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Five Danish food mistakes you only make once

Moving to Denmark can be a culture shock, no matter where you come from, whether it's the cold winters, the dislike of small talk or bureaucracy. However, you might not have expected a culture shock in your local supermarket.

Five Danish food mistakes you only make once
Be sure to put flour in your bread and icing sugar in your cake. File photo: Signe Goldmann/Ritzau Scanpix

This article will lead you through the Danish food mistakes you (probably) only make once.

Adding A38 to your coffee 

Danish yoghurt tends to be sold in 1kg cartons – about the same size as the 1 litre cartons in which you are most likely to get milk. Exactly the same size, in fact.

As a result, the appearance of milk and yoghurt packaging is a lot more similar than it is in other countries, where you might be more likely to find milk in plastic bottles and yoghurt in multipacks of small tubs.

This could mean a couple of double-takes are needed when taking your milk or yoghurt off the refrigerator shelf in the supermarket, to make sure you have taken the product you need.

Further complicating matters is the popularity in Denmark of a product called A38 (named, I believe, after the year the product was launched). This is a type of yoghurt but nothing like the sweet-tasting fruit flavours or natural yoghurts you might be familiar with. It is made using a certain type of bacteria which gives it a probiotic effect – and a distinctly sour taste.

It’s easy from here to see how a simple carton-mix up could result in you creaming your coffee with a dollop of sour-tasting yoghurt. Not recommended.

Finding unexpected liquorice in your pick and mix

For some reason, liquorice is extremely popular in Scandinavia. Visitors from other countries looking to treat themselves to a bag of sweets may be surprised when that unassuming sweet they thought was blackcurrant flavour turns out to be liquorice.

Your chocolate bar isn’t safe either. Many chocolate brands have salted liquorice flavours and you’ll also find liquorice variants of other popular sugary treats including flødeboller (chocolate-covered soft marshmallows) and ice cream.

So if you don’t want a salty, liquorice surprise when you think you’re about to enjoy some delicious candy, watch out. The bitter-tasting plant is a master of disguise.

Photo: Kjersti Hjelmen/Nf-Nf/Ritzau Scanpix

Buying the wrong type of bread rolls

Rye bread (rugbrød) is king of the Danish lunch break, meaning bread rolls (buns, baps, cobs, whatever you prefer to call them) take a back seat at this time of day.

However, bread rolls are a popular breakfast time staple, including at cafes or bakeries, where you can usually order a bolle med smør (roll with butter) during the morning.

If you prefer rolls to rye at lunch, you’ll need to choose the right type when shopping at the supermarket. Hveder and krydderboller are two types of bread roll that have plenty of sugar and a good dash of cardamom in the dough. (As far as I can tell, they are identical apart from their shape).

They are displayed alongside all the other bread products at supermarkets but taste of, well, sweet cardamom bread. Not ideal if you’re making a bacon roll or cheese sandwich.

Incidentally, eating hveder is a tradition commonly associated with the Great Prayer Day holiday, so maybe this mistake will become harder to make if the government goes through with its plan to scrap the holiday.

Flour or sugar?

Maybe you’ll decide to avoid all this confusion and just bake your own bread. If you do, though, there are other pitfalls to avoid.

The Danish word for flour is mel and sugar is sukker. So what’s flormelis, a word that appears to include approximations of both “flour” and mel?

Flormelis is icing sugar. Because of course it is. It comes in small boxes of about the size you’d need to make icing or frosting for a batch of cakes, and definitely not big enough for baking loaves of bread. Flour, mel, comes in much bigger paper bags.

If you get to the stage where you mix icing sugar with your yeast and water, it’s probably time to admit you should have been paying more attention.

Photo: Mogens Ladegaard/Ritzau Scanpix

Don’t cut the cheese with a knife

Cheese products popular in Denmark include havarti and the Cheasy range from dairy Arla. Cheasy utilises the pun in its name very well because, like havarti, it is soft and therefore easy to slice.

READ ALSO: Why does Denmark produce so much cheese?

At least, that’s the theory. Cheeses like this should be cut with an ostehøvl (cheese slicer), the quintessential Danish kitchen utensil.

There are two types of ostehøvl: a wire-based type and a version that looks a bit like a trowel, with a raised edge and a gap in the middle for the sliced cheese to pass through.

Inexperienced wielders of either type of ostehøvl could find themselves inadvertently causing a Danish kitchen no-no: the “ski slope” cheese block that comes from injudicious use of the slicer, creating uneven slices and leaving one side of the block thicker than the other.

There’s only one cheese crime that is looked upon even more dimly: cutting the soft cheese with a knife.

Have I missed any good ones? Let me know.

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Why do Danes eat lunch so early?

If you are new to a Danish workplace, you might think that going for lunch at noon would be beating the lunchtime rush. The opposite is true. Lunchtime in Denmark begins as early as 11:30am and you won't find many eating after 1pm. We investigate this early eating habit.

Why do Danes eat lunch so early?

It is well known that Danes are punctual and when it comes to lunchtime, the same can be said, with most people eating by noon or 12:30pm. But why does lunch start so early?

Professor Karen Klitgaard Povlsen of Aarhus University’s School of Communication and Culture believes the habit goes back hundreds of years. 

“Denmark used to be a farming country. When I was a child, I was raised on a farm and people got up very early in the morning and had their first coffee at around 9am and then lunch, which was warm, at around 11:30am. Then they slept for some hours. I think this pattern was more or less imitated by factories in the late 19th century,” she told The Local.

“But what I find really interesting is that in Denmark, unlike the rest of Europe, most people have their lunch at the same time, which is really rather unusual. Between 12pm and 12:30pm you won’t find anyone in the office,” she said.

Pupils at schools in Denmark tend to eat their lunch at noon and start their day at 8am, which is slightly earlier than other European countries. It appears adults follow the same pattern.

“The tradition to eat lunch early, at 12, might be that lunch in Denmark is not a big meal like other European countries. It’s a cold meal and often a lunch pack from home, often a few sandwiches,” Professor Lotte Holm of the University of Copenhagen told The Local. She has researched the social and cultural aspects of eating in various settings.

“In the workplace in Denmark, lunchtime is often around 30 minutes, with the aim that colleagues sit and eat together. There is of course an exception in certain workplaces, such as customer services and in hospitals where that’s not possible.

“Eating lunch at a desk happens but is not considered good style, or how it should be. I don’t think it happens that often,” Holm said.

In her Nordic study, Holm and a team of researchers followed the eating patterns of people in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finalnd over a fifteen-year period, from 1997 to 2012.

The results showed distinctly different national rhythms to eating, which were fairly persistent.

“Sweden deviates from the other Nordic countries because they have a social institutionalised mid-morning break called Fika, where they meet and have coffee and cinnamon buns. We have breaks at the workplace but they’re not official like in Sweden,” she said.

Denmark is a country of coffee drinkers so taking caffeine breaks definitely features in the workplace but they are not official breaks, Holm notes.

There are also differences between the Nordic countries when it comes to lunch.

“Denmark and Norway differ to Sweden and Finland, in that Denmark and Norway have cold lunches. We have lunch packs, whereas Sweden and Finland have hot lunches served in workplaces and in schools, where children eat for free.

“So there is more flexibility for the family evening meal in Sweden and Finland, because you eat more food at school and at work. In Denmark and Norway, there is more regular eating in the evening”, Holm said.

“Family time is prioritised in Denmark, as it is for all the Nordic countries. A lot happens during family meals, it’s socialising with children and teaching about language and morals and the world. It’s considered very important and they do this in Nordic countries on a regular basis, not everyday but it’s often,” Holm said.

“Our Nordic study showed dinners in Denmark to be around 6:30pm or 7pm. In Norway they are earlier, so Denmark is not particularly early here, but compared to countries like Spain, they are. In Denmark, the evening meal is often a hot meal,” she added.

It’s also worth noting that the times Danish people eat meals are different to the times attributed to certain parts of the day.

For example, eating lunch (frokost) can be anywhere between 11:30am and 1:30pm but when someone says they want to meet at frokosttid (lunchtime), they mean noon-1pm.

This comes after formidddag (9am-noon) and morgen (6am-9am).

The evening meal (aftensmad) is eaten anywhere between 5:30pm and 8:30pm but evening time (aften) is 6pm-midnight, preceded by afternoon (eftermiddag) (noon-6pm). Night (nat) is midnight-6am.