekdays in many families, for both children and adults.
|Julmust||Traditional stout-like, sweet seasonal carbonated soft drink (jul means Christmas in Swedish). Also called påskmust when sold during Easter (påsk meaning Easter).|
|Mumma||A traditional Christmas beverage. Usually a mix of porter or another dark beer, some light beer (pilsner), port wine (or some other wine), and something sweet (sockerdricka or julmust); commonly spiced with cardamom.|
|Blåbärssoppa||Sweet soup or drink made from blueberries, served either hot or cold.|
|Enbärsdricka||Traditional juniper berry soft drink|
|Sockerdricka||sugar drink||Traditional sweet-sour soft drink (carbonated)|
|Fruktsoda||Traditional lemon-lime soft drink (carbonated)|
|Champis||Soft drink alternative to sparkling wine (carbonated)|
|Trocadero||Traditional soft drink with the taste of apple and oranges, with its roots in the north of Sweden.|
The most important of stronger beverages in the Swedish cuisine is Brännvin which is a general term that includes mainly two kinds of beverages: The Akvavit, also called Aqua vitae, and the Vodka. When consumed traditionally it is often served as a Snaps, but Vodka is also populary consumed as a drink ingredient. Renat is often considered to be the national vodka of Sweden, but other higly popular brands are Explorer Vodka and Absolut Vodka, the latter being one of the world's best known liquor brands. Most forms of Brännvin have around 40% alcohol.
The production of hard liquor has a tradition dating back to the 18th century and was at a high in the 1840s. Since the 1880s, the state-owned Systembolaget has a monopoly on selling spirits with more than 3.5% alcohol, limiting access. Hembränt (moonshine) used to be made in rural Sweden, but production has lessened in recent years due to more liberal rules for the import of alcohol as well as increased smuggling.
Beer is also widely consumed in Sweden and the typical Swedish beer is lager beer of a bright and bitter kind. The brands Pripps Blå and Norrlands Guld are common examples. In the last few decades, many small breweries (microbreweries) have emerged all over Sweden offering a wide range of styles and brands. Nils Oscar Brewery, Dugges Ale och Porterbryggeri and Närke Kulturbryggeri are examples of these young swedish microbreweries. Many microbreweries in Sweden are inspired by the US craft beer movement, brewing american styles and/or styles commonly associated with american craft breweries, e.g. American Pale Ale and American IPA.
Brödinstitutet (The Bread Institute) once campaigned with a quotation from the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, recommending eating 6 to 8 slices of bread daily. Drinking milk has also been recommended and campaigned for by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare; it's often recommended to drink two to three glasses of milk per day. 52% of Swedes surveyed drink milk at least once a day, usually one glass with lunch and another glass or two in the evening or morning.
Though overweight and metabolic syndrome has been rising in recent years with the increase in more highly processed food and fast food, the obesity rate is still low compared to many other industrial countries, well below that of the U.S., at least in part due to smaller portions and a more active lifestyle.
Swedish alcohol consumption has changed during the last few decades due to more "continental" habits, as Swedes combine their traditional weekend binge drinking with casual weekday drinking and relaxed import regulations (see alcoholic beverages in Sweden). Tobacco smoking has decreased greatly during the last few decades, mostly because of many Swedes' transition to the national specialty snus and (more recently) due to smoking being prohibited in bars and public places. Recreational drugs other than alcohol and tobacco are less common in Sweden than in continental Europe.
The Swedish people are concerned about the environment and animal protection. Swedish farmers actively advertise their products as free from genetic engineering, cruelty against animals, un-organic chemicals and excessive transportation (with the implication that these features are common in foreign food production and that Swedish farmers actually live up to animal protection laws). The national organic farming label, KRAV, is popular, and a fair trade label was recently established.