Surströmming: The Smelliest Food in the World

It’s official – the Swedish delicacy, surströmming, is the smelliest food in the world. This title has been awarded by Japanese study measuring the stink factor of various foods around the world. Unlike IKEA, football stars, and catchy pop music, this is one Swedish thing which is not widely exported around the world to be adored by millions. So what the heck is surströmming exactly, and how did it earn the title of smelliest food in the world?


Surströmming is rotten fish. More specifically, it is herring which has been fermenting anywhere from six to twelve months in tin cans. Eventually, the cans begin to bulge from all the gases inside.

There are many theories behind how surströmming came about, but one of the more interesting stories traces its roots back to Swedish sailors during the 16th century. The sailors were running low on salt and their supply of herring began to go bad so they sold the rotten fish to some locals at a Finnish port. When the sailors returned about a year later, the Finns requested more rotten herring because they had enjoyed it so much. The Swedish sailors decided to try it themselves and produce more of the herring.

surstromming smelliest food in the world

Surströmming, a Swedish delicacy, has been awarded the title of smelliest food in the world.


Yes, people in Sweden actually incorporate the smelliest food in the world into their cuisine, it is not just made to win awards! First of all, surströmming is generally consumed during the summer, when it is possible to open the can and eat the dish outside (as no one wants the smell of surströmming to permeate their houses for days). Believe it or not, surströmming actually does not taste as bad as it smells. It is usually eaten on tunnbröd, a crispy thin bread, and then topped with yellow onions, dill, and sour cream. Together, these condiments help tone down the strong taste and make it more palate-friendly. Additionally, surströmming pairs well with a beer (like all the good things in life). 

Surströmming in generally eaten on thin, crisp bread topped with sour cream and onions.

Surströmming in generally eaten on thin, crisp bread topped with sour cream, herbs, tomatoes, or onions.


Pretty darn smelly. The study from Japan also consider surströmming is the smelliest food in their reseach. It was also awarded a level 6 in European Odour Unit, EOU, the highest level of odour possible. 

Interested to see how people react to this foul smell? Have a look for yourself – here is a video of Jamie Oliver trying surströmming for the first time in Sweden.


If you have read this far and you still think surströmming sounds delectable, then I’m sorry to say that you are out of luck. Due to the highly pressurised cans, it is banned on many airlines such as British Airways and Air France, so you will not be able to take it home with you. In Sweden, however, it is a common item in all supermarkets. If you are in Sweden and still want to know more about this delicacy, you can visit the Surströmming Museum! Yes, an entire museum has been dedicated to this smelly fish. I would imagine this would be the world’s easiest museum to find – just follow your nose!

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Images from here, here, and here.

Anna Guastello
28 Aug 2014

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