Uncovering The Surprising History Of Swedish Meatballs

Swedish meatballs, or köttbullar, are a beloved and iconic dish in Sweden and other parts of Scandinavia. These savory and flavorful meatballs are typically made with a mixture of ground beef and pork, breadcrumbs, and a variety of aromatic herbs and spices. They are often served with a creamy gravy or sauce, mashed potatoes, and lingonberry jam.

But did you know that the history of Swedish meatballs is closely connected to Turkey? In fact, it is believed that the origins of Swedish meatballs can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire.

This article looks at the surprising history of Swedish meatballs and how they are related to Turkey. 

The History of Swedish Meatballs  

Swedish meatballs are a delicious dish that is enjoyed around the world. They are typically served with a creamy sauce and a side of potatoes or noodles. But where did these tasty treats come from?  

According to food historian and author Rachel Laudan, the origins of Swedish meatballs can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire, where they were known as "köfte." These meatballs, which were made with a mixture of ground lamb and a variety of aromatic spices, were a popular food item in the Ottoman Empire and were often served with a variety of sauces and accompaniments.  

Over time, the recipe for köfte spread throughout Europe, and it eventually made its way to Sweden, where it was adapted to local tastes and ingredients. In Sweden, the recipe for köfte was modified to include a mixture of ground beef and pork, and it was also served with a creamy gravy or sauce and mashed potatoes. The dish was eventually known as köttbullar, or Swedish meatballs.  

The Origins of Swedish Meatballs  

A tweet from the Swedish government in 2018 put an end to the mystery surrounding the origins of Swedish meatballs. The tweet talked about how Swedish King Charles XII, who traveled to Turkey in the early 18th century, brought back the recipe for Swedish meatballs in 1714.

Turkish food experts agree that "köfte" can take several forms, not just meat, and isn't invariably a ball. Vegan and vegetarian versions exist, such as the leek-based Pirasa Koftesi and the lentil-based Mercimek Koftesi. Köfte can take on a variety of shapes, including cylinders, fingers, and almonds. When a Turk uses the word, they could mean anything from a dish made with ground beef, liver, or fish to a dish made with vegetable pulp blended with spices and herbs. These are as good when fried, grilled, or boiled like dumplings in a soup.

There is a unique type of köfte dish to be found in each and every one of Turkey's many cities. Most frequently, they are made of veal, beef, lamb, or a combination of these three, as opposed to pork, as is the case with köttbullar. Meat that has been freshly ground and pounded, possibly with some added ground onions and spices, makes the best köfte.

The Evolution of the Swedish Meatball Recipe

They say that even though Charles was eager to return to Sweden, he and his men developed a taste for Ottoman Turkish foods like sherbet and what is now known as Turkish coffee. The Swedish authorities didn't say for sure what Charles XII's favorite food was, but it was probably köfte, the spicy lamb and beef meatballs of Turkish cuisine.

In 1755, in Guide to Housekeeping for Young Women, chef Cajsa Warg published the first written recipe for Swedish meatballs, or kötbullar. Warg was employed by a family that was close to the king, and her book included the earliest recorded recipe for kåldolmar, a stuffed cabbage dish similar to dolma (a family of stuffed dishes associated with Ottoman cuisine). Historians in Sweden agree that kåldolmar, a staple food in Sweden, has its origins in Ottoman cooking, as do Swedish meatballs and the country's insatiable love of coffee.

Over time, the recipe for Swedish meatballs has evolved. Today, they can be found with a variety of different ingredients and flavors. Common ingredients in modern Swedish meatballs include ground beef or pork, onions, garlic, breadcrumbs, eggs, and spices. The traditional recipe for Swedish meatballs is usually served with a creamy gravy or sauce, as well as boiled or mashed potatoes. But today, Swedish meatballs can be served with a variety of different sides, such as noodles, rice, or salad.

The Popularity of Swedish Meatballs

Today, Swedish meatballs are a beloved and iconic dish in Sweden and other parts of Scandinavia, and they are enjoyed by people all over the world. In the United States, they are often served as an appetizer or as a main course. In Sweden, they are typically served as part of a traditional "smörgåsbord," in which Swedish meatballs are one of the primary ingredients, along with a variety of other ingredients, such as pickles, cucumbers, and apples.

Swedish meatballs are also popular in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada. They can be found in restaurants and grocery stores, as well as in pre-packaged forms.

Whether you're a fan of savory and flavorful meatballs or simply looking to try something new, Swedish meatballs are a delicious and satisfying option that is sure to satisfy your cravings.