Norway’s obsession with licorice

If you’ve ever been, or go to Norway – you are bound to see an unusually  wide variety of salty licorice candy in stores across the country.  Norwegians’ love for this not so sweet candy is very strong, and other Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Finland (the Finns refer to it as ‘salmiakki’), share our taste for licorice. In fact, I hear many Scandinavians who move to the United States, complain that some of what they miss the most, is their dear licorice, as if it’s an important food group and vital for their happiness!

The original licorice, made from the licorice root, were used only for medicinal purposes up until the 19th century .  It was particularly popular in fighting colds and digestive issues. Traditional Chinese medicine books talk about licorice and it’s also said to be mentioned in Egyptian papyrus rolls found in the grave of Egyptian pharaoh Tuthankamun (1347-1339 B.C).

Today, however, licorice is found in both sweet, salty and spicy versions and is mostly enjoyed as a candy or “sweet”.  The English apothecary George Dunhill, was said to have added sugar and other additives to licorice back in 1760 and thus our cravings for licorice started…

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Salty licorice is a candy that tastes of licorice and has ammonium chloride added, giving it the salty taste.   The more ammonium chloride added, the saltier the candy.

When and how licorice and ammonium chloride were combined to become salt licorice, is unclear, but production in Norway, Finland and Holland can be traced back as early as the mid 1920s.

“Salt lakris” (salty licorice) is definitely an acquired taste – in fact, I believe that Scandinavians probably have a special gene that automatically gets addicted to this flavor. Most Americans I have surveyed for instance, have a strong aversion to the flavor, many even describing it as nasty and gag worthy.    Norwegians, however, like it so much we even add licorice flavor to ice cream, cookies and cupcakes, vodka and chocolate.  While the majority of Americans admit to having a big sweet tooth, many Norwegians have more affinity for salty foods, which could be part of the explanation here.

*Check out a funny Youtube video of a Canadian trying out Norwegian candy for the first time HERE,  licorice powder being the first one.  Too funny!)

I have fond (or should I say funny?) memories of getting together with friends and adding the spicy licorice flavored candy “Tyrkisk Peber” (Turkish pepper) to potato vodka growing up (don’t judge me), making our own flavored spiked drinks…   Let me tell you, this candy is not for the faint of heart… Most people find it so strong they have to spit it out.  Anyway, we must have started a trend, because today vodka companies produce their own Turkish pepper flavored vodka.  Somebody shared our love for it!

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Norwegians’ taste and demand for licorice is so big, that even luxurious licorice candy stores have begun popping up in the country.  LAKRIDS by Johan Bulow is such a store, selling licorice candy that is made with the “best raw ingredients and lots of love”, according to one of their representatives.    Their licorice does not contain any coloring agents and they make products such as licorice sticks, licorice marzipan, licorice powder for baking, licorice syrup and licorice mints.  These all come in boxes ranging from $12-70.

Have I intrigued you to try licorice? If you do, make sure it’s Norwegian! You can buy some here and here.

Or if you fancy a licorice milk shake, add a cup of plant based milk with 4 tbsp of vegan vanilla ice cream and 4 pieces of licorice mints or a tsp of licorice powder. Puree up and enjoy!!

 

*Note:  consumption of licorice is not recommended for pregnant women or people with high blood pressure, because it contains glycyrrhizin.

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Chocolate in Norway; now and then

Chocolate cake, or “sjokoladekake”, is the cake is the most popular cake in Norway today and what inspired today’s  recipe and blog post. Norwegians simply can’t seem to get enough chocolate, in fact Norwegians eat more chocolate than their Scandinavian neighbors in Sweden, Denmark and Finland.  Every Norwegian eats about 9.5 kilos (about 21 lbs) of chocolate per year if we are to believe a study published a couple of years back. The Swiss, unsurprisingly, top the list with the highest consumption, followed closely by Ireland, England, Austria, Belgium and Germany.

Chocolate first arrived in Norway sometime during the 18th century, when a merchant in Trondheim put an advert in the newspaper that read: “a kind of medicinal chocolate, which will help your stomach, chest, is good for healing coughs, gets rid of dizziness, clears phlegm and encourages fulfillment of marital duties.”  The last one cracked me up!

Although chocolate was initially released on the market as a medicinal food, it quickly became a luxury product for the urban elite.  In the beginning the market for chocolate was really small, even as chocolate factories popped up all over Europe.  People were slowly gaining larger disposable incomes, but in order to increase their market share, chocolate producers needed to get creative with naming their products.

By the turn of the century, Norway was in the process of becoming independent from Sweden, and was seeking its own identity.  In a time largely influenced by the romantic period, it was memories of the golden age and references to Norwegian nature that appealed to the masses.  The new products were named “Jarlen” (the Earl), “Bispen” (the Bishop), Fjeldsæter (mountain farm) and Prillar Guri (read more about her here).

But as people’s taste for and consumption of chocolate increased, discussions arised as to whether chocolate was healthy or not. In 1922, the government discussed imposing a “luxury tax” on chocolate, because chocolate was concluded to be damaging for the teeth and people’s health in general.   A tax of 33.33% was imposed on chocolate (10% for baking chocolate), and as a result, chocolate went from “healthy” to “sinful”.

During this time, Norway went through hard economical times, and the chocolate industry was hit hard. They started promoting chocolate as some of the cheapest, most calorie dense nourishment a child could give her child!

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In a time when many went hungry, it was important to consume enough calories, and the commercials showed mothers with healthy looking, chocolate eating children. Simultaneously, chocolate maintained its luxury status, as seen in the many confectionary boxes (konfektesker) with many names of royals on the lids:

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In the 1930s, the chocolate industry started targeting men as well, to increase their market reach.  “Hjemmekos” (our word for the Danish term “hygge”, basically having a cozy time at home), wasn’t something that appealed to men, but going for outdoor hikes and being out in nature, on the other hand, became a sort of status symbol for men .   This most Norwegian of  all phenomena, was not common before the turn of the century.  People didn’t have the time or the money to go on hiking trips, as this was something associated with the wealthy and having money.  But with time, people’s financial status slowly improved.

Going hiking and being in nature now became common place, and the motto “Ut på tur, aldri sur” (literally translated to ‘out hiking, never in a bad mood’), became popular, as chocolate was always included in people’s backpacks as part of an easy, nutritious “niste” (packed lunch) when they went out in nature. In one of their commercials, big chocolate producer Nidar said that “big packed lunches are impractical and completely unnecessary baggage.  A few bars of chocolate in your pocket takes up no space at all”.

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To this day, no Norwegians forgets to pack  their chocolate bars when going skiing or hiking.   Roald Amundsen, the famous Norwegian explorer of polar regions,  took part in commercials for both Freia and Nidar:  a symbol of a real  Norwegian man who fought the  tough nature!”

From poor mothers feeding their children, royals and celebrities to polar heros –  we can see it’s not so much the chocolate that has changed, but situations and society around it.

Even today, Norwegians prefer their own chocolate;  produced right in their own homeland.  Brands such as Nidar and Freya are most popular, but there now a ton of local artisan producers of chocolate, one of them is “Fjordnær”, a gorgeous chocolate made in the gorgeous Geiranger fjord:

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Norwegians are pretty conservative in their taste, a recent study shows that 40% of people like and stick to the same chocolate they ate as children.  Milk chocolate is the predominant go-to type for Norwegians  (Freia’s “melkesjokolade” is king here),  and older, traditional brands are most popular. Typically a clean chocolate with not too much fuss is preferred.

While I love to cover traditional foods from Norway, I also want to shed some light on what is actually being eaten, cooked and baked in Norway today.   Like I mentioned earlier, chocolate as a product has not changed,  but the way in which is is enjoyed changes with the evolvement of time.  As the world is becoming smaller and smaller with the internet and people traveling more, we see an increased popularity in particularly American food in modern Norway.

Brownies have to be some of the most popular international pastries made by Norwegians today, particularly among kids and younger people.  Since I’ve already covered sjokoladekake in a previous blog post which you can read here, I wanted to pay tribute to my adopted home land and post a recipe for brownies made entirely without eggs or dairy to show you how decadent and similar pastries can be without the use of these animal products.

This is a cake that can be whipped up in minutes, and guaranteed to be a hit with anyone you serve it to.   Use whatever chocolate you have on hand. Despite being Norwegian,  I prefer dark over milk chocolate (also I no longer consume cow’s milk), and that is what I used in my recipe.

Happy baking and don’t forget to brush your teeth after you indulge, because you never know! 🙂

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DECADENT VEGAN BROWNIES

1/4 cup natural almond butter

heaping 1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/3 cup melted coconut oil

1/2 cup (packed) unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt

2 flax eggs (2 tbsp ground flaxseeds mixed with 6 tbsp water)

1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (165 degrees Celcius).

Line an 8 X 8 brownie pan with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine almond butter, brown sugar, maple syrup and melted coconut bowl with a whisk.  Whisk until you have a nice, smooth mixture.

Add cocoa powder slowly in, while whisking, making sure no lumps are left. Add in the vanilla extract and salt, then the flax eggs. Switch from a whisk to a spatula and lastly add the flour, before folding in the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 25 minutes or so.  Cool for about an hour before slicing and devouring!

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Sunnmørsbrød; a traditional bread from northwestern Norway

Sunnmøre is the Norwegian region in which I was born and raised.  Located on the north western coast, it’s an impossibly beautiful part of the country, decorated with majestic mountains, gorgeous, big fjords and beautiful valleys scattered all over the area. Geiranger, one of Norway’s most popular tourist destinations, is also located here.
There is such a rich food history in Sunnmøre, and the interest for local, organic and artisan products have skyrocketed and now there are an incredible array of high quality food producers offering everything from jams, vinegars and sauces, to biscuits, organic flours and oats, mustards and spice mixtures to mention just a few of the selections from home.
While this blog piece is about bread, Sunnmøre is most famous for its incredible cake culture (think bløtkake, marsipankake, kvæfjordkake, nøttekake, tropisk aroma.. I have covered them all here on the blog). If you get invited to a confirmation, wedding or other major party here, don’t think there will only be one, or even TWO elaborate looking cakes on the table.  Most likely there will be at least seven or eight, and I have witnessed up to TWENTY FIVE different cakes on a table at once. You can safely say the Sunnmøre locals love their desserts!
But I digress…. back to bread!  The people of Sunnmøre is also known for their love of bread, much like the rest of their fellow Norwegian countrymen.  I grew up with a mom who would make home made bread on a regular basis.  I loved coming home from school (which was only a stone’s throw away by the way, I could walk to my grade, middle and high school in anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes), smelling that yeasty, sweet bread smell, knowing I would have some delicious open face sandwiches in store.  Her mom had shown her how to make these special dark rye and whole wheat flour based breads that tasted so fresh and from the region, and it was this memory that was sparked in me about a week ago when I received a truly special artisan made Norwegian apron from Hovden Formal Farm Wear.
This small company specializes in making traditional old school Norwegian work shirts called busseruller, and is run by an amazing fellow Norwegian woman, Ingvill Kaasin Montgomery, who like me, is an expat and an entrepreneur.   You can read all about her and her beautiful creations in my blog post from yesterday HERE.
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What we think of as “bread” today (i.e. loaves=, was not bread for most people in the country side in the old days in Norway, and was predominantly a city phenomena until the mid 19th century.   “Bread” was actually a crisp bread, what Norwegians today call “flatbrød”.  This was often referred to in Norwegian as “stump” or “kake”.  The flat bread was usually made in huge batches, and could last up to a year, stacked up on top of each other, until it was time to make bread again.  Part of the reason why breads were made super thin and flat like this, was to avoid mold forming on the bread.
People’s every day “bread” was in fact porridge, made out or barley, rye or oats,  as this was extremely filling, made with readily available ingredients and not expensive.  Wheat flour, of which most modern breads are made of today, was not at all common back then.  There is a word in Norway called “hvetebrødsdager”, which relates to the period after people get married, where no obligations have to be met, but the couple will go just relax and spend time with each other.  Hvetebrød is Norwegian for wheat bread, and so the meaning behind this is that it’s a special, luxurious occasion, much like baking with wheat was back in the old days.
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My sister Agnes reminded me of Sunnmørsbrød a few weeks back when she sent me a photo of her weekend activities in the kitchen. She is an amazing and seasoned baker, and she inspires me weekly with her creations, as she too, is very interested in bringing back old, traditional recipes.   The bread recipe in this post is loosely inspired by one she sent me, and I’m happy to say the bread came out perfect!
The amazing thing with this bread, is you don’t have to let the dough rise twice so it’s quicker to make.  The dough gets rolled out immediately after kneading and shaped into loaves, and it needs resting only once. As always, play around with baking time, but 45 min-50 min should do it at 400 degrees – they should be crispy on the outside, soft and light on the inside, and gorgeously brown on top.
Whenever I bake, I like to use organic flours, and sometimes even sprouted flours too, for maximum health benefits. This is a typical hearty Norwegian bread, with a crispy crust and soft and moist on the inside.  Honestly my favorite way of eating it is straight out of the oven with just a nice, thick layer of (vegan) butter, but of course you can freeze these breads easily and they hold up really nicely without crumbling.
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SUNNMØRSBRØD

1 packet dry fast rising yeast (about 2 1/2 tsp)

About 5 cups luke warm water

3 tbsp rapeseed oil (or other vegetable oil)

1 tbsp sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup or light syrup

1 tbsp salt

1 1/4 cup (300 grams) whole wheat flour

1 1/4 cup (300 grams) rye flour

1/2 cup (100 grams) old fashioned oats

4 1/4 cup (1,000 grams) all purpose flour

Pour the yeast, water, rapeseed oil, sugar and maple syrup into a bowl of a stand mixer.  Meanwhile in a separate bowl, combine the rye and whole wheat flours, oats and salt and let sit for about 15 minutes.  Then add the all purpose flour and with a dough hook, start kneading the dough for about 10 minutes.  Pour the dough onto a clean, lightly floured work surface, divide in three equal pieces and roll out to loaves.  Place in three 2 quart loaf pans (or you can just place them in free form on a  lightly oiled baking sheet which I did for two of my loaves), cover with a towel and place in a slightly warm area for about 1 hour.    You can see the difference in shape/appearance of the loaves baked in a form and the loaves just placed losely on a sheet. I kind of prefer the latter, and not a ‘perfect looking’ bread myself 🙂
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Brush the top of the loaves with melted vegan butter,  and bake for about 45 minutes.  Let cool on a rack but not too long – because warm bread and butter is the BEST!! Freeze any loaves you and your family don’t devour immediately! 😃

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Reviving the busserull; an old Norwegian work shirt, plus an apron that inspired me to bake

Every so often life throws you those serendipitous moments, when a reader of your blog connects with a Norwegian across the United States, mentions you and suggests reaching out. That woman does, and you end up getting to know a wonderful, budding entrepreneur and fellow Norwegian you otherwise wouldn’t have come across.

That is exactly what happened just a few short months ago. I believe nothing is a coincidence. People come in to your life for a reason, as much as they leave your life the same way.   The person I connected with is Ingvill Kaasin Montgomery, founder of the super interesting company and online clothing shop,  Hovden Formal Farm Wear, who happens to share my interest and love for Norwegian history and traditions.

Ingvill told me she was inspired to bring back old the Norwegian work shirt from 150 years ago worn by farmers and workers, called “busseruller” in our language (“arbetsskjorta” in Swedish and Danish), and decided to start her own company after she moved from Norway to the United States.

What on earth is a busserull It’s a traditional, every day light shirt or cardigan that was worn in the 1800s by men, particularly when working outside.  It is made from square pieces in the back and front with wide arms, and has either buttons or a string tie in the neck.  The name stems from the Italian and low German  ‘busserun’, which means seaman’s shirt, and the French ‘bougeron’ (work blouse).

Don’t think you have to be a farmer or do manual labor to wear busseruller.  These beautiful, classic creations have a versatile usage, and are worn to parties, everywhere in daily life and even weddings!  Just don’t ever think about wearing it to church…

While a busserull looks like a shirt, it’s typically worn as a heavier layer on top of a lighter shirt.  The busserull made a comback in the 1960s when the academic crowd started wearing the shirts, perhaps because they saw it as a traditional piece of clothing for the labor force.

(Images below are from Hovden Formal Farm Wear’s website):

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A native Norwegian now located in Portland, Oregon since 2008 – Ingvill started making busseruller in 2014 and works with a local designer to create these historical shirts, focusing on using sustainable and ethical production methods made from quality pieces.  She consciously chooses not to resort to cheap labor in Asia, but rather 80% of her clothes are produced by a small company located in Pamplona, Spain consisting of 8 ladies who specializes in sewing traditional, European clothing (among other things, traditional Basque garments).   Her goal is to keep all production as local as possible, and part of her plan is to move the American production to Portland, OR where she resides.

Ingvill originally got the idea to produce busseruller when working in the wine industry in Oregon, witnessing winemakers, who are essentially farmers, having to attend wine dinners, tastings and presentations in the city .  They didn’t feel comfortable wearing suits,  and the look also didn’t represent them as wine producers. So Ingvill thought: busseruller would be perfect! Elegant looking yet comfortable to wear – a win win!

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Because Ingvill’s company is so dedicated to ethical manufacturing, social and environmental standards, she is committed to raising consciousness of the price we have to pay for mass produced, cheap clothing.  Instead, Hovden Formal Farm Wear insists on making quality clothing and pieces that are long lasting; an ode to vikings who didn’t have much, but were meticulous in taking good care of their clothes so they could last a life time.  I just love this about the company!

The original busserull look (Photo Credit: Paul Stang, Fylkesarkivet):

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Hovden’s website reads: “One of the reasons the shirt is so unique is the way the pattern was designed. Because fabric was a scarce commodity 150 years ago, the shirt was made up of squares and rectangular pieces, which resulted in almost no fabric going to waste. The proportions were drafted in such a way that fit the 3-dimensional body with ease and comfort. We have replicated this pattern.”

This is an important part of the makings of the busserull shirt, based on how Norwegians used to live in the old days where every single thing is utilized, and nothing is discarded. I’ve repeatedly written about this concept on the blog, as it relates to food history in Norway, where using leftovers regularly and creatively was an important part of our tradition.  I believe we can all benefit greatly from being reminded of the importance of appreciating the value of ingredients and things we surround ourselves with.

While the busserull was originally a man’s shirt, today it’s gender neutral.  Women’s work clothes back then were aprons.

I was lucky enough to receive a beautiful apron Ingvill made, which you see me wearing in the main picture in this blog piece.  I love how comfortable and versatile it is, but the best part of this apron for me, is that I feel it brings me home to my ancestors and family in Norway. My grandparents on both sides were farmers and fishermen, much like a lot of Norwegians back from a hundred plus years ago.  They were humble, hardworking people who appreciated and cleverly used local resources available to them, and not to mention: amazing cooks!   I can envision both my grandmothers, Sarah and Karoline, in an apron such as this, hard at work in the kitchen baking lefser, flatbrød and soups and stews from root vegetables grown on their farm.

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Wearing the apron inspired me to get in the kitchen immediately to bake a special kind of bread from my region of north-western Norway, which I will share with you in part 2 of this blog series tomorrow!

You can read more details about Hovden Formal Farm Wear’s gorgeous apron and purchase it HERE.

As a female career and empowerment coach, I love meeting other women who are in business for themselves. It’s extra fun  when these women are Norwegian and expats like myself,  on a mission to improve the world and raise consciousness of how we live our lives!

I look forward to working with Hovden Formal Farm Wear in the months and years to come, to promote and support Norwegian businesses, history and traditions in the United States.

Hovden Formal Farm Wear has an online store and can ship shirts all over the world. You can find Ingvill at http://hovdenformalfarmwear.com.  Also check out their FB page and Instagram account.

Email hovdenffw@gmail.com.