What does Surströmming Smell?

Surströmming is famous for its pungent smell. It is the one quality that has made it distinct and why so many people would like to try it in their lifetime. The unique scent is attributed to autolysis in the fermentation when the enzymes and bacteria create various acids. Some of those acids include propionic acid, butyric acid and acetic acid. However, the real culprit is hydrogen sulphide, which is usually associated with the pungent smell of rotten eggs.

For these reasons, open surströmming outside. Most people prefer eating it out because surströmming releases a powerful and sometimes overwhelming odour.

Traditionally in Sweden, people eat ripe surstromming with paper-thin hard bread and boiled potatoes, usually, an almond-shaped variety from the north. It has a sharp, cutting taste. Sometimes, they drink milk with it, but beer and aquavit are also trendy and often the dish’s preferred accompaniment. Because Swedes are used to the scent, they happily eat it without even thinking about its smell. Some people would instead rinse it in purifying soda water before consumption.

The good thing is that this strong smell is only overwhelming for a short amount of time. The fish itself does not smell that strong at all. Surströmming has a salty baseline of flavour, layered with creamy, crunchy, sharp, and herbal tastes. It is a popular dish in Sweden because people enjoy a surströmmingsskiva or fermented herring party, which gives everyone an excuse to party and want something different. Surströmming has a robust flavour and is thus mainly eaten outdoors. The cans’ pressure makes the brine explode when opened—easily avoided by opening a can of surströmming underwater; this also reduces the smell, as the water absorbs part of the scent. Put into a cold storage room, the herring ferment at a slower rate. As they do, their aroma grows progressively more robust, and only the most acute nose can determine the precise point at which they are ready for canning. According to a Japanese study, a newly opened can of surströmming has one of the most putrid food smells in the world, more potent than similarly fermented fish dishes such as the Korean hongeohoe or Japanese kusaya.

The most apparent benefits of fermented fish products are the lactic-acid-producing bacteria and other beneficial microbes of fermentation. Research on the human gut microbiota supports the importance of eating fermented foods for maintaining overall health. Friendly flora in the gut support a healthy immune system, digestive and mental health, enhance detoxification, and much more.