What Does Lutefisk Actually Taste Like?

Outside of Europe's Scandinavian region (and Wisconsin and Minnesota), lutefisk doesn't get a lot of love — or even general recognition — as something curious diners might want to try. Compared to fish like salmon and tuna, its pale and translucent appearance isn't all that appetizing (via The Daily Meal). Its name "lutefisk" translates to "lye fish," which doesn't exactly sound like a positive thing.

Unlike salmon and tuna, though, you can't actually go out fishing for an actual lutefisk. The truth is, it's not a specific species of fish itself — instead, it's a form of stockfish, which is typically some sort of whitefish like cod or burbot. The hardened and dried fish is softened back up by indeed soaking it in lye (yes, it's rinsed before serving) and has a gelatinous texture (via Review-Journal). Is your mouth watering yet?

With its gelatinous texture and less-than-appetizing preparation process, it's no wonder that the popularity of lutefisk is only firmly entrenched in certain populations — namely, Scandinavian-Americans in certain parts of the country (via Smithsonian). As for the taste of lutefisk, well, we don't have super good news in that department, either.

It's like a fish Jell-O with an offensive smell

One person on Quora who said they regularly ate it at Chrismas growing up, described it as, "Very mild but its texture is a bit unattractive in the modern taste. It's like jelly." Others called it a fishy Jell-O (via AG Week).  

Another lutefisk fan who organizes a lutefisk dinner at their church told Twin Cities Pioneer Press, "It's kind of a fishy taste, but for me, it's the butter and the cream sauce I eat it with." That's still probably not going to sell many people on trying it. 

Perhaps the greatest offense of the lutefisk isn't necessarily its taste, but the smell associated with it. As the TV comedy King of the Hill noted, eat enough of it and you may soon be known as "the man with the terrible smell." Poke around the internet and you'll also find plenty of jokes referring to the incredibly strong and fishy smell of lutefisk (via Sun Sentinel). "What's this fly doing in my lutefisk? Gagging, said the waiter," reads one of them. 

As for the lutefisk smell that seems to turn off so many people, most people describe it as a very pungent fishy smell that can't be forgotten. Author Garrison Keillor simply summed up its odor as powerful enough to "gag a goat."