How a Name Ruined My Favorite Danish Sweet
The first time I had a flødebolle my pupils dilated. It tasted like a Mallomar but for fancy, sophisticated people.** The outer was a shell of thick, dark chocolate that protected a dollop of delicate, sugar foam. When sprinkled with coconut, I could knock back three or four. I was so enamored that I carried a box to the US in my carry-on. A flødebolle was one of those Danish treats whose story I wanted to tell, so like any food writer I started with a look into its history. What I found was disappointing and a little problematic. Now I’m not sure if a flødebolle will ever look the same.
** That wasn’t a criticism of the 100-year old cookie. I’ve been known to hoard and hide the Nabisco treat.
What is a flødebolle?
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 famous Danish producer Elvirasminde obtained the recipe from the US in 1912.
The irony of origins aside, that wasn’t what interested me. Every country rallies around foods that aren’t its own. It was the name that grabbed my attention. It didn’t describe the sweet. A fløde- (cream) bolle (bun) had no cream and wasn’t a bun.
Perhaps ‘flødebolle’ seemed unfitting because it wasn’t the original name; prior to the 1980s a flødebolle was called a negerkys (Negro kiss) or negerbolle (Negro bun or ball). The chocolatier Elvirasminde produced the treat under the company Sambo in boxes branded with a topless, red-lipped African woman. In the 80s, Elvirasminde changed the company name from Sambo to Samba and rebranded negerkys as flødebolle with the tagline, “kisses better.” (If you’re unfamiliar with the Sambo stereotype and how it has shaped views around African Americans in particular, here’s a quick summary and bonus reading on Prada’s 2018 line of Sambo figurines.) To be fair, negerkys and negerboller are no longer widely used – my niece and nephew won’t know them, and first-wave Millennials would be familiar with terms but probably grew up using the modern name, flødeboller. There is, however, still lingering nostalgia for the old Negro monikers, at least in Danish writing where the sweet childhood ‘kiss’ lives on.
Perceptions of race in Denmark
Denmark is held as a bastion of progressivism but, in my experience, perceptions of race and privilege are stunted or myopic. Slurs and stereotypes are so embedded they’re rarely recognized as problematic; and if pointed out, dismissed as innocent or defended as Danish ‘frihed’ (freedom). There is collective agreement that some Danish beliefs and words are offensive, but it’s not always accompanied with a deep commitment to change. To illustrate, I once had a long heart-to-heart about why the word ‘neger’ is hurtful, only to hear it “slip out” hours later to describe a dark-skinned man. (Why racism isn’t considered racism in Denmark is a discussion for another time, but the work around ‘hygge racism’ attempts to answer these larger societal questions.)
This brings me back to flødebolle and my mixed feelings about its reinvention; the commitment to change seems good but superficial. Sure, the original manufacturer changed from Sambo to Samba (I’ll let you decide if that’s sufficient), and rebranded their product from negerkys to flødebolle. But the tagline, “kisses better,” continues to immortalize a particular past and suggests that another’s dignity is less important than Danish tradition.
To eat or not to eat?
I’m walking down Gammel Kongevej, one of the best streets in Copenhagen, trying to find a place to quiet my sugar craving. I consider a raspberry flødebolle and continue on to Social Foodies, a social-minded artisanal ice cream shop and organic chocolatier. I’d been to Social Foodies before, once to take a flødebolle-making class; which I admit was an undeniably fun afternoon of adults playing in chocolate. But this time is different. Now I have images in my head of children asking for a ‘Negro kiss’ and my father looking disappointed. Knowing what I know now, a flødebolle doesn’t look as sweet. Neither does the Social Foodies’s logo of a (clothed) African woman.