Surströmming Secrets: Fermenting Insider Tips

Cooking Surströmming at home can be a daunting task for many, considering its reputation as one of the most pungent foods in the world. However, with the right knowledge and techniques, you can successfully ferment and cook this traditional Swedish delicacy right in your own kitchen. In this blog post, we will uncover insider tips…
A bowl of food with a sprig of rosemary, featuring fermenting insider tips.

Cooking Surströmming at home can be a daunting task for many, considering its reputation as one of the most pungent foods in the world. However, with the right knowledge and techniques, you can successfully ferment and cook this traditional Swedish delicacy right in your own kitchen. In this blog post, we will uncover insider tips on how to properly ferment and cook Surströmming to enjoy its unique flavors without the overpowering smell.

Key Takeaways:

  • Proper Fermentation: Fermenting surströmming at home requires careful monitoring of the process, including ensuring the fish is submerged in brine and kept at a consistent temperature to avoid spoiling.
  • Airing out: After fermentation, it is crucial to let the surströmming air out for a few days to release excess gas and develop its characteristic flavor.
  • Creative Cooking: Surströmming can be enjoyed in various dishes such as sandwiches, pasta salads, and even as a topping for pizza, allowing for a versatile and unique culinary experience.

History and Origins

It is no secret that Surströmming, or fermented herring, has a notorious reputation worldwide for its strong and pungent smell. However, this traditional delicacy actually has a rich history that dates back centuries in Sweden.

Jars of fermenting food on a table.
history and origins surstromming

Historical Development

One theory suggests that the fermentation of fish was a method used by the Vikings to preserve food during long sea voyages. Over time, this preservation technique evolved into the modern Surströmming we know today.

Surströmming’s Place in Swedish Cuisine

On any culinary journey through Sweden, Surströmming occupies a unique place in the country’s gastronomic tradition. This fermented fish dish is a celebrated delicacy, treasured by many Swedes for its bold flavors and cultural significance. For instance, during the months of August and September, Surströmming festivals pop up across the country, where enthusiasts come together to enjoy this distinctive dish.

The Fermentation Process

Raw Materials: Selecting the Right Fish

Process of fermenting surströmming begins with carefully selecting the right fish. The absolute key ingredient is Baltic herring, which is caught at the peak of the fishing season to ensure freshness and quality. Only the best fish should be used for this process, as the final result heavily depends on the initial raw materials.

Brining: The First Step in Fermentation

On launching on the fermentation journey, the initial step involves brining the Baltic herring in a carefully prepared salt solution. This brining process not only seasons the fish but also draws out excess moisture, creating the ideal environment for fermentation to take place.

The Role of Bacteria and Fermentation Time

Fermentation of surströmming relies heavily on the presence of specific strains of bacteria, such as lactic acid bacteria. These bacteria play a crucial role in breaking down the proteins and sugars in the fish, transforming it into a pungent delicacy. The length of fermentation time is critical, as it directly impacts the flavor and texture of the final product.

Traditional vs. Modern Techniques

Traditional methods of fermenting surströmming involve using age-old recipes and techniques passed down from generation to generation. These methods often yield the most authentic and flavorful results, with a depth of complexity that is hard to replicate.

Modern techniques have also emerged, offering a faster and more controlled fermentation process. While these techniques may produce surströmming in a shorter time frame, they often lack the depth of flavor and complexity found in traditionally fermented varieties.

Preparing to Make Your Own Surströmming

Now, before you begin on the journey of making your own Surströmming, there are a few important factors to consider. From legal regulations to the health implications of fermenting fish, understanding these aspects is crucial for a successful fermentation process.

A surströmming fish on a cutting board.
preparing to make your own surstromming

Understanding the Legal and Health Aspects

For starters, it’s necessary to check your local regulations regarding the fermentation of foods, especially fish. Some areas may have specific guidelines or restrictions on fermenting fish at home, so make sure you are in compliance with the law. Additionally, fermenting fish can produce strong odors, so consider your living situation and neighbors before submerging into this project. In terms of health, the fermentation process can introduce bacteria and other pathogens to the fish, making it crucial to follow proper sanitation and fermentation techniques to avoid any foodborne illnesses.

Equipment and Ingredients – A Checklist

To successfully ferment Surströmming at home, you will need a few key pieces of equipment and ingredients. This includes fish fillets, salt, a fermentation container, and a way to press the fish. Additionally, having access to a cool and dark fermentation spot is crucial for achieving the desired flavor and texture of Surströmming.

A can of fermenting Surströmming on the table.
equipment and ingredients a surstromming checklist

To ensure a safe and successful fermentation process, it is important to use food-grade materials for all equipment and utensils involved in the fermentation. This will help minimize the risk of harmful bacteria contaminating the fish during the fermentation process. Properly cleaning and sanitizing all equipment before and after use is necessary to prevent any contamination that could lead to foodborne illnesses.

Step-by-Step Guide to Fermenting Surströmming at Home

Cleaning and Preparing the Fish

To start the surströmming fermentation process at home, the first step is to clean and prepare the fish. Begin by rinsing the fermented fish thoroughly under cold water to remove excess salt and brine.

Next, carefully remove the fish heads and guts, as these parts are not typically consumed in traditional surströmming dishes.

Once cleaned, pat the fish dry with paper towels and transfer them to a clean, airtight container for further processing. Ensuring that the fish are properly cleaned and prepared is imperative for a successful fermentation process.

The Brining Solution: Ratios and Tips

To create the brining solution for fermenting surströmming, it is crucial to get the ratios right. A common brine solution consists of water, salt, and sugar, with some variations depending on personal preferences. The general rule of thumb is to use a ratio of 8 cups of water to 1 cup of salt and 1/2 cup of sugar.

Assume that the brine solution fully covers the fish and adjust the ratios accordingly if needed. It is important to taste the brine solution to ensure it is properly seasoned before adding the fish for fermentation.

  • Ratios: Ensure the right balance of water, salt, and sugar in the brining solution.
  • Brining Tips: Taste the brine solution before adding the fish to adjust seasoning as needed.
  • Assume that the fish are completely submerged in the brine solution for optimal results.

Fermentation: Temperature, Time, and Troubleshooting

Remember to store the fermenting fish in a cool, dark place, away from direct sunlight during the fermentation process.

Monitoring the temperature regularly is imperative to ensure the fermentation remains at an optimal level. Keep a close eye on any signs of mold or unwanted bacteria growth, which may indicate issues with the fermentation process.

Monitoring Progress and Knowing When It’s Ready

It is important to trust your senses when determining if the surströmming is ready. The fermented fish should have a pungent aroma and a soft, mushy texture when it’s fully fermented. If unsure, it’s better to let the fish ferment for a few more days to ensure it reaches the desired flavor profile. Be mindful of, patience is key when fermenting surströmming at home.

How to Safely Store and Age Surströmming

Many Surströmming enthusiasts know that proper storage and ageing are crucial steps in the fermentation process. Storing Surströmming requires careful attention to detail to prevent spoilage and ensure that the fish ferments properly. Here are some insider tips on how to safely store and age Surströmming at home.

Four jars of fermenting pickles on a tray.
how to safely store and age surstromming

Containers and Storage Conditions

Containers: Surströmming should be stored in airtight containers to prevent any leakage or odor contamination. Traditional Surströmming is typically stored in metal cans, which are durable and prevent air and light from affecting the fermentation process. Alternatively, glass jars with airtight lids can also be used, but be sure they are sanitized thoroughly before use.

Storage Conditions: Surströmming should be stored in a cool, dark place to slow down the fermentation process. Ideally, the temperature should be around 8-12°C (46-54°F) to maintain the unique flavor profile of the fish. Avoid storing Surströmming in direct sunlight or in warm temperatures, as this can lead to the fish spoiling quickly.

Ageing: How Long Should You Wait?

With Surströmming, patience is key. The length of time you should age Surströmming can vary depending on personal preference and the desired level of fermentation. Some enthusiasts enjoy Surströmming after just a few months of ageing, while others prefer to wait a year or more for a stronger, more pungent flavor to develop.

Another important factor to consider when ageing Surströmming is the risk of botulism. Botulism is a serious and potentially life-threatening form of food poisoning that can occur if the fish is not fermented properly. To reduce the risk of botulism, it is crucial to follow strict hygiene practices, use clean equipment, and ensure that the fish is submerged in brine throughout the fermentation process.

Preparing and Cooking with Surströmming

A plate of food with fermenting lemons.
preparing and cooking with surstromming

Opening the Can: Minimizing the Smell

Despite its pungent aroma, there are ways to minimize the smell when opening a can of surströmming. Any attempt to keep the smell at bay should involve opening the can outdoors or under running water. The brine in which the fish is fermented is the main culprit for the strong odor, so rinsing the fish before consuming can help reduce the smell.Traditional Surströmming Dishes

Surströmming is a traditional Swedish dish that has been enjoyed for centuries. The most common way to eat surströmming is on hard bread with butter, potatoes, red onions, and sour cream. This combination helps balance the strong flavors of the fermented fish and make it more palatable for newcomers.

With its unique taste profile, surströmming can also be used in other traditional Swedish dishes like surströmmingssoppa (fermented herring soup) or surströmmingsklämma (fermented herring sandwich). These dishes showcase the versatility of surströmming in Swedish cuisine and highlight its role as a cultural delicacy.

Innovative Ways to Include Surströmming in Modern Cuisine

With the growing interest in Nordic cuisine, chefs around the world are finding innovative ways to incorporate surströmming into modern dishes. From surströmming pizza to surströmming tacos, there is no limit to the creativity that can be unleashed with this fermented fish.

Minimizing the overpowering smell of surströmming is key when experimenting with new recipes. Pairing surströmming with ingredients that can complement its flavors, such as dill, chives, or even apples, can help create a more harmonious dish that appeals to adventurous eaters.

Pairing Surströmming with Other Foods and Drinks

A bowl of soup with fermenting meat and herbs.
pairing surstromming with other foods and drinks

Foods that pair well with surströmming include savory accompaniments like crispbread, new potatoes, and pickled vegetables. The strong umami flavor of surströmming can be balanced with the acidity of vinegar-based sides or the creaminess of dairy products.

Drinks that stand up to the intense flavors of surströmming are typically strong and robust, such as stout beer, akvavit, or even a glass of cold milk. These beverages help cleanse the palate between bites and enhance the overall dining experience when enjoying this polarizing delicacy.

Tips from the ProsNot everyone can handle the strong smell and taste of Surströmming, but those who truly appreciate this Swedish delicacy know the secrets to making it delicious. Here are some insider tips from the pros to help you perfect your Surströmming fermenting and cooking process:

  • Use high-quality ingredients: Starting with fresh, high-quality herring is key to making great Surströmming.
  • Control the fermentation process: Monitor the fermentation time and temperature carefully to achieve the desired level of fermentation without overdoing it.
  • Experiment with different seasonings: Get creative with herbs, spices, and other flavorings to enhance the taste of your Surströmming.
  • Store properly: After fermenting, store your Surströmming in a cool place to continue developing its flavor.

Recognizing the right balance of flavors and fermentation will help you create a Surströmming that is well-balanced and enjoyable to eat.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

With Surströmming, there are some common mistakes that can ruin the final product. To ensure a successful fermenting process, avoid the following:

1. Rushing the fermentation: Patience is key when fermenting Surströmming. Rushing the process can result in an unpleasant taste and texture.

2. Ignoring proper storage: Storing Surströmming incorrectly can lead to spoilage and off flavors. Always follow recommended storage guidelines.

Advice from Experienced Surströmming Makers

Common among seasoned Surströmming makers is the advice to trust your instincts and taste buds. Experimenting with different fermentation times and flavors can help you develop a Surströmming recipe that suits your preferences.

Tips from experienced makers often revolve around the importance of regular tasting and adjusting throughout the fermentation process to achieve the perfect balance of flavors and textures.


Ultimately, mastering the art of fermenting and cooking with surströmming at home requires patience, precision, and a taste for the unconventional. By following insider tips and techniques, you can unlock the secrets to enjoying this traditional Swedish delicacy in the comfort of your own kitchen. From properly fermenting the herring to experimenting with different serving suggestions, the possibilities for culinary creativity are endless.

Embrace the challenge of working with surströmming and let your adventurous spirit guide you as you explore new flavor profiles and culinary experiences. With the right knowledge and a willingness to step outside your culinary comfort zone, you can join the ranks of surströmming enthusiasts who appreciate this unique and flavorful dish. Happy fermenting and cooking!


Q: What is Surströmming?

A: Surströmming is a traditional Swedish fermented fish dish, typically made with Baltic herring. It is known for its strong smell and unique taste.

Q: How is Surströmming prepared?

A: Surströmming is prepared by fermenting the herring in a brine solution for several months. Once fermented, the fish is canned and allowed to continue fermenting, creating its distinct flavor.

Q: Why does Surströmming have a strong smell?

A: The strong smell of Surströmming comes from the fermentation process, which produces compounds such as propionic acid and butyric acid. These compounds give Surströmming its pungent odor.

Q: How should Surströmming be consumed?

A: Surströmming is typically eaten cold, often on flatbread with potatoes, onions, and sour cream. It can also be used in dishes like Surströmming stew or Surströmming pasta.

Q: Are there any tips for fermenting and cooking Surströmming at home?

A: For fermenting Surströmming at home, use a clean and airtight container, and store it in a cool, dark place. When cooking Surströmming, be mindful of the strong smell and consider opening the can outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.

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