From fika to flatbread: 11 must-have Swedish food souvenirs
Traditional Swedish snacks like dried reindeer meat and infamous sweets like salty Swedish liquorice make great food gifts. Or why not learn how to roll the perfect candy cane or bake your flatbread to bring home?
Here is a selection of irresistible and interesting food souvenirs for an authentic taste of Sweden.
Kalix Caviar (‘Kalix löjrom’)
The vendace roe from Kalix in Swedish Lapland was the first Swedish food product to receive a protected designation of origin (PDO) back in 2010. Often referred to as “The gold of the Bothnian Bay”, Kalix Caivar gets its distinctive taste from the brackish water in the Piteå, Luleå, Kalix and Haparanda archipelagos. It’s caught by fewer than 40 professional fishermen and is said to be one of the most unique ingredients in the world. The most common way of serving Kalix Caviar is on flatbread with finely chopped red onion, dill and crème fraiche. It can usually be found in Sweden’s best restaurants, market halls, well-stocked seafood shops and online.
Reindeer meat (‘renkött’)
Reindeer meat is an important ingredient in the Sámi kitchen, Sweden’s indigenous people who have inhabited the country's northern parts for thousands of years. Reindeer meat is succulent, lean and full of flavour. It’s usually prepared with traditional salting, smoking and curing techniques. ‘Souvas’, meaning ‘smoked’ in Sámi, is the most popular form. In 2003, ‘souvas’ became Sweden’s first Slow Food Presidia product – a culinary preservation listing of local and culturally essential food products. As a food souvenir to bring home, dried reindeer meat may be preferred, best enjoyed with a cold beer.
Västerbotten cheese (Västerbottensost)
Västerbotten cheese is essential during Swedish holidays like Midsummer and Christmas, often served in a quiche. Its name indicates that it’s cheese from Västerbotten county in northern Sweden, and according to the secret original recipe from 1872, it must be made from cow’s milk in the north of Sweden and aged for at least 14 months. The texture is firm and granular, the taste salty and strong. Västerbotten cheese can be found in all major supermarkets and at traditional restaurants, often as a part of the Swedish appetiser S.O.S (‘smör, ost, sill’ – Swedish for butter, cheese and herring). If you are to bring Swedish cheese with you home, don’t forget to buy an ‘osthyvel’, a cheese slicer that is a must in every Swedish home.
Cloudberry jam (‘hjortronsylt’)
Sweet, fruity and mild – or deep and tart. The flavour of cloudberries is challenging to describe to those who have never tasted them. This nutrition-packed delicacy turns the Swedish forests into a sea of gold from mid-July to mid-August for those lucky enough to find them. The amber-coloured berries thrive in sunny marshlands all over Sweden but are more common the further north you travel. In Swedish homes, cloudberries are commonly found in the fridge in the form of jam. Bring a jar home and savour it on waffles with whipped cream. Or heat the cloudberry jam and serve it as a dessert with vanilla ice cream. Delicious!
Flatbread and crispbread (‘tunnbröd’ and ‘knäckebröd’)
Flatbread and crispbread are two different versions of thin, traditional Swedish bread found in every supermarket. While the flatbread can be soft or crisp, made of wheat, barley, oat or rye and is more common in the northern parts of Sweden, crispbread is usually made of rye and is a staple all over the country. Mjälloms Tunnbröd in the High Coast is Sweden’s oldest flatbread bakery. In the summertime, you can book a cooking class and bake your own flatbread or buy a range of flatbread variations in the visitor’s shop around the clock. As for crispbread, the traditional, round-shaped version from Skedvi in Dalarna received a protected geographical indication (PGI) in November 2023. The old factory Skedvi Bröd has recently developed into a gastro destination with a food hall, restaurant, dairy, greenhouse and summer café.
Roasted oat flour (‘skrädmjöl’)
‘Skrädmjöl’ originates from Värmland county in western Sweden. The idea of roasting grains is believed to have started in the 17th century as a way to avoid moulding. Farmers roasted the oat grains in stone ovens before milling them into flour, giving them a nutty flavour. To be called ‘skrädmjöl’, the oat must be grown, dried, shelled and roasted in Värmland. Swedish author and Nobel Prize laureate Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940) was one of the first to sell skrädmjöl. Today, only a few mills – Stöpafors Kvarn, Björkaholm Qvarn and Femtå Qvarn – produce skärdmjöl, and it can be a bit tricky to get hold of outside the county border, but Swedish online shops sell it. Skrädmjöl boasts both a PGI certification and a Slow Food Presidia listing.
Gingerbread cookies (‘pepparkakor’)
‘Pepparkakor’ are sold in supermarkets year-round, but these spiced and crisp cookies are viral during Christmas. At Christmas markets, you can find them as large, heart-shaped variants with icing. Or do as the Swedes and set aside an afternoon to build and decorate your own gingerbread house. To make your own gingerbread cookies, find a classic recipe and buy forms. The most common shapes are stars, hearts, pigs, men and women, but in souvenir shops, you can find everything from moose to lávvus. Enjoy your gingerbread cookies with a glass of milk or ‘glögg’. They are also delightful with a piece of blue cheese or brie on top. And there’s no such thing as devouring too many – according to an old Swedish saying, eating ‘pepparkakor’ makes you kind.
Candy cane (‘polkagris’)
Another traditional Swedish sweet treat, and nowadays a worldwide Christmas staple, is the ‘polkagris’. These red and white candies were first handcrafted on a marble table in southern Sweden in 1859. Originally peppermint rocks, ‘polkagrisar’ are today mostly known as sticks and come in various flavours. They can be found all over Sweden, but if you’re after the real deal, head to the charming town of Gränna in Småland. ‘Äkta Gränna Polkagrisar’ holds a PGI certification. At the bakery Grenna Polkagriskokeri, you can join the baker and make your own candy while learning the history of these stripy sweets invented by a single mother.
Pyramid cake (‘spettekaka’)
The bigger the cake, the better the party – that used to be the norm in Skåne county in southern Sweden. The crisp ‘spettekaka’ dates back to the 17th century and was traditionally baked on a spit and decoratively drizzled with white or pink icing. The cake itself is made of eggs, potato starch flour and sugar and will melt in your mouth, but it’s not as sweet as one may think. The shape can make the cake challenging to transport, but don’t despair if it breaks. Spettekaka is supposed to be enjoyed in pieces with ice cream and fresh fruit or berries. Today, spettekaka is served at festivities like weddings and holidays such as Christmas and Midsummer. It also holds a PGI certification.
Pick and mix candy
Swedes are crazy for candy. According to sources, an average Swedish person consumes about 16 kilos per year – most in the world. Pick and mix is especially popular, and the selection is so much more than the red Swedish fish – walls of colourful sweets sold by the pound can be found in any supermarket, kiosk or even gas station. Make sure to take some of these varieties home with you:
- Dumle, a chocolate-covered soft toffee, and Kexchoklad, a crunchy chocolate-covered wafer biscuit.
- Ahlgrens Bilar: pink, white and green car-shaped marshmallow-like gummies.
- Salty liquorice: an infamous Swedish favourite that comes in many shapes and strengths where Djungelvrål, monkey-shaped chewies covered in salty liquorice powder, is one of the most popular sorts.
All of the above can also be bought in pre-packed bags.
No trip to Sweden is complete without a ‘fika’ or two. This delightful custom of enjoying a cup of coffee and a sweet treat with friends is an essential part of the Swedish lifestyle. The most popular fika treat, the cinnamon bun, even has its own day on 4 October. While cinnamon buns are best enjoyed freshly baked, the ‘seven types of cookies’ concept is far easier to bring home. These tiny cookies can be found in all bakeries, cafés and grocery stores. Or why not go for the classic ‘dammsugare’ (literally translated as ‘vacuum cleaner’), a cylindrical roll flavoured with punsch liqueur and covered in green marzipan and chocolate?
Please note: Generally, food items can be freely brought in between EU countries. Check the specific rules that apply in your home country.
Protected Designation of Origin (PDO): Product names registered as PDO are those that have the strongest links to the place in which they are made. It is the EU’s strongest food trademark. Examples: Champagne, Gorgonzola and Parma ham.
Protected Geographical Indication (PGI): PGI emphasises the relationship between the specific geographic region and the product's name, where a particular quality, reputation or other characteristic is essentially attributable to its geographical origin. Examples: Westphalian ham, Miel de Provence honey and Danablu cheese.
Source: European Commission
Slow Food Presidia: The Presidia sustain quality production at risk of extinction, protect unique regions and ecosystems, recover traditional processing methods, and safeguard native breeds and local plant varieties. Examples: Aged artisanal gouda and Bamberger Hörnla potato.