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October 4, 2013

The BBC (and Public Radio International in the US) has been on a Finland kick lately – a few days ago it was sauna, now it’s salmiakki. Mark Bosworth of the BBC wrote up this bit for the From Our Own Correspondent for the BBC World Service.

Salmiakki, you say? What’s that?

Salmiakki is candy – slightly salty candy. Licorice to be exact, with salt and a bit of ammonia. From what I understand ammonia is what makes the Finnish version of salty licorice stand out from the stuff you can find in the Netherlands and the other Nordic countries.

Ammonia? Yes… I remember the first time a friend of mine offered me some Pantteri salmiakki and the taste of ammonia was overwhelming! I can say that is one kind of salmiakki I do not like. If someone offers me salmiakki, I’ll eat it, but not in copious amounts. Some kinds of salmiakki are so salty that I have heard health professionals have warned some patients not to eat too much of it because it can affect blood pressure.

Fazer Super Salimiakki

Salmiakki comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes and consistencies. There’s candy, gum, ice cream, sauce, mousse and a host of other foods and treats made with salmiakki. I like the sweeter stuff and I like the salmiakki-kossu liquer that you can get at Alko. But be warned, it is one of those things you do not want to drink a lot of. The headaches can be nasty! My dad loves the stuff, I am not allowed to go back to Canada without bringing him a bottle of it – the bigger the better! He also loves the hard salmiakki candy having complained in the past that if I bring him the soft salmiakki candy he eats it all in one sitting. I’ve sent him so much salmiakki for Christmas and that I am sure he has enough to last the rest of his life. 😀

Upon searching for salmiakki, I ran across this hilarious video of Japanese students giving it a try. Their reactions are priceless. Have you tried salmiakki? Is this familiar?

In the lead up to this entry, I polled people at work and I polled a Facebook group made up of mostly non-Finns living in Finland and a flurry of comments about salmiakki ensued…

I asked: This is aimed at the non-Finnish crowd (but feel to answer if you’re a Finn) – this comes on the heels of the BBC publishing an article about salmiakki. So – what do you think of salmiakki?

I love it
I hate it
It’s okay
What is salmiakki?

The first comment was “Yök!” which roughly translates to yuck.

One fellow posted a picture of a salmiakki ice cream cone and commented “salmiakki ice cream … one of the best known ways to induce projectile vomiting !!!” (Really, I don’t think it is that bad – is it?)

“It’s an insult to licorice…” said another.

The comments also quickly descended into hateful jabs about Marmite. “Horrible! The Marmite of Finland!” chimed someone else.

Tough crowd.

As of this writing (updated)  the scores were:

I love it (25)
I hate it (52)
It’s okay (17)
What is salmiakki? (3)

It’s an acquired taste, trust me. And if you’re going to be in Finland for a long time it best that you attempt to culturally assimilate and at least TRY the stuff. 😉

Got any stories about salmiakki (or any other Finnish delicacies)? I’d love to hear them!

18 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2013 12:49 pm

    I wasn’t trying to be hateful about Marmite (personally I love it) but to compare the two things (salmiakki and Marmite) as I think people’s reaction to both is either “omnomnomnom” or similar to the reactions in the video above 😀 Whilst I have tried, and succeeded, to learn to love most Finnish things (cross country skiing, ice hockey, rye bread) I just cannot learn to love the black stuff! I can’t even eat candies from the same bag that has liquorice / salmiakki candies in because it makes all the other candies smell and taste of salmiakki!

    • October 4, 2013 2:12 pm

      For the sake of humour Chloe, I hope you’ll let me leave that comment there – I thought it was rather funny. 🙂

      Good that you have other things to like…because there are many.

      I just can’t bring myself to put maksalaatikko (liver casserole) anywhere near my mouth. Truly nasty stuff!

      • October 4, 2013 4:30 pm

        Of course you can leave it up 🙂 And I’m with you on the maksalaatikko thing…Blurk!!

      • anonymous permalink
        October 4, 2013 5:29 pm

        It’s not that bad if you get the kind with raisins. The raisins then taste bad and have to be plocked out, but the casserole itself no longer tastes like liver. (Try it with butter.)

      • October 4, 2013 6:59 pm

        Raisins?? :O

      • anonymous permalink
        October 5, 2013 6:55 pm

        Yup. Perinteinen maksalaatikko from Saarioinen. (Sorry if I offend any non-commercial sensitivities or linking policies.)

        It’s rather absurd to not only specifically select food in order to have it not taste like it’s named main ingredient but then to pile on by removing the very things that make it that way before eating (although some don’t). Then again, the kind without raisins tastes absolutely horrible (and therefore you usually only get the kind with raisins in public, should you get it in public).

  2. October 4, 2013 3:11 pm

    Haha, we had a brief ‘salmiakki lesson’ in my Finnish class here in Turku and the reactions of my colleagues were similar… I love salmiakki and salty liquorice in general – Finns are always really surprised (but happy) when I pull out a bag and offer them one 🙂 One thing I don’t think I’ll get used to is piimä though, the soured milk… I tried but I think it made me feel the way most foreigners seem to feel about salmiakki 🙂

    • October 7, 2013 10:39 am

      Piimä, in Canada I know that as buttermilk! My grandfather (of Finnish roots) loved the stuff! Piimä may be hard to stomach, but it is great to bake with!

  3. anonymous permalink
    October 4, 2013 5:35 pm

    Ummm.. Yeah, salmiak is just ammonium chloride – everywhere. There’s no (table) salt in it. In candies, it’s usually paired with liquorice.

  4. Sonia permalink
    October 4, 2013 9:31 pm

    Carmen, you were too diplomatic with the “I don’t love it” option, because what I was going to vote was exactly the “short version of it” – as above 😉 But I never liked licorice either. It’s ammonium chloride also outside Finland, but I think that the maximum percentage (like in the sisu horna) is higher. NL is max. 7,99%, Germany only 2% and it needs to include warnings for children, pregnant women etc. Isn’t there a Swedish puck-shaped box filled with the salmiak powder in some Finnish shops?

    I am quite surprised that along with all the nutrition “full-control” by the state (don’t drink alcohol, don’t eat butter, don’t use salt, don’t… don’t…) nobody paid attention to the consumption of salmiak – especially by children. Salt-sensitivity with regard to blood pressure affects a minority of people, but this amount of salmiak “candies” is no good – also for testosterone production, losing hair, skin problems, other heart diseases and many others. Small amount is good against cough etc.

    Not everyone needs to have the same taste just to assimilate. Nevertheless, I make many friends and Finland-addicts in Germany happy with my regular deliveries of the “stuff” as xmas goodie, etc. They eat up my share! For me: no thank you.

    • anonymous permalink
      October 5, 2013 7:01 pm

      Doctors tend to warn about it (and liquorice, too) if you have a high blood pressure, at least. It is known. But hey, don’t jinx it. We don’t need any more of those over-the-top warnings. Having some warnings is good along with some regulatory guidance, but the dual sledgehammer approach of suffocating warnings and over-regulation is annoying.

      • Sonia permalink
        October 9, 2013 7:41 am

        To get it right, I don’t support the patronizing about the nutrition bans by the Finnish state. On the contrary, I think demonizing everything is a reason that Finns often feel guilty when enjoying food and drinks. Still wondering about common sense esp. regarding salmiakki (junk food and energy drinks) consumption by children in Finland. Price hikes and laws about the “forbidden fruits” don’t change anything, but lead the local production to bankruptcy (e.g. in the case of small breweries) and drop purchasing power low.

        Nevertheless, I don’t like the fact that my glass of red wine, which has a proven good influence on health is more demonized and banned that consuming something, which is basically nothing but a cleaning industry chemistry, a.k.a. salmiakki.

    • October 7, 2013 10:43 am

      Well, on the salt consumption front, it is a well-known fact that Finns consume too much of it. I wish someone would have told me to hold the pizza (and the perogies) when I was 38 weeks pregnant – I am convinced the salt content of those two meals was the reason why I gained 1.5 kg in a week. 😀 Salmiakki consumption would probably have put me over the top!

      • Sonia permalink
        October 9, 2013 7:45 am

        Carmen, today in the news: regulatory plans to reduce salt by half. Nanny is back.

        Now, why too much salt? Because of the high junk food consumption. You decide yourself about use of salt if you make food from fresh ingredients (and knowing that salt&pepper are not the only spices in this world 😉 ). It’s typical for industrial, mass food to be high-salted. And the extremes: some years ago they reduced elderly home’s salt use so low that the old people got health problems, because you need also salt to some extent.

        I don’t quite like the “black-and-white” thinking, once Finland goes low carb, then Finland is back on the light products industrial front. “So last season” to know that this is not the way of healthy nutrition.

        Why all the food allergies? Anyone to explore this?

        It has been proven in studies years ago that salt-sensitivity is responsible for only <1% of cardio-vascular diseases and reduction can influence it only in these few cases.

      • October 9, 2013 9:24 am

        I took a look at the box of salmiakki that I took a photo of for this entry and it reads (in Finnish and SE/NO/DK too) “Contains liquorice – people suffering from hypertension should avoid excessive consumption. Excessive consumption may produce laxative effects.” Hypertension because of the salt content (which is not listed on the box) and laxative effects because of the xylitol…

        Salt itself is not responsible for heart problems, but the associated high blood pressure that goes with it. I have a close relative who was ordered to go on a lower salt diet because his doctor directly attributed his dietary choices to his high blood pressure. He is doing much better now – although we have to be the salt police when we’re with him!

  5. Sonia permalink
    October 9, 2013 12:37 pm

    A moderate use of salt (there are so many good alternatives without making your food tasteless!) is of course good. I have been on two heavy cortison therapies and you really need to be careful with the “ready-made” e.g. canteen food because salty food makes you collect fluid in no time. 😦

  6. October 16, 2013 9:15 am

    I’m firmly in the love it camp! For me it’s the vegemite of Finland 🙂

  7. March 30, 2016 12:04 pm

    I like salty licorice but not sweet one. In same manner, I like salty salmiakki more then sweet. Good salty salmiakki comes in the “lakritsal” rolls (red/black/white colored) in the shops candy section. The trick is to have just one or two, when you need a hammer in the head to get you concentrating, for example during long dull lectures. It’s much to strong for just munching, and in general no licorice or salmiakki beats chocolate or foamy candy for me :o) Also atm pregnant so shouldn’t eat it anyways xD Worth to mention may be that I’m swedish, so the flavor is not completely unknown for me 😀

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