Finns eat tar: the strangest Finnish ingredient

We already saw on the blog that Finns eat tar thanks to the Bizarre Foods’s video from Andrew Zimmern, Finnish edition. We saw him give his opinion about how tar tastes in food when he went to a marketplace: He actually liked the smokey flavor.

A road made with tar
A Finnish road. Main ingredient: tar.

What exactly is tar?

According to wikipedia, there are several kinds of tar. Some of them aren’t very good for people’s health.

In the North of Europe, Finland included, tar is produced by burning wood in a pile. It was already being used centuries ago in these nordic and scandinavian countries to coat ships… and as medicine.

Finns have a saying: “If sauna, vodka and tar don’t help, the illness is fatal.” The reason behind this expression is that tar is also a microbicide agent.

The word for tar in Finnish language is “Terva“. So if you see this word in the supermarket and you are not afraid to deal with the dark element, you know what to go for. For instance, this shampoo:

Shampoo made with tar
Shampoo with “chimney effect”. Just kidding: Tar is supposed to help with dandruff. Source (CC: by-sa)

This ingredient is also used as a scent for places such as the sauna. The Finns like the familiarity of the smell.

Eating tar

Tar is used as an additive and as a flavoring ingredient. It gives a smoky flavor to the dish you add it to, such as ice creams, beers, liquorice and sweets. In the Andrew Zimmern video we saw tar added to a herring sauce, and as a spray to add a bit of tar to any dish that you wish.

And what does tar have that is liked in Finland? Besides the smoky flavor we talked about, it might have something to do with Finns fondness (love!) for food items that are seen as strange everywhere else and that have unique – acquired taste – flavors, such as salmiakki or mämmi. The tar flavor is the closest thing you have to chewing smoke.

In this photos we can see some people eating tar ice-cream and also some Finnish candy that features the same flavor and that you can get at in many supermarkets and convenience stores. You can check out this Finnish delicacy by yourself and then decide if tar is for you. After all, all the cool Finnish kids are doing it.

tar ice cream
These people are eating tar ice-cream, or so it says the Source (CC: by-sa) of the photo.

Leijona candy
This candy brand is tar-flavored. Source (CC: by-sa)

What do you think of this curious gastronomical variant of Finland? Would you be up for trying it?

I've been writing about Finland for 8 years. In these articles I am trying to transmit my passion for Finland, its marvelous nature and cities, its people and the culture of the country. Thanks for reading!