Where do Swedish Fish and German Chocolate Cake Come From? | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian

Where do Swedish Fish and German Chocolate Cake Come From?

A look at where foods with nationalities in their names actually originated

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Where do Swedish Fish come from? Courtesy of Flickr user Brandy Shaul


For some reason, my husband always buys Swedish Fish to snack on when we take road trips. On our recent drive to Martha's Vineyard, as I watched him bite the gummy fishes' chewy red heads off, one after another, the thought occurred to me: do Swedish Fish really come from Sweden?

So when I got home I went to swedishfish.com, the official Web site for the Cadbury Adams–produced candy. The only explanation I could find there sounded like it was written by an 8th-grader trying to fake her way through an essay question on a pop quiz: "Swedish Fish have been around a long time. Most people enjoy them. Some don't. They might change their minds one day." Hmm, OK.

I went looking for slightly more informative source, and found something from  Mental Floss magazine, the must-read publication for anyone who likes to know interesting facts about random stuff. According to a blog post there, Swedish Fish were originally manufactured by the Swedish confectionary company Malaco. Malaco made wine gums—gelatin-free candies that are stickier and less rubbery than gummy bears—in many shapes, but developed the fish shape specifically for its entrance into the North American market, in the late-1950s. Although Cadbury Adams now produces the fish here, Malaco still sells the fish-shaped candies in Sweden, where they are called “pastellfiskar.”

So, the answer to the question of whether Swedish Fish really originated in Sweden is yes, sort of. But what about other foods with a nationality in their names? Can you get a Danish in Denmark? English muffins in England? Here's what I found:

German Chocolate Cake: NOT GERMAN. Having spent some time in Germany, I can confirm that Germans do make delicious chocolate cakes. But German chocolate cake is not the same as German Chocolate Cake, which is a moist chocolate cake layered with gooey, coconut-flake-filled frosting and which is an entirely American invention. The name comes from German's chocolate, a brand of sweetened baking chocolate created by Samuel German for the Baker's Chocolate Company in 1852. According to Kraft Foods, which now owns the Baker's chocolate brand, the recipe for German's Chocolate Cake first appeared in a Dallas newspaper in 1857.

English muffins: SORT OF ENGLISH. What Americans call English muffins are related to the English crumpet, which are spongier and are eaten whole rather than split into halves. According to Bimbo Bakeries USA, an Englishman named Samuel Bath Thomas brought the recipe for muffins baked on a hot griddle to the United States in 1874. It's unclear, though, how close this recipe was to the current Thomas' English Muffin product. In The Glutton's Glossary, by John Ayto, the entry for muffins explains that the words "muffin" and "crumpet" were often confused or used interchangeably in 19th- and early 20th-century England, where the "muffin man" used to sell his baked wares from a cart. Although the recipes for those earlier muffins varied widely, Ayto writes, most probably bore little resemblance to the American English muffin, which was introduced (or re-introduced?) to England in the 1970s.

Danish pastry: AUSTRIAN, VIA DENMARK. In Denmark, according to Schulstad Royal Danish Pastry, the sweetened yeast-bread pastries we call Danishes are called wienerbrød, or Viennese bread. This is because they were originally brought to Denmark in the 19th century by Austrian bakers and Danish bakers who had worked in Austria. The Danish put their mark on the treats, however, making them flakier and crispier than the Viennese style.
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About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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