I know this might seem like a bizarre topic for a post, but I’ve realized that when I have friends visit me here, I tend to end up in a grocery store with them, where I take them by the elbow and steer them towards the cooler sections. “Try this!!” I demand, a half-crazed look in my eyes. “It will blow your miiiind!”
I don’t know what it is that makes these drinks so much better than their counterparts in the United States (that being my main frame of reference), but maybe it has to do with higher standards for food quality and a lower tolerance for artificial additives. Coca Cola, for example, is still flavored with sugar in Sweden, while the US version has been sweetened with High Fructose Corn Syrup since 1984.
In any case, these drinks might not stand out to you on a quick visit to Sweden unless someone recommended them to you, and it is well worth stopping by a supermarket or convenience store to try them.
In order of awesomeness, here are the non-alcoholic drinks you have to try when you’re in Sweden.
1. Brämhult’s Juices
Juice is good and all, but Brämhult’s juices are so good that they practically transcend the category. Never before have I opened a container of juice to have it taste exactly like the fruit it advertises, but fresher, thicker, and more flavorful. These juices are incredible. The raspberry (“hallon”) fruit drink is one of the best juices I’ve ever had in my life, and I don’t understand how Brämhult’s achieves that kind of freshness in a plastic bottle.
The picture above shows three flavors I like, but there are many more to choose from, including orange, blood orange, clementine, carrot, apple, grapefruit-orange, orange-raspberry, orange-mango, apple-raspberry, lemonade, and strawberry-lime. They also have smoothies, but I haven’t tried any of those yet… keeping it old-school.
2. Pucko Chocolate Milk
I don’t know if this is true all over the world, but the ready-made chocolate milk that you buy in the United States is strange tasting. It’s got this weird, powdery-dry aftertaste, almost like it was made with chocolate powder but wasn’t mixed well enough or the proportions were off. It’s not that good.
Pucko, on the other hand… Well, Pucko is like drinking a liquefied chocolate bar, but diluted with milk. “Why… is it… so good??” I ask myself, gasping for air after chugging an entire bottle. (Just kidding. I am far too ladylike to chug. I take delicate, mincing sips of everything I deign to lift to my lips.)
To put it simply, Pucko gives me faith that a secret herd of magical chocolate dairy cows is hidden somewhere in Sweden. I can only imagine the sugar-haze my childhood would have been if we had had such a tasty drink at our disposal. As a testament to its long-standing high standards of deliciousness, Pucko been around in Sweden for almost 60 years now, surviving numerous owner changes and buyouts. All this despite the fact that the word “Pucko” actually means “idiot” or “dummy” in Swedish. I mean, really. Who wouldn’t want a nice big glass of idiot?
3. Saft of any kind, but especially elderflower
Sweden, besides being the land of one thousand hair dressers, is also the land of one thousand berries you have never heard of. These berries are then turned into drinks and jams and ridiculously good fruit tarts, and you have no idea what it is that’s going into your mouth, but you’re ok with it.
“Saft” is one of the drinks that often result from a day out in the woods picking berries or flowers. In English, you can call it a concentrate or a cordial, depending on how where you’re from, and it is so, so good. You can read about my adventure making elderflower saft here, and you can find a boatload of elderflower saft-based drinks here.
My favorite is elderflower, which is, in my opinion, the most refreshing drink in the whole world to have on a warm summer afternoon. There are a lot of other flavors, though—black currant, red currant, pear, peach, cherry, rhubarb, raspberry, and strawberry, to name a few. Black currant is my second-favorite after elderflower.
WARNING: Do not try to drink saft out of the bottle! I repeat, do not drink saft out of the bottle. It has to be mixed with water—sparkling or still—or with the adult beverage of your choice.
4. Flavored Water
When I left the US almost two years ago, flavored waters had just started to become popular, but they always tasted a little chemical-y to me. It wasn’t lemon, it was lemon-oxide-bitterness. It wasn’t lime, it was limmonium-sour. Maybe they’ve improved over the past couple of years, but if not, the people responsible for mixing the flavors should hop on the next plane to Sweden.
- So many Ramlösa flavors to choose from! From top left to bottom right: Original sparkling, pineapple, grapefruit-orange, citrus, pomegranate, strawberry-lime, mango, rhubarb, wild strawberries, black currant, watermelon, and still water. Photo: Ramlösa.se
A blonde Swede in a white coat will invite the hapless Americans into his laboratory and chuckle at their cluelessness. “Watch and observe, my little grasshopper,” he’ll say with only the slightest hint of an accent as he takes out his wand and starts chanting in a language that sounds nothing like the YouTube videos of the Swedish Chef that the Americans watched to prepare for the meeting…
Ok, ok, just kidding about that bit, but these flavored waters are seriously good, and they come in the best flavors ever. There are two top brands competing for the flavored water market, Ramlösa and Loka, and maybe it’s this rivalry that is responsible for the awesome taste combinations. My new favorite is Watermelon from Ramlosa, but rhubarb is really good too, and the Pineapple Smash and Coconut flavors remain to be tasted…
ProViva is most like a fruit juice, although the consistency is somewhere between that of juice and a smoothie, and it’s called “Your Stomach’s Best Friend” (at least by ProViva marketing executives). Moreover, it was invented in Lund by Lund University Hospital researchers, which makes the people around here especially loyal to it.
- Scientifically-enhanced fruit juice. Photo: ProViva.se
Apparently ProViva not only tastes good, but it also has some crazy mixture of special bacteria that promotes healthy digestion and calm unhappy stomachs. Like fruit juice, but even better for you! I don’t think this is being exported yet, but if and when they start, it will become a super health craze and earn a million gazillion Swedish crowns. You heard about it here first.
6. Real Coke
In my natural environment (the US), I am a die-hard Diet Coke fan. Oooh, the acrid aftertaste! Aaah, the bitter sweetness! Mmmm, the certainty that its artificial sweeteners will give me cancer!! Plus, regular Coke is sickly-sweet. Ick.
In Sweden, I am all for the real Coca-Cola, calories be damned. As I mentioned earlier, it’s made with real sugar, and it’s not too sweet. Diet Coke doesn’t exist here, and Coca-Cola Light is just disgusting. Seriously, people, what did you do to it?
Word to the wise about the Coke situation in Sweden—if you order it in a restaurant, you will get one bottle in a glass or one trip to the soda fountain and that is it. Free soda refills do not exist here.
That’s it! If you have more Swedish drink suggestions, leave them in the comments!