Would You Eat Surströmming?

It’s thought to be so bad for you to eat that the European Union is trying to ban it, but its smell alone can make you sick.

Surströmming is a type of fermented herring that is traditionally enjoyed (really?) in Sweden near the end of summer. The whitefish is fermented in brine filled barrels, then canned. Bacteria trapped within continues the ripening of the fish, producing a variety of foul gasses that often cause the can to bulge. When opened, the olfactory onslaught of hydrogen sulfide, butric acid and several other chemical compounds is so powerful that many people choose to open it outside – much to the chagrin of their neighbors.

Typically eaten plain on tunnbröd, a thin Swedish bread, creative gourmands add boiled potatoes, onion and sour cream - mild flavors and aromas, by comparison.

(Un)fortunately, you’re not likely to find it at your local market in the United States - or even IKEA. If you take a shopping trip Sweden, keep in mind that several airlines have banned it -- supposedly as a safety measure, because the cans can explode, but we all know what the real reason is. Of course, if you’re truly adventurous enough, you can always make it yourself.

You may be better off, anyway. The herring used to make it in Sweden contains so much carcinogenic dioxin and PCB, which it absorbs from its home in the Baltic Sea, that it would be illegal to sell under EU rules if not for a cultural exemption that is set to expire at the end of 2011.

Nevertheless, the Swedish government is fighting hard for renewal so that its citizens can continue to frighten foreigners with their delightful delicacy.

But the real controversy is, if you visited Stockholm, would you eat it?