All you need to know about Swedish Fish (the fruity kind)

Swedish cuisine is full of fish – preferably freshly caught. However, this post is not about crayfish and pickled herring, but another, much sweeter, Swedish export!

More specifically, the brightly coloured fruit-flavoured chewy sweets that have been a mainstay of candy stores throughout North America for decades and are now gaining popularity around the world.

Loose Swedish Fish pick-and-mix
Matthew Ballemare (CC)

So, what are Swedish Fish?

It’s true that the Swedes as a nation are fond of fish of all types. In fact, they are known for being keen consumers of the world’s smelliest fish – for more on that, check out our post on the stinky Swedish speciality, surströmming. However, Swedish Fish are not real fish at all but fish-shaped fruity-flavoured jelly sweets.

What’s the story behind Swedish Fish?

Swedish Fish were invented by the Swedish company Malaco in the 1950s in an attempt to expand into the US market. It is thought that Malaco made the sweets fish-shaped because at the time Sweden had a thriving fishing industry, and everyone associated Sweden with fish! 

Some people claim that Swedish Fish make very good bait for catching real fish, but this is clearly not the main reason for their popularity.

So, are they traditionally Swedish? 

Well, it’s true that Swedish Fish were first made in Sweden by a Swedish company, though it wasn’t until they were introduced in North America that they took off in a big way.

They became so popular in the US during the 1960s and 1970s that they could be bought at almost every convenience store and cinema counter across the country. So, you could say that the Swedes invented them, but the Americans brought them to the attention of the world.

Why are they called Swedish Fish?

Simple really. They’re shaped like a fish, they originated in Sweden, and the North American version has the word “Swedish” printed across the fish!

The original Malaco Swedish Fish
The original Malaco Swedish Fish (CC)

Who makes Swedish Fish?

The Swedish Fish sold in North America are now made by Cadburys Adams (itself owned by international company Mondelez) in Canada and Turkey.

The Swedish version is still made by Malaco in Malmö, Sweden. You can tell the difference because the US version has the word Swedish printed across the fish, while the Swedish version is embossed with the word Malaco and has “original” written on its packaging.

And, of course, the Swedish version isn’t called Swedish Fish at all, but pastellfiskar, which means pale (or pastel) coloured fish – confusing, huh?

What flavour are Swedish Fish and what do they taste like?

The traditional Swedish Fish are red and there is much debate about which fruit they taste of. Some people claim it’s strawberry, some swear it’s cherry, while others think blackcurrant.

Lingonberry has even been suggested, a small red berry similar to cranberries that is widely eaten in Scandinavia. However, probably the most accurate description is that it’s a mixture of fruity flavours!

kohnrebecca0 (CCO

Swedish Fish also come in other colours, whose flavours are perhaps easier to identify. There’s the yellow lemon-flavoured fish, the green lime-flavoured fish (though some claim this is closer to a pineapple flavour than lime!) and the orange fish which is, unsurprisingly, orange-flavoured. You can also sometimes get purple grape-flavoured Swedish Fish.

The original Malaco Swedish Fish also come in black, with a salty liquorish flavour. It’s rather an acquired taste and is very popular in Sweden – less so in the rest of the world!

How many calories are there in Swedish Fish?

One of the reasons that Swedish Fish grew in popularity is that they are generally thought to be a healthy fruit-based snack (crazy, right!). And while it is true that they have no fat at all in them, they also have no other dietary benefits, and are high in sugar. A 50g bag has 200 calories, so the key is to just eat one or two fish at a time!

How are Swedish Fish made? 

No-one really knows the exact technique used, but basically Swedish Fish are made from a mixture of glucose syrup, sugar, corn syrup, corn starch, citric acid, flavourings and dye, all mixed up and put into fish shaped moulds to set. Mineral oil and Carnauba wax are used to give the fish their shiny coating.

The Swedish fish made in Turkey and the Malaco fish use beeswax instead of Carnauba wax, so vegans should check the packaging before buying to make sure they get the ones made with Carnauba wax. 

If you fancy having a go at making your own Swedish Fish, check out the clip below. It may not be the classic recipe (it uses gelatine instead of corn starch, so isn’t suitable for vegetarians), but it’s a fun way to make your own Swedish Fish!

Can you get sugar-free Swedish Fish?

Swedish Fish are fat-free, gluten-free and gelatine-free so are suitable for vegetarians (some are even vegan-friendly!). But sugar-free? No! It’s the sugar that makes them so tasty and moreish, and preserves them so that they have a long shelf-life.

There are other versions of Swedish Fish, such as these Sweet Fish, which are lower sugar and use allulose and monkfruit extract for sweetness but, of course, they’re not the real thing!

How many Swedish Fish in a bag? 

Swedish Fish come in two different sizes – mini and regular – and the bags can be bought in pretty much any size from 50g to 860g. A 50g bag contains about 25 fish.

Swedish Fish come in packets of all sizes
Mike Mozart (CC)

Can you buy individually wrapped Swedish Fish?

In Sweden, Swedish Fish can be bought unwrapped by the weight at pick-and-mix stands, and also come in mixed sweet bags. In the US, there are usually sold ready packaged in bags or boxes of varying sizes.

What are some other Swedish Fish products to look out for? 

Swedish Fish have become such an iconic sweet in the US, that other products have wanted in on the action. There’s Swedish Fish Tails, which have heads in one colour and flavour, while the tail is a different colour and flavour. Red, White and Blue Swedish Fish celebrate the confectionary’s iconic American status – though it would work equally well in the UK too! 

You can also buy Topical Swedish Fish, in flavours that include Pina Colada, Beachy Punch and Passion Fruit.

Swedish Fish Oreos
Swedish Fish Oreos

In America, the snack brand Nabisco came out with a Swedish Fish Oreo version, with the cream filling replaced by a fruity Swedish Fish flavoured filling. Meanwwhile US ice cream brand Rita’s made a limited edition Swedish Fish ice cream. Yum!

Where to buy Swedish Fish 

You can get all types and sizes of Swedish Fish on Amazon from the original red to the mini Tropical versions.  Or, next time you’re in Ikea you can pick up a bag of the original Malaco Swedish Fish.

See also:
What is Sweden famous for?
You never knew this about Sweden
Top 12 Swedish islands

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