Tar lollies and patriotic gum

Cut in half? Relax! The Finns have a panacea that is said to cure “even those cut in twain through their midriff”. Wood tar has been used in traditional Finnish medicine for years because of its ability to fight viruses and bacteria and is also used to flavour alcohol and sweets (Terve Leijona).

Tar lollies

Tar lollies

And how does it taste? Kind of like the road in New Zealand smells on a hot summer’s day. Or like the old Throaties we used to get from the chemist. But it’s not offensive, we actually have a wood tar fragrance we use in our sauna. Apparently the Finns say, “if sauna, vodka and tar won’t help, the disease is fatal.” 

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Chewing xylitol gum seems to be a patriotic act in Finland. Discovered by French and German scientists, it was the Finns who discovered its health benefits. A sweetener that can be tapped from birch trees, xylitol is safe for diabetics and proven to be beneficial for dental health. The flavour range of Jenkki gum includes spearmint, sweetmint, peppermint and polka mint, orange-cranberry, lemon sorbet, smooth salmiac and smooth lemongrass.

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Special wheat flour & whole wheat flour

Turns out ‘plain’ flour is a very subjective term. In NZ it refers to white wheat flour, the main alternative being brown wheat flour. Here in Finland there are so many kinds of flour, what we call ‘plain’ is hidden within a huge range of alternatives and called vehna (wheat) to differentiate it from grains such as rye, or graham.

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Rye flour & Fine wholegrain rye flour

Hartwall Jaffa is an iconic drink in Finland and can be found in most supermarkets and corner stores. Apparently it is ‘Finland’s most loved drink’ and is the third-most bought soft drink in the land. And just to confuse us, appelsiini is the Finnish word for orange, not apple.

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Finns seem to love their porridge for breakfast and it is sometimes made with oats as we are used to. There’s also a large range of Manna at our supermarket –  a milk-based mannapuuro (semolina-milk porridge).

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 And if you prefer toast for breakfast but don’t want the crust? No problem, this brand of bread seems to have taken care of that problem for you. Is that why most Finns have straight hair?

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Tar

Xylitol

Jaffa

A Bear in our Supermarket

I’m often asked about Finnish food and what we are enjoying the most. It feels a bit unpatriotic to say but we are really enjoying the dairy products here. There’s a huge selection of milk, cheeses, yoghurts and butter including lactose-free for the estimated 17% of Finns who are lactose-intolerant.

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The milk we buy

Valio is the main dairy producer here and one cheese they make is Oltermanni. It’s a yellow semi-soft cheese, a bit like Havarti. According to a book we have all about cheese (we do love it) they produce the cleanest milk in the EU thanks to the ‘crystal clear water and freedom from industrial pollution.’

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There’s also a strong emphasis on eating seasonal produce. It’s Chanterelle season at the moment and these small golden mushrooms  are very high in Vitamin D,  important for well-being during the Nordic winter. If you’re not out picking your own, the best place to buy them is at the market stalls around the city, especially down at Market Square.

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Chanterelle, portobello & field mushroom medley

The bread section in our local supermarket is split into two areas: Vaaleaa Leipää (light bread) and Tummaa Leipää (dark bread). I’m a new convert to rye bread and my favourite lunch is smoked salmon sandwiches with boiled egg on rye, from the deli.

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Most mornings I have a poached egg on rye toast with a gherkin on the side. It’s not as crazy as it sounds as the pickles we buy aren’t such an assault on the tastebuds as some that are sold in a jar. They have no colour added and are more like a dill pickle from the States.  We buy them from a big barrel at the supermarket where you can choose from plain or garlic.

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Something that I hadn’t seen before was soap nuts. Part of the lychee family, the fruit pulp is used to make soap and the shells can be used in the washing machine in place of detergent. They are meant to be great for people with allergies or very sensitive skin. They’re not actually a Finnish thing and have been used in India for years.

Soap nuts in the laundry section

Soap nuts in the laundry section

We’ve been fascinated by the bear meat sold in a can. Apparently bears that have a diet higher in berries than fish provide a sweeter tasting meat. Bears are protected animals and hunting quotas are set, although these are adjusted to remove bears from reindeer-herding areas.

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Which is kind of ironic because some reindeer end up in a can too! I’ll just have a side of cheese with my pickles thanks.

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Chanterelle mushrooms

Soap nuts