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Fermented herring
Fermented herring (surströmming) is a traditional Swedish delicacy usually enjoyed in early fall.
Photo credit: Tina Stafrén/

Fermented herring ('surströmming')

Never has fermented fish smelled so bad but tasted so good. What is Swedish surströmming? And why does it smell so bad?

If you've come across one of the many 'stinky fish challenge' videos on YouTube, it's most likely the Swedish fermented fish 'surströmming' you've watched people (trying to) eat. Surströmming is a traditional dish from northern Sweden that arose during the 16th century when Sweden had a salt shortage. Today, the fish has become infamous due to its stinky smell, yet enthusiasts praise surströmming for its great taste.

What is surströmming?

Small Baltic herring are caught in the spring, salted and left to ferment at leisure before being stuffed in a tin about a month before it hits the tables and shops. The fermentation process continues in the can – 'souring' as the Swedes refer to it – and results in a bulging tin of fermented herring. Or rotten fish, as some (incorrectly) would say.

The aroma is pungent, and the taste is rounded yet piquant with a distinct acidity. The fermentation originates from a lactic acid enzyme in the fish's spine.

When do you eat surströmming?

The official fermented herring premiere ('surströmmingspremiär') is on the third Thursday of August. However, late August until early September is a popular time to enjoy surströmming.

In Alfta, Hälsingland, the world's largest surströmming festival is arranged on 19 August 2023.

Where can you eat surströmming?

Outdoor is best. Always.

Surströmming is associated with northern Sweden in general and Ulvön islands in the High Coast in particular. These islands have produced fermented herring for over a hundred years, and many restaurants in the area offer the local delicacy.

If you're lucky, you might find surströmming on the menu at traditional restaurants in other parts of Sweden too. In Stockholm, restaurants like Tennstopet, Sturehof and Knut usually serve fermented herring in season.

Cans of surströmming can be bought in Swedish grocery stores and online.

Who eats surströmming?

Traditionalist Swedes, food lovers and adventurist tourists. And, in more recent years, also influencers.

Why do you eat surströmming?

Eating surströmming is a tradition and a social activity. Enthusiasts describe the taste as rich umami. It's also an excuse to throw a fermented herring party, called 'surströmmingsskiva'.

How to eat surströmming like a local:

As the tin is pressurised, open the surströmming in a basin of water. Wash it, gut it, and wrap it in buttered 'tunnbröd' (a type of sweetened flat bread) with slices of almond potatoes and diced onion. Accompany with beer, snaps and lots of friends.

Still not convinced that surströmming is something for you? Join a crayfish party instead, another Swedish tradition taking part at the end of August.

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Fishing for herring

A batch of herring freshly caught from the Baltic Sea. Swedes have two names for herring, depending where in the Baltic they are caught. Herring is a favoured food for seals, cod, other large fish and Swedes, who like them both fried and pickled.

Photo: Karl Melander/

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Fishing for herring

Photo: Karl Melander/

Fermented herring

Photo: Tina Stafrén/

Fermented herring wrap

Photo: Magnus Skoglöf/

Fermented herring

Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström/