The untold truth of Swedish Fish

Swedish Fish, those beloved ruby red gummy candies sold in massive family packs at the gas station and movie theater are certainly one of those candies that prompts questions. What is it that makes them Swedish? What exactly is that flavor that I'm tasting? When were they invented? It seems like they've been around forever.

A deep dive into the history of this popular treat reveals a number of interesting factoids. For example, for a very short period in 2016, there was a limited edition run of Oreos with Swedish Fish-flavored filling (via Business Insider). Another interesting tidbit is the fact that unlike other gummy treats, Swedish Fish contains no animal-based gelatin, which means that they're a safe option for vegetarians and vegans alike. PETA, however, does point out that some Swedish Fish are manufactured using beeswax so if you are a real stickler for not using animal products, check the labels before you buy (via PETA).

The Scandinavian origins of Swedish Fish

Swedish Fish were introduced to the U.S. market in the 1950s by a Swedish confectionery company called Malaco (via Mental Floss). There are actually a couple of things that are distinctly Swedish about these fish. The first is that on every gummy, stamped on the side is the word "Swedish." Check it out next time if you don't believe us. The second is that the fishing industry is a huge part of the Swedish economy and Swedish culture, so it was only natural for the gummy export from the country to be in the shape of a fish. After their introduction to the American market, the candies were massively successful and within a decade had established themselves as one of the most popular candies in the country (via Candy Club). The brand is now owned by Mondelez International, which also produces Oreos, which might help to explain the ill-fated collaboration (via Mic).

Licorice-flavored Swedish Fish did not last long in the U.S.

In Sweden, Swedish Fish are referred to as pastellfiskar which literally translates to "pale-colored fish." On the sides of truly Swedish Swedish Fish you'll find the name "Malaco," the company which invented them, rather than the word "Swedish," like you'd find on their American cousins (via Wide Open Eats). In their homeland, you can also find a varietal of the gummies which are significantly darker than the ruby red color found in the United States. Keep your eyes peeled for bags of pitch black salted licorice-flavored Swedish Fish. Salted licorice or salmiak is an incredibly popular flavor in Nordic countries and is flavored with ammonium chloride which adds a kick (via Saveur). Licorice-flavored Swedish Fish were also introduced in the U.S. for a short time but were not well received and were eventually pulled from shelves because Americans don't have the same fondness for this rather exotic taste as the Swedes do (via Vice).

What do Swedish Fish actually taste like?

When a candy is red, the assumption is that the flavor is either cherry, strawberry, or perhaps raspberry. And it stands to reason that there are many people who believe that Swedish Fish are meant to taste like one of these three popular fruits. Others believe that the flavor profile is a combination of all of these and more, and Swedish Fish are meant to taste like fruit punch. Surprisingly, none of the companies that have ever manufactured Swedish Fish have commented on the official flavor. However, there are those who believe that the flavor might be modeled after something which most Americans have never tried, which would explain why no one is able to pin it down. This popular theory posits that Swedish Fish are intended to taste like lingonberry (also known as the cowberry), which is a berry native to Scandinavia and often used in cooking and to make jam (via The Spruce Eats).