Nordic cuisine is characterized by fresh, locally sourced ingredients, with fish featured significantly. But perhaps the most famous “Swedish Fish” is not a fish at all. Instead, it’s a sweet gummy candy that is as popular in North America today as in Sweden.
Swedish Fish are called Swedish Fish because they were initially manufactured by a Swedish company for North American consumers. The manufacturers shaped their candy like fish because, at the time, Sweden was renowned for its fishing industry. Their branding playfully reinforced this association.
This article will trace the history of Swedish Fish, explain how they got their name, and look into the ingredients that go into making them.
How Swedish Fish Got Their Name
Swedish Fish is the brand name of a specific variety of sweet and chewy gummy candy. In taste and consistency, Swedish Fish are similar to other popular gummy candies like Gummy Bears and Sour Worms. They fall under a category of starch jelly candies that have long been popular in Nordic countries.
However, if they’d remained a niche Nordic treat, Swedish Fish would likely not have the global name recall they do today and may never have come to be known as Swedish Fish.
So how did a humble Scandinavian candy storm the North American market? And what does Swedish Fish’s North American adventure have to do with its name?
How Swedish Fish Became Popular in North America
In the 1950s, the Swedish confectionery company Malaco was looking to expand into the North American market. It developed a new product for this campaign and marketed it using branding and iconography that it believed consumers would strongly associate with its home country. 
At the time, Sweden was renowned globally for its fishing industry. So, Malaco molded its sweet, translucent red candy in the shape of fish. The name of its product reinforced the association of Sweden with fish.
Through the 60s and 70s, Malaco’s Swedish Fish gained increasing popularity in the American and Canadian markets. Widely distributed at cinemas and popular as Halloween offerings, Swedish Fish soon found a place in candy culture.
Today, the international conglomerate Mondelez owns Swedish Fish distribution rights for North America and other global territories. 
The nostalgic associations their iconic candy has for many people, in addition to its many celebrity endorsements, continue to make the product a money spinner. Thirteen million Swedish Fish are produced in Mondelez’s Ontario factory each day, and the company had sales of $126.8 million in 2021. 
One of the conclusions that can be drawn from the Swedish Fish success story is that the product had to leave its native shores to achieve its iconic status. Everything, down to its name, derives from this trans-Atlantic journey.
What Are Swedish Fish Made Of?
Unlike other gummy candies, Swedish Fish are not made of gelatin. Instead, their sticky consistency derives from carnauba wax (when made in Canada) or beeswax (if manufactured in Turkey).
Thus, unlike other gummy candies, most Swedish Fish purchased in North America are vegan. 
Swedish Fish are also fat-free and gluten-free. However, this does not mean that they are healthy. Swedish Fish contain significant amounts of sugar and very little else that has any nutritional value.
A 1.77 oz (50 g) bag of Swedish Fish contains as many as 200 calories. Its listed ingredients include:
- Corn syrup
- Corn starch
- Citric acid
- Flavoring agents
- Coloring agents
In other words, Swedish Fish are only as healthy as any other candy. Consumed in small doses, they are a guilty pleasure and acceptable as an occasional treat. Bingeing on large quantities is not recommended.
What Flavors Do Swedish Fish Come In?
The original iconic Swedish Fish is a translucent red sweet candy. They contain both natural and artificial flavoring agents, and the manufacturers do not specify what fruit-based ingredients they include or mimic.
Many people assume that because they are Scandinavian, Swedish Fish use lingonberry extract. But while it is true that lingonberry is a popular local ingredient in Scandinavian cooking, there’s no evidence that Swedish Fish use the fruit either as an ingredient or an inspiration. 
It is equally likely that the red Swedish Fish’s flavor profile is inspired by strawberries, cherries, or even black currants. Some people also claim that the North American and Scandinavian variants are different.
Today, Swedish Fish also comes in a range of colors and flavors. These include:
- Yellow – lemon-flavored
- Green – lime-flavored
- Orange – orange-flavored
- Purple – grape-flavored
Newer iterations include a Tropical Swedish Fish range – passionfruit and pineapple and mixed fruit flavors with more ambiguous names, such as Crush Soda and Beachy Punch.
There is even a variant known as Fish Tails, with two different halves colored blue and pink and pink and yellow, flavored with pineapple-watermelon and raspberry-mango.
Why Scandinavian Candies Have Such Strange Flavors
While Mondelez owns the brand name product Swedish Fish, other manufacturers continue to make similar candies in Scandinavia. In Sweden – where they are known as pastellfiskar, meaning pale fishes – they come in a head-spinning range of varieties.
While they are often sweet, Scandinavian Candies – including Swedish Fish – also come in odder flavor profiles than most North American consumers may be familiar with. For instance, some versions are salty, and others have an intense licorice taste.
At first glance, these choices seem strange – there’s a reason Malaco’s licorice flavor Swedish Fish never caught on with North American consumers. But while the range of flavors of Scandinavian candies may seem bizarre to outsiders, they have strong roots in the region’s cuisine.
Swedish winters are long and harsh. The country has limited arable land and a narrower selection of fresh ingredients to cook with. Because of these unique geographic and environmental conditions, food preservation techniques have a long history in the Scandinavian region.
Going back to the Viking Age, Swedes have had to preserve fish, meat, and vegetables to have adequate food to tide them over in the harsh conditions of their homeland.
Techniques such as smoking, drying, salting, pickling, and fermenting all aggressively employ salt, sugar, vinegar, and other strong-tasting food processing agents.
Familiarity with this long culinary tradition means that Scandinavians are accustomed to salty-sour and sweet-tasting candies from childhood. Not only do they appreciate these tastes in their youth, but they also retain these preferences into adulthood.