A Guide to Danish Junk Food
Ah, junk food. It’s bad for us, but we can’t stop eating it. Who can blame us? It tastes so damn good. I grew up in the 80s with American favorites like Reese’s Pieces, Nerds and Sour Patch Kids. But my husband, who’s Danish, never saw the stuff. His weekend candy was sugar-coated licorice and Haribo gummies. Junk food changes as you move around the world, from masala-flavored cheese puffs to pickled daikon. Here’s a look at what the Danes love to eat: the salty, the sweet and the (in)famous salmiak licorice.
Disclaimer: OK, junk food is bad. It’s linked to childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes and a slew of other adverse health outcomes. I’m not encouraging you to eat it, rather acknowledging its existence and offering a perspective of what junk food looks like in another country.
Danes eat a lot of candy. They’re among the highest candy consumers in all of Europe and eat more pounds than Americans a year.
Lagerman Konfekt Mix
Candy mixes are popular in Denmark, especially for ‘Fredag Slik’ —a weekly custom where children are allowed to eat candy on Fridays. Malaco’s Lagerman Konfekt is a blend of sugar and licorice. The bites are soft and have a sweet licorice flavor.
The German confectionery Haribo introduced Matador Mix in the 1980s. Since then it has become the best-selling candy mix in Denmark. The mix includes Labre Larver (literally ‘Sexy Larvae’), a sweet licorice rod with a caramel shell and El Dorado wine gummies in a variety of fruit flavors. Matador Mix was named after the Danish TV series Matador, a period drama that ended around the time the candy launched in Denmark.
Pingvin (Penguin) is a brand owned by the Danish confectionery Toms (more on them later). Their original Ama’r Stang is a soft, black-and-white licorice stick. Other classic ‘stænger’ (sticks) include the red-and-yellow Tivoli Stang, twisted caramel Truxa and chocolate-flavored Chocofant. Pingvin makes around 10 different Stænger. They come in mixed or single bags.
Rotella are discs of sweet, black licorice that were once nicknamed ‘gramophone records.’ You can eat them as is or unroll them into a rope. On the licorice scale they’re between a Twizzler licorice twist and Pingvin Ama’r Stang.
Dumle is a classic soft toffee covered with milk chocolate. It was originally produced as a lollipop by the Swedish confectionery Mazzetti. You can still buy the choco-toffee lollipop, although they’re not always easy to find in Copenhagen. The chews are equally as good but go down a lot faster.
Maoam was a German company that started in the early-1900s as a licorice candy manufacturer. In the 1930s, the company started making Maoam Bloxx fruit chews in five original flavors. The chews are similar to Starburst but with more pronounced fruit flavors.
I’ve separated salmiak (aka ‘salty’) licorice as for those who haven’t acquired the taste, one lick can feel like a total assault on the senses. Salmiak is ammonium chloride and historically found in cough medicine, but (for some reason) used to flavor licorice in Northern Europe. I’ve ranked the popular salty licorice from gentle to downright abusive. Most people aren’t a fan but some have become addicted.
Fazer is a Finnish candy company that started as a Franco-Russian confectionary. Its Skolekridt (School Chalk) is quite popular in Denmark. Skolekridt are hard(ish) pieces of licorice filled with salmiak powder, covered with white peppermint and shaped to look like a piece of chalk. Biting into a Skolekridt is similar to biting into a hard Chiclet. The taste is licorice-y but without a strong lingering flavor.
Superflyers are soft black licorice sticks with a salmiak salt powder. They’re actually made in the UK by the candy company Maxilin. Typically you drain the filling first, then chew the outer casing. On the salty licorice scale, Superflyers are a big step up from Skolekridt.
Don’t let the branding fool you. Heksehyl isn’t Halloween candy. The name means ‘witches howl’ in reference to its high amount of salmiak. It’s the most popular Pingvin Stang and you can find it in two sizes. Only the mini ones are covered in sugar.
Even for people who like salty licorice, Piratos can be a lot. They were invented in the 1950s with the Danish taste buds in mind. A Pirato is about the size of a 5 kroner coin and is softer than first appearances, but wow does this licorice pack a wallop at first bite. Super Piratos have even more salmiak (as if that were even possible) and together with normal Piratos are among the most popular Haribo candies in Denmark.
If you thought the other salty licorice was strong, then a ‘Turkish Pepper’ will surprise you. This cough drop-sized pastille is a little candy with a point to prove. Tyrkisk Peber are originally Danish. They hit the market in the 1970s, but are now made by the Finnish company Fazer. If you can survive the hard outer coating, you’ll find liquid salmiak inside. It’s like a final kick to remind you just who’s in charge.
A flødebolle is a sweet confection of egg white, sugar, cocoa and vanilla with a marzipan or waffle base. It’s considered a kage (cake) in Denmark and has been dressed up in recent years with artisanal flavors like mango, licorice and raspberry. But flødeboller aren’t actually from Denmark, despite some resistance to this fact. The Danish producer Elvirasminde obtained the recipe from the US in 1912.
Toms Guld Barre
Toms is a Danish chocolatier from the 1920s founded by Hans Trojel og (and) Victor Meyer —ergo ToMs. They started selling milk chocolate during the Interwar period when the price of cocoa and sugar was exorbitant. They named it Guld Barre (Gold Bar) in reference to a quip that their chocolate bars might as well be molded of gold.
Toms Skilpadde (turtle) has remained a beloved Danish chocolate since 1948. It’s a turtle-shaped milk chocolate with a rum cream and caramel filling. The brown and gold skildpadder can be found everywhere, including ice cream and ice cream cakes.
In 1959, Taffel was the first company in Denmark to produce potato chips. They’re not really popular (anymore) in Copenhagen outside the Christmas season.
Kims Snack Chips
Kims is now a Norwegian company but it started in Denmark making American-style peanuts in the 60s. Their Snack Chips are extremely popular. The chips are square and ribbed, and crunchier (read: louder) than your average chip. Snack Chips come in a number of flavors. The yellow bag is the original but the sour cream and onion is another Danish favorite.
Skurer (screws) were launched in 1977 with the slogan, “the screws are loose.” They’re older than Kims Snack Chips and are also quite popular. They come in various flavors and have a texture between a cheese puff and a Kims Snack Chip.
Flæskesvær are pork rinds. They’re regarded as “typically Danish” but most likely came to Denmark from Great Britain in the 1800s.
A note about Haribo
It’ll become obvious when you’re in Denmark that Haribo is everywhere. After all, the billion-dollar candy giant is just across the border. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention accusations that the company uses slave labor in Brazil. The claims (which also included animal cruelty charges) were made in late 2017 and were widely reported across international media. In response, Haribo promised to investigate the working conditions but as of early 2019 there haven’t been any updates. Personally, I’ve taken a break from Haribo until I hear more about the company’s assessment of its working conditions. But again, that’s my personal choice. I’ll leave it to you to make your own decision.