Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More
Surströmming: The Secrets of this Stinky Swedish Fish

Surströmming: The Secrets of this Stinky Swedish Fish

It’s been called the smelliest food in the
world. The cans swell up after it’s packaged — and
that’s considered a GOOD thing. We’re here to explain why the Swedes love
their surströmming, and for that we called in some experts, courtesy of the Swedish embassy
here in Washington, DC. This surströmming and this is the actual
Swedish Ambassador to the United States. Surrrrrrrstrrrroming. “Sour herring,” it actually means. And we can tell you firsthand: It is pretty
stinky. I don’t really know how to describe the
smell. It’s strong. It’s earthy? Can you guys smell it over there? It’s not quite what I expected, i’ll say
that. I was expecting almost a little bit like poopy
diaper from some of the things I read. But it’s not. Like its Northern European cousins, such as
Icelandic hakarl and Norwegian rakfisk, surströmming was born out of the need to preserve freshly
caught fish. It’s really part of our cultural heritage. The oldest piece of evidence about surstromming
dates back 9000 years. this is something that is eaten in a lot of
cultures, it’s a way of preserving food that really took off in the 1500s, because
you know we were at war and salt was very expensive, so people needed to find other
ways to ferment or to keep food as, you know, there were no refrigerators back then. So, up until we invented refrigeration, peoples
around the world have used a very simple chemical to prevent foods from spoiling: salt. But for most of human history salt was expensive
and there probably wasn’t much to go around, particularly in Northern Europe. So people had to use as little salt as possible. And that leads to some interesting chemistry.. There is enough salt in surstromming to prevent
most bacteria from growing — the kind that would spoil the food, or make you sick or
whatever. But certain species of bacteria thrive in
high-salt, low-pH, low-oxygen environments, and these guys make surströmming what it
is. These bacteria also produce lactic acid. More lactic acid comes from the fish’s muscle
tissue as it ferments. Lactic acid makes it even more difficult for
other bacteria to grow by dropping the pH to levels they can’t stand. The bacteria also produce propionic acid,
butyric acid, and hydrogen sulfide. Those guys are responsible for the extremely…um,
strong smell. Together they’re sharp, pungent, slightly
dairy-like, and vinegary. The hydrogen sulfide might be the worst part,
as it’s also responsible for the odor of flatulence. This is a theme we return to whenever we talk
about unusual foods like this. Holding your nose is better than starving,
and over time these foods turn into beloved cultural staples. It’s an acquired taste as they say. I’ve learned to eat it, I don’t like it
that much, but it’s part of a tradition and it’s a fun thing to do because it’s
very very special. But there are those who really really love
it. So either you love it or you don’t really. Surströmming is fermented for several weeks
in its salt and lactic acid brine. Then it’s canned in the same liquid it was
fermented in, which means…it doesn’t actually stop fermenting. The bacteria have no source of oxygen, but
that doesn’t stop them. They keep doing their thing, producing gases
as byproducts. That’s why the cans swell over time. Swollen cans of green beans or whatever in
the supermarket are a sign of botulinum bacteria and are very very bad news don’t ever buy
swollen cans. But in surströmming it’s business as usual. This can is a little bit swollen. It really is under pressure, because normally
if I was in the grocery store and I saw a swollen can I wouldn’t buy it. But in this case it’s OK. It is OK. It’s been sitting out for a little bit so
that’s what happens. And we’re going to make sure we do it in a bucket later when we do it. And we’re going to enjoy it with a little bit of Aquavit. They say to open the can under water because
that pressure can cause a bit of splatter — also it smells. Well let’s crack open a can of surstromming Yes. and as I am the deputy ambassador I ask
the executive chef to do that because you really are very professional at opening it. Yes sir All right here it goes. Are you ready? Let’s do it. Oh. There was a little pop there. Oh yeah! A little spray of bubbles that we got. I can smell it Yep, oh yeah it’s pretty
strong. Oh boy yeah. Here we go, we’re in business. Let’s see if we can get a nice, oh yeah
it looks like fish fillets. Once the can is open, there’s a right and
a wrong way to eat surströmming — not like these boneheads from Buzzfeed did a couple
years ago. Luckily, Frida is here to show us how it should
be done. So we have this wonderful spread in front
of us, this is how you would normally serve it. You wouldn’t eat it out of the can, so tell
us a little bit about what you got here. So we got some potatoes, some boiled potatoes,
we got some crème fraîche, we got some chives, a little bit of butter, and some red onions. There’s nothing that isn’t better with
potatoes. Everything is better with potatoes. And (if you’re of age, of course,) you’ve
got to round it out with some beer. Or, even better, Akvavit. So are we going to toast first? Are we going to take a bite first? So we take it, here is yours right here, here
is mine, we’re taking a bite and then we’re toasting. This is how you would do it? This is how we do it. This is how we do it. So welcome to Sweden. Thank you so much. Enjoy. I don’t know if I got much of that fish
in that bite. No, I’ve got it because it’s very salty. Cheers. Skol. That’s how we say it in Sweden. So what are you think? It’s good I’m going to go in for another
bite. Like almost any traditional strong-smelling
food, surströmming tastes better than it smells, although it’s still very strong
and salty. And it’s best eaten in late summer, right
when the year’s catch is done fermenting. In fact, it used to be the law that you couldn’t
eat surstromming before the third Thursday in August. The law was lifted, but the tradition of the
surstromming premiere continues. Is there a reason you eat it in the summer? You have to be outside. mistakes have been made. Opening the can inside, eating it inside. And then you’re going to need to have a
total makeover of your home because the smell is really intense. We attracted a real crowd from around the
ambassador’s residence, of seasoned surstromming veterans and newbies alike… It actually doesn’t taste as bad as it smells. We’d like to thank Ambassador Olofsdottir
and her team because being based in DC is cool sometimes for helping us understand this
corner of the world of cuisine. You know I really like pickles and I like Kimchi and I think I really like surstromming. Like, we got to see the ambassador’s residence? Which was GORGEOUS? And spend some time and eat cookies with our
lovely lovely hosts. Thanks so much, everybody. Thanks also to YouTube user Mattias Bengtsson for requesting surströmming as a video topic. Tell us what unusual foods you can’t live without and maybe we’ll barge into some ambassador’s backyard and try them. And if you want to support us in our unusual and extremely satisfying life choices, make sure to like, subscribe, share, and turn on notifications, because I get to try new foods and make weird faces and everyone in the office gets to laugh at me. Thanks, guys. We’ll see you next week

100 comments on “Surströmming: The Secrets of this Stinky Swedish Fish

  1. Cultural heritage? They teach us Swedes we have no culture, nor heritage. We're immigrants with no distinct culture nor heritage.

  2. It's the food of savages, we have come up much better ways to preserve foods! I don't eat tripe, pigs feet, and other type of slave foods that slaves were forced to eat to survive. Some traditions should die with the savages that needed to preserve food in this manner. I'm not eating something that smells like shit and makes most people throw up! The right way to eat it is to not eat it at all and now your breath smells like 100 hot broken diaper genies! White people

  3. Surströmming for me was like trying wasabi for the first time, a little bit more challenging, but not bad. Might just be me though.

  4. I open in plastic bag as to not may the spray going all over the place. But once cracked open you can take it out of the water/bag.
    And you also can drink light beer or milk to it.

    And also start with small bites in the beginning. And have tomatoes to the mix.

    Opening the can outside, but you can eat it inside.

  5. 9000 years?? Dont you guys know that northern germanic tribes were savages until the fall of rome. Disliked and the ambassaddor needs to learn some basic history

  6. In the Philippines we call that "Burong isda" but the pairings are simpler back home, usually Rice, tomotoes/onions, boiled eggplant and a squeeze of kalamansi ( local lime ) 😁

  7. It reminds me of some of the salt liquorices with ammonium chloride. My family has lutefisk (lye fish) at christmas, another preservation trick.

  8. It's not that bad actually. I just tried it and it smells like a mix between durian and rotten fish. I wouldn't recommend it to my worst enemy 😂 off to take a shower and brush my teeth.

  9. Same like salted fresh fish put in in container stock in few months before ready to eats it is called in Philippines "bagoong"

  10. Nice with rice or porridge.. fry it with onion til crispy ISH and the onions caramelized..also fresh chilli fried too. In Malaysia called ikan pekasam..or pickled fish..

  11. First of all, surströmming is a food that comes from Norrland, the northern part of Sweden, where, historically, fresh food in winter was impossible to get. So when regular pickled herring went bad on them, they ate it anyway. You can find it in those cans that look like they're going to explode all over Sweden these days, but the majority of Swedes I met want no part of it. I was told that to open a can of it, you have to put the can under water in a bucket, because all that odoriferous, disgusting gas in the can, being under pressure, will cause some of the horribly smelly liquid in the can to squirt out of the small opening made when you pierce the can and the ejected contents, under pressure, will get on you and on your ceiling. Further, many of the Swedes in Stockholm I met told me that you have to knock back a good many shots of akvavit (aquavit in English, a Swedish hard liquor flavored with caraway seed and other ingredients) and get drunk enough to overcome your revulsion for the smell before eating it and one Swede who told me that believed that eating surströmming was an excuse for getting drunk on akvavit. Several of them also told me that you don't want to be talking face to face with someone who has eaten surströmming, because they will burp and the burp, directed at you, will smell horrible. Trust me on this, some Swedes eat surströmming, but a huge percentage of Swedes steer clear of it because it's gross and, in the modern era, decent food is not in short supply during the winter. By the way, no restaurant in greater Stockholm will serve it because the smell is so offensive it would gross out the other customers who are eating and I think the vast majority of restaurants in Sweden won't serve it for that reason.

  12. Refrigeration has been around for quite sometime, why still eat fermented crap that contains fart gas. Those "bone heads" were right to puke on this crap

  13. it's mid night here in Vietnam and why the hell did i ended up watching people talk about fish that i would properly never see in my life. Internet operate in a strange way i say.

  14. You should try Finnish desert called mämmi and despite the look of it, it's quite delicious. It's made from rye flour and malted rye. It's tradiotionally mixed with sugar and whole milk to be complete delight.

  15. I actually wouldn’t mind trying it. I don’t know if I can do the whole process of getting it ready bc I hate getting my hands dirty while preparing food, but if it was already made then it looks kinda good.

  16. Poor Swedish. They were eating sh*t thru the years and soon their country will not exist any more… At least there is IKEA

  17. Out of all the videos on Surstromming, besides the ones of actual Swedes in their backyards enjoying it, I think this is the most respectful one to the heritage and the one which most portrays it as a potentially enjoyable thing. I may actually want to try this someday, under the right circumstances…

  18. Surströmming is weaponized food, if the Russians invade we can drive them away by shooting cans of stinky fish with our Bofors canons and Carl Gustaf recoilless rifles! 😉

    As you might guess, I’m Swedish, and I have tried to eat it, twice, but there won’t be a third time. There’s no amount of Aquavit that would make me stand that smell, I would surely pass out of alcohol poisoning before that! 🥵

  19. the only ones who like it in sweden is the modsommar alkolisterna (low key alkoholics) basicly your fucked in the head if you eat it

  20. All over the planet, people preserved foods by drying, smoking or boiling and submerging in vinegar. The Sweedish decided to rot fish in a can… And they call buzzfeed boneheads :))

  21. There is no right way to eat rooten food. This is just stupid. We are not in the dark ages anymore.

  22. I wish I had a Swedish friend that could eat surstromming with me..
    I looooove trying new food.
    I wish I could travel the world just to try all kind of different food.

  23. Normal dead fish odour level 10
    Sustromming fish odour level 100
    Fart after eating Sustromming fish odour level infinity

    Hence any one farting Sustromming fish in the face of thanos can potentially kill him

  24. I really really like to try it, I'm from SEA so plenty of our traditional cuisine kinda smelly even our fruit is smelly like durians (which is a must eat when the season start). Got a friend who's from french try our fermented pork (wild boar meat, rice, tapioca leaves and left fermented). At first he's kinda hate it cause the smell but my mum said that as a guest he must try it and so he does and love it.

  25. I think you can cook it first insteada eating it as how it is right? That smell might be lifted a little after boil?

  26. aw come on you just do this to sell to tourists who will just display it or ruin a party at drunkenly popping it!!!
    its like ..trolls…canned London Fog…edible underwear…talking Billy Bass…Good fun but just a souvenir …Where can I buy the T shirt?

  27. After 6 minutes and 24 seconds, this European man mustered the courage to "touch" the near-rotted fish. Then he ate it on purpose. True Americans never return to their European roots.

  28. Finally a video without morons vomiting and spitting it out. I would love to have some but in California its so expensive. An aquaintance of mine once put a can of this under the rear seat of a very bad ex girlfriends car. After a few days parked in the summer sun, and the car at 120F , after the explosion, I understand that she or the towing company could not get inside it.

  29. Am ready to try it out ….where can I find it in NAIROBI.
    It seems other YouTube videos are misleading. This particular video gives surströmming a much better experience

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