The friendly Swedish Fish are a staple of the U.S. candy scene, a denizen of nearly every movie theater counter and convenience store. But where did they come from? And why fish? Why not Swedish Reindeer? Or Geese? There isn't a lot of research on Swedish Fish out there, but here's what we know.
IN THE BEGINNING
Out of the primordial ooze of the sugar sea, from whence the flora and fauna of the gummy earth have evolved, come the Swedish Fish. The Swedish Fish belongs to the genus of "starch jellies," a firmer version of gummy candy that doesn’t contain gelatin, making it a popular vegetarian food (another term for this type of candy is frequently wine gum, but rather confusingly, many wine gums—a type of candy that contains no wine—do actually contain gelatin.)
The Fish first washed up on U.S. shores in the late 1950s, an import from Swedish confectionery company Malaco. At the time, Malaco was looking to expand into North America with its varieties of starch and licorice-based candies. The fish-shaped candies—called "Swedish Fish" because, well, they were Swedish and the fishing industry in Sweden was very large—were developed specifically for the U.S. and Canadian markets and proved almost immediately popular. Swedish Fish then became firmly entrenched in U.S. candy culture in the 1960s and '70s.
In the U.S., Swedish Fish are currently owned and distributed by candy manufacturer Cadbury Adams. The fish come in the traditional "red" flavor, as well as green, orange, and yellow, each with the word Swedish branded into their side. In Sweden, the fish-shaped wine gums are called pastellfiskar ("pale-colored fishes") and are distributed by Malaco; they also come in salmiak, a black salty licorice flavor that is evidently hugely popular in Sweden because it's everywhere.
SWEDISH FISH—ON ICE
In 2009, the Pennsylvania-based icy treat chain Rita's Italian Ice introduced a new flavor to their Italian ice line up. Vaguely cherry-ish and definitely red, the Swedish Fish flavor was available for only a limited time, but it made an indelible mark on the Swedish Fish-loving populace—bloggers dedicated much virtual ink to the terrifyingly red concoction. Soon, other companies got into the Swedish Fish game, like Oreo came out with their limited release version and Trident has a Swedish Fish gum.
WHAT ABOUT REAL SWEDISH FISH?
Fish are a major part of the Swedish diet, which shouldn't be too surprising, given that Sweden is home to one of the world's major archipelagos. But there's one Swedish fish dish that isn't likely to leave Swedish shores. Surströmming is a traditional dish that is essentially fermented herring that's been left to rot for several months in big barrels before being tinned. The delicacy has been banned from several major airlines for its incredibly strong smell and the potential that the tins might actually explode in pressurized conditions.
A version of this story ran in 2009.