The Untold Truth Of Swedish Fish

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If you're American, when you hear the term "Swedish Fish," your mind probably conjures up the image of a bite-size, red gummy candy in the shape of a scaled sea creature (and not, say, surströmming, the infamous fermented herring delicacy that dates back to the 16th century). But what exactly are Swedish Fish (the candy), and why are they called that? Are they actually from Sweden? Why are they shaped like fish in the first place? And what flavor is that famous red Swedish Fish even supposed to be?

We cast about for all the information you'll ever need to know about this iconic Halloween candy and netted some surprising facts about Swedish Fish. For instance, they're not made from the ingredients you may think they are, but they could potentially get you better customer service (this will make sense later).

Even if you're not a fan, Swedish Fish have an interesting history and obvious staying power (and not just in your teeth). The chewy sweets have inspired other Swedish Fish-flavored foods and drinks, and swim across the screen in Candy Crush Saga, where they go by the generic and slightly confusing name of Jelly Fish. Swedish Fish also happen to have some celebrity supporters — as well as their share of famous detractors, in case you're a hater who wants to feel validated in your dim view of these piscine sweets.

Love them or loathe them, it's time to plunge into the depths of Swedish Fish.

Swedish Fish are originally from Sweden

Swedish Fish actually did originate in Sweden. According to Routes North, Swedish candy company Malaco developed the chewy, fruity, fish-shaped sweets in the 1950s specifically for the North American market. Why the choice of fish-shaped molds? The popular theory is that actual fish have always been a big part of Swedish culture and the country was widely known for its robust fishing industry. The quirky candy was a hit and became a staple sweet in the US in the 1960s and '70s (via Mental Floss).

Today, capital-S, capital-F Swedish Fish are manufactured by Cadburys Adams, which is owned by international snack company Mondelez. These Swedish Fish are made in factories located in Canada and Turkey. However, the Malaco company does still exist and still makes fish-shaped gummy sweets in Sweden. According to Candy Blog, they have a slightly different texture and range of flavors and are simply called pastellfiskar, which means "pale fish." — though bags labeled Malaco Original Swedish Fish have been spotted at Ikea (via Instagram).

American Swedish Fish aren't hard to find, but if you want to try pastellfiskar, you'll have to do some digging. Both the original Malaco kind and the upstart artisanal brand Kolsvart can be bought online.

Swedish Fish come in several flavors and colors

The classic crimson Swedish Fish is by far the most iconic example of the form, and people often guess that red Swedish Fish are supposed to taste like cherry, strawberry, raspberry, or fruit punch. Others just deem the taste "red" and leave it at that. In fact, red Swedish Fish are allegedly lingonberry flavored, though it's unclear if this is actually the case (via Twitter).

Lingonberries are small, tart fruits common in Sweden. They're frequently made into jam, jelly, and preserves (which you've no doubt seen accompanying Ikea's Swedish meatballs). The flavor of lingonberries is often described as similar to cranberries, but more complex, with notes of other berries, currants, and even pomegranate. Perhaps this complexity leads to confusion about Swedish Fish's flavor. Then again, it could be because artificial flavorings and colors imperfectly imitate the intended taste (via Reddit). Candy Blog notes that lingonberry pastellfiskar have a more prominent and nuanced flavor than American red Swedish Fish.

Swedish Fish also come in other colors and fruity flavors. More modern iterations include Tropical Swedish Fish, with passion fruit and piña colada flavors, as well as the vaguer "Beachy Punch;" Crush Soda-flavored Swedish Fish; and Swedish Fish Tails, which blend two flavors in each fish, such as watermelon-pineapple and raspberry-mango.

Pastellfiskar come in a whole array of flavors too, from sour blueberry, sweet ginger, and elderflower to a salted black licorice known as salmiak that is particularly beloved in Sweden (via Quora).

Swedish Fish are technically wine gums

While Swedish Fish are a type of gummy candy, they aren't in the same class of confection as gummy bears or gummy worms. Those squishy, springy snacks are usually made with gelatin, which is often derived from animal tissues. Vegan versions, of course, do exist. Swedish Fish are made with starch instead of gelatin and are classified as starch jellies, otherwise known as wine gums (via Mental Floss).

Wine gums originated in England and don't contain any alcohol, so why are they called that? One theory is that they were intended to provide an alternative to an after-dinner glass of wine by their teetotaling manufacturer (via Gourmet Boutique). Alternatively, Wine Turtle says that the name may have originated to reflect the fact that wine gums have fine fruity flavors that linger on the palate and can be enjoyed on the same level as a glass of vino.

Although Swedish Fish aren't marketed as wine gums, they have snuck into at least one Twitter user's bag of sour wine gums before. Seem fishy? There's a simple explanation: Maynards, one popular producer of wine gums, is owned by Mondelez, the company that makes Swedish Fish. That means Swedish Fish and Maynards Wine Gums are manufactured in the same location, which can lead to the occasional accidental crossover.

Swedish Fish contain three different types of sugar

Swedish Fish are fat-free, but does that mean Swedish Fish are good for you? Well, they're still candy, so ... no. You won't be surprised to learn that they pack in a lot of sugar. In fact, sugar is the first ingredient in Swedish Fish (via Walmart). The second is ingredient is invert sugar, and the third is corn syrup.

Sugar is obviously present in candy primarily to give it its signature sweet taste, but it does more than that. Added sugar acts as a preservative in many processed foods, and certain types of sugar also contribute to a more refined and uniform texture and appearance. Very Well Fit describes how invert sugar helps foods retain moisture and achieve a softer, smoother texture by preventing sugar crystallization.

A single serving of Swedish Fish, which is five pieces of the standard size, contains 23 grams of sugar, or 46% of the average recommended daily intake. You're also looking at 110 calories and 27 grams of carbs.

Only some Swedish Fish are vegan

Aside from sugar, Swedish Fish contain these ingredients: modified corn starch, citric acid, white mineral oil, natural and artificial flavors, synthetic food dyes, and carnauba wax. The carnauba wax, which is derived from a type of Brazilian palm tree, serves the purpose of providing a glossy finish. It shows up in lots of other candies too, including Peeps (where it's dabbed on for their eyes).

However, some packages of Swedish Fish contain beeswax in place of carnauba wax, which makes them unsuitable for vegans. It seems that the non-vegan Swedish Fish come exclusively in the hole-punched peg bag packaging (i.e. the kind that hangs on metal arms at gas stations and convenience stores), but if you're concerned, always be sure to check your labels! Malaco pastellfiskar contain beeswax too, though the Kolsvart brand is certified vegan.

One more thing worth noting for strict vegans who may still be learning all the rules: Even in the carnauba wax version of Swedish Fish, the sugar itself may not be vegan, as industrially refined cane sugar is often processed using bone char (via Veg Knowledge). Celiac.com says that all Swedish Fish are gluten-free, though they are not certified and labeled as such.

Swedish Fish are incredibly popular

It's easy to love a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup or a Snickers bar, but Swedish Fish are divisive, and even their most ardent fans know this. Witness, for instance, the fact that a thread devoted to singing the praises of Swedish Fish was posted in the Unpopular Opinion community on Reddit.

The thread includes several people lauding the flavor and texture of Swedish Fish as incomparably delicious, waxing rhapsodic about their surprisingly not-too-sweet flavor, bright fruit notes, and pleasant chew. Some say they can never have enough, while others admire the fact that they don't feel compelled to power through an entire package at one time. Naturally, you have dissenters chiming in to take Swedish Fish down a peg or two.

Ultimately, though, these are all opinions, and you can always argue with those. Cold, hard facts are irrefutable. The data show that Swedish Fish are immensely popular. Candy Industry says that Swedish Fish continually dominate web search results in the non-chocolate candy category. Sales of Swedish Fish were up 4.7% year over year in 2021, raking in a net catch of $126.8 million (via Candy Industry). That may be in part thanks to Georgia, where, per Candy Store, Swedish Fish were the most popular Halloween candy in 2021, with 136,319 pounds sold.

To help meet this rising demand, according to the Consulate General of Canada in Denver, roughly 13 million Swedish Fish swim off the Hamilton, Ontario production line alone every day.

Swedish Fish have several celebrity fans

Swedish Fish have friends in high places. Laura Linney loves Swedish Fish (per Qantas). The Smoking Gun says that in 2010, Justin Bieber requested Swedish Fish backstage as part of his tour rider. Jodie Sweetin revealed her fondness for Swedish Fish on Twitter. So did Garcelle Beauvais and Ts Madison. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who co-owns a candy store with Paul Rudd, prefers chocolate-covered Swedish Fish that he stores in the fridge so they get extra chewy (via Samuel's Sweet Shop). There is photo evidence of Alexander Skarsgard holding Swedish Fish on Pinterest, though no word on if he enjoys them.

Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanaugh featured Swedish Fish on an episode of their "Mike and Tom Eat Snacks" podcast. They had generally favorable things to say, though they were gobsmacked by the amount of sugar and oddly fascinated by the candy's "dusty opacity." John Cena followed the blue badge-verified Swedish Fish account on Twitter. Jennifer Lopez allegedly liked the Sugarfina version of Swedish Fish (via E! Online). According to this Reddit post, the late Chadwick Boseman once autographed the Swedish Fish dispenser at Dylan's Candy Bar, perhaps memorializing his fondness for the snack. 

As for celebs who would throw them back, actual Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson is one, as he disclosed in an episode of the "Another Round" podcast. Yahoo News reported that Machine Gun Kelly once called for Swedish Fish to be canceled, though admittedly, that had nothing to do with taste.

Some people think Swedish Fish have changed

Some former fans of Swedish Fish believe they're not the same as they used to be. As recently as 2020, the issue was discussed on Reddit, with many expressing disappointment about the current flavor of Swedish Fish. Some speculated that the manufacturing process must have changed, though opinions differed as to precisely how the candy's attributes had shifted. One poster said they found Swedish Fish to be less soft and oily than they used to be, while others didn't notice any changes at all. 

Sour Patch Kids came up in this discussion too, which makes sense, since they are also manufactured by Mondelez. One poster said they tasted a difference between Sour Patch Kids made in Turkey and those made in Canada, so it could be that Swedish Fish taste slightly different based on where they're made as well. Similar grievances were aired on Facebook back in 2015, around the time the packaging was redesigned (via Dieline). So it's possible that tweaks were also made to the candy itself — or that there was some placebo effect involved.

One Reddit poster suggested it could simply be a matter of eating Swedish Fish too close to their sell-by date, as both the flavor and texture markedly deteriorate over time.

There have been several Swedish Fish-flavored foods

We already learned that Swedish Fish come in several flavors, but it's that red, maybe-lingonberry taste that is most strongly associated with the candy, and that has inspired a range of other Swedish Fish flavored foods and drinks. Swedish Fish Oreos may have made the biggest splash, though that was all the way back in 2016. Also currently unavailable, per Just Candy, are Swedish Fish candy canes. Ditto Trident's Swedish Fish flavored gum, which was one of the few Swedish Fish-inspired products to go beyond the classic red berry flavor by incorporating lemon (via Amazon).

More successful, though also more limited in geographic availability, there's been a Swedish Fish flavored Italian ice intermittently offered at Pennsylvania-based Rita's since 2009, according to The Impulsive Buy. You can still find Swedish Fish marshmallows and Swedish Fish jelly beans — though the latter hardly seems like a huge innovation.

Various microbreweries have experimented with Swedish Fish flavors in their beers, including True Respite Brewing Company's Candy Sour: Swedish Fish and Iron Hart Brewing & Taproom's Socks Off Sour Swedish Sour. For those who prefer shots and mixed drinks, Pinnacle makes a Gummy flavored vodka that is clearly meant to capture the essence of Swedish Fish (via Wine Searcher). You can even work your favorite candy into your morning smoothies. If you're a fan of fruity flavors and cultivating muscle mass, you can get Swedish Fish-flavored protein powder at Vitamin Shoppe.

There is a Swedish Fish Theory of customer service

According to a Reddit post from a former tech support representative at an unnamed big box store, Swedish Fish may be able to hook you up with better customer service. The idea began germinating when another tech posted on an internal company forum about a customer who wanted to know how to show appreciation for a job well done. The tech who handled the issue said they liked Swedish Fish. A little later, they received a shipment of Swedish Fish as a thank you.

This inspired others on the forum to start including candy in packages of hardware shipped out to be serviced. They began comparing notes and found that hard drives shipped with candy in the box would be recovered and returned far more quickly than ones without it. The original Reddit poster decided to try the same trick elsewhere and confirmed that including candy nearly always resulted in faster, friendlier service.

Whether your motivations are mostly selfish or you genuinely enjoy finding ways to brighten others' days, it makes sense that offering an unexpected treat would generate warm feelings in those who rarely even get a word of thanks — and that they'd be moved to prioritize your request in return. If you're tempted to try it, several commenters point out that hard and gummy candies are the safest choice, since chocolate can melt. The candy doesn't have to be Swedish Fish, but it did all start with them.

You can find a school of knockoff Swedish Fish these days

Swedish Fish are not the only ones in the sea. Other options include generic versions of the iconic candy — All Gummies Gourmet Fruity Fish, for instance (via Candy Blog).

There are several low-sugar Swedish Fish copycats available for those who are trying to scale back. SmartSweets' Sweet Fish contain only 3 grams of sugar per serving, and 18 grams of net carbs, versus Swedish Fish's 27 grams (via Amazon). Kiss My Keto's Fish Friends contain only 1 gram of sugar per serving and also include MCT oil. Both of those brands are vegan. Candy People's Fish are completely sugar-free; they're sweetened with maltitol and are actually made in Sweden — but since they use carmine coloring (derived from cochineal beetles), they're not vegan-friendly.

Several reviewers call out the taste and texture of each low-sugar Swedish Fish stand-in as being inferior, but of course, you can't perfectly replicate the original's flavor with healthy ingredients.

If you're just looking for a tastier Swedish Fish alternative, you might like Trader Joe's Scandinavian Swimmers. They're made from cane sugar, tapioca syrup, and things like pumpkin, carrot, and black currant extracts. According to Candy Blog, they're also the American confection closest in flavor to actual Swedish pastellfiskar from Malaco. Regardless of how many competitors spawn, you can count on good old Swedish Fish to keep swimming upstream.