Swedes eat over 3,000 tons (that’s 6,600,000+ pounds) of pickled herring every year. That’s literally a boatload of herring.
The herring (commonly known as sill) comes from the west coast of Sweden, also called the best coast by the people living there. Almost half of all that herring is produced in the old fishing community of Klädesholmen (about one hour north of Gothenburg). If you look at pictures you might understand why they like to think that this coast is the best (the Swedish people on the east coast don’t always agree). The place is one of a kind and the fishing roots, going back for generations, is very vibrant in this little community. Ingebretsen’s carries this brand in the store.
The company that produces pickled herring, which also is called Klädesholmen, used to be divided into several small businesses but in order to strengthen the community they have been under the same brand since 2002, Klädesholmen Seafood AB. And just like Ingebretsen’s, it is a family company based on knowledge and experiences for generations.
Klädesholmen has played a roll as a fishing community since the 15th century and really blossomed during the years between 1748-1808. On the island there were plenty of herring salting-houses and canneries. From there boats would transport salted herring all over Europe and the harbor was always busy. Then in 1808 the herring suddenly disappeared all over Bohuslän (the name of the county) and the population in Klädesholmen shrunk to around 300. It seems that sill comes and goes in repeated periods. These periods can be very long, which was the case at this time It disappeared for over half a century until it returned on a winter day in 1877. A boat on the Bohuslän coast passed a herring shoal that was so thick the sill were thrown on the front deck. Finally the sill had returned to the west coast. A new herring period began, which would last for almost 30 years.
In Klädesholmen there is a museum – Sillebua, (the page is in Swedish, I cannot find an English version) where you can see how it all happened.
How the sill became popular
Sills return laid the foundation for the Bohuslän canning industry and a herring culture that would soon spread throughout the country. Before the new herring period, anchovies had long been the only product. Now a new kind of herring, “big sill,” became a high interest. By seasoning the new herring, you created a new product – the spice. At the end of the 19th century the seaside resort culture grew rapidly in the Swedish society. Summer guests visited the west coast to enjoy themselves and find refreshment by swimming in the salt and fresh water. The King at the time, King Oscar II, was a big fan of these beautiful coastal places and his presence there made restaurants and hotels flourish. In the homes every mistress made her own herring inlay and the best recipes were soon spread to the restaurants and before long the herring (and do not forget a glass of snaps– a Swedish drink) became part of the Swedish seaside resort culture. The herring, at the time considered to be a simple food for the poor people, was suddenly transformed to a popular dish in the beautiful salons and, after 100 years, is still the most common, and maybe the most appreciated and prestigious dish during holidays. Today, it is difficult for Swedes to think about Easter, Midsummer, or Christmas without herring.
Soused herring is also served on the Christmas table and is a mild salt herring, made from young and immature herrings. You know immature herrings that are always playing tricks on the other herring and can’t hold down a job.
About herring (or sill if you let the Swede in you come out)
Sill is more than just sill and you need to be careful that you actually know what you do and don’t call sill. Sill is the fish that comes from the Skagerrak, Kattegat, or the North Sea. It is called strömming if it comes from the less salty Baltic Sea, off the east coast (remember not the best coast) of Sweden. Strömmingis smaller and not as oily as the sill.
Every year there is a new flavor which is called the Sill of the Year or Årets sill, a way to make it a bit easier to chose, because there can sometimes be up to 20 or more flavors to pick from. The flavor of the year for 2018 at Klädesholmen was the Lingonberry and Punsch-spiced herring while in 2017 it was a taste of O.P Anderson, the oldest and richest aquavit.
June 6th is Day of the Sill (same day as the Swedish National Day). It’s celebrated all over Bohuslän and you can make your own labeled can of sill with your own mix of flavors.
Herring – a healthy choice
Herring is a fish that contains a lot of fat and Omega 3. Omega 3 is good for our bodies and used for building new and repairing old cells. It also effects the regulation of our blood pressure, the function of our kidney and our immune system. Polyunsaturated fats in food also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. The Swedish Food Administration is actually recommending to eat fish three times a week, meaning that you then don’t need to buy supplements including Omega 3. Maybe the sill consumption is the secret to why the Swedes seem to be so healthy (of course depending how much snaps you consume with it).