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What is a lingon berry?

Lingon BerryThere are some small things about spending time in other countries that it’s just hard to get your head around. Matters that are more complex than translation difficulties. One such complication in Sweden has been the lingon (-et) which literally translates as lingon berry. So what, you ask, is a lingon berry? If you are Swedish and reading this, maybe you could comment and help me out a bit?

The lingon berry is so little known in English that there’s not presently even a Wikipedia entry about these berries. So what do I know?

  1. Lingon berries are red and grow on low bushes in Swedish forests
  2. Presumably they grow only in cold climates, hence the confusion of never having heard of it in English
  3. Their main use is in a kind of jam known as lingon sylt. This jam is sweet, but with a sharp edge
  4. This jam is supposed to be eaten with meatballs, and apparently old people in Sweden eat a lot of it with meat

Personally I think it tastes good on bread, or mixed with vanilla ice cream. But then I am probably destroying years and years of Swedish culture.

But if you do know more about this fruit, please let me know!

[CORRECTIONS]
Thanks to all the excellent comments from readers of this blog, I can now confirm that the Lingon Berry is more commonly known as a Cowberry in English. There is a page at Wikipedia about this –
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cowberry
Further, there are at least two different kinds of lingonsnaps on sale in the Swedish state alcohol shop Systembolaget.
http://www.vinguiden.com/sok/index.php?flaskID=1101&M=69


36 Comments

  • A European |

    I lived in Sweden for a year wondering something similar. It took a year to work it out, but it is now reasonably clear: Lingon berries are Swedish berries. They have them and we don’t. Sad but true. Oh, the Swedes have some great juices made from random berries as well which you can find in the UK… in good old IKEA!

  • Jon |

    Yes, I know they are berries… But why do we not have these berries in the UK? And what is the closest UK equivalent?

    Also, I am a bit perplexed that the Swedes eat a lot of blueberries and have never managed to make the blueberry schnapps that the Slovenes make – Borovnica… Could you make lingon schnapps?

  • Jon |

    Glad that is cleared up a bit… Not sure why my previous Wikipedia search did not come across it.

    BTW, you can add links in the comments here too…

  • Anon |

    Cowberry, lingonberry, foxberry, mountain cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea). This is an uncultivated member of the cranberry family and is primarily used in northern Europe to make jams and preserves.

    I lived in Sweden for a year as well and had found these hard to find here in the US until the last 5 years or so. They are also called Swedish Wild Cranberries here.

  • J Wilson |

    These berries are found in Newfoundland and Labrador. I grew up picking them around this time of year. In Newfoundland they are called Partridge Berries and they do make excellent jam, which subsequently makes excellent pies. Whole uncooked berries are great for muffins!

    They do not grow on trees in the forest, they are found close to the ground and in marshy areas, very similar to blueberries.

    Partridge berries are my favorite wild berry, next to raspberries!

  • Jon |

    Please note: comments have been moved from the previous blog entry… Hence dates of the posts are a little odd!

  • Colleen |

    In Northern Minnesota we have a bush with a berry called ‘high bush cranberries’ which may be the same thing. If not, they certainly are similar. Being for Swedish descent, they were always something my immigrant grandmother canned and perserved as jams, juice and jelly.

  • Sammye Larson |

    Just returned from a trip to Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. The markets were full of Lingdon berries so this must be the season. I could find nothing in my gardening books until I found your website. Lookedup Cowberry(Vaccinium vitis-idaea) and sure enough there it was. What ever you call them, the Jam/sauce is delicious with meat, on bread, pancakes or whatever.
    Thanks

  • Jon |

    Hi Sammye,

    Am very happy – as a big fan of Lingon sylt myself I’m glad the blog was of help! :-) Mid-August until mid-September is the lingon season.

  • Marc |

    Lingonberries are fantastic with swedish meatballs. You can buy both at Ikea stores in the market area. If you put a little gravy over the meatballs then put some lingonberries on top, its fantastic!

  • Staffan |

    As a full fledged Swede I can tell you that lingon berry jam is very popular to eat together with all sorts of meat and potato combos. It is also frequently used for desserts such as your basic vanilla ice cream.

    It is also commonly eaten with potato pancakes and blood pudding (Swe: blodpudding). Meat balls, potato pancakes and blood pudding is also commonly served for lunch in Swedish schools (always with lingon berry jam).

    On another note many Polish people drive up to the north of Sweden and pick lingon berries which they later sell for profit. In Sweden every one has the right to pick mushrooms, berries etc even on private land as long is you don’t go close to the house where the owner is living (referred to as Allemansrätten or “Every Mans Right” would probably best describe it in English).

    Best!

  • chas |

    AUUHEEE —NOW EVEN ” IHOP’s” ( International house of panchakes ),IN THE US of A , OFFER , ” LINGON BERRY CRAPES “, tastes the same as whole mushed cranberry sauce… but I’m sure it would be better on PFUFFERS , ( potatoe cakes ) …Even better on roasted chicken… CHAS

  • Erik |

    Lingonberries are also used to make a sort of juice (no pun intended), called Lingondricka, with a rather bitter taste. It’s common in the northern parts of sweden, and is sometimes mixed with vodka in a cocktail called vargtass (wolf’s paw).

  • lodo |

    omg i had them for the first time today!!!!! im in love.
    do they have the same health values as cranberries?

  • lina |

    Lingon berry is very delicious with toast & hot bread as well.
    In Sweden, i tasted it with smashed potatoes & meat, it was not bad… but i preferred it with toast or bread.

    :)

  • Tim |

    These are also very popular in Denmark where they are called Tyttebaer (Tyttebær). We eat them with most types of meats as well, but especially pork. I might recommend eating them with the ‘Medister’ (Cumberland Sausage – a spicy pork sausage).

    Some might be interested in sugar-free pastilles with lingon berry taste, developped by the Nordic Food Lab (nordifoodlab.org).

  • Tim |

    Lingonberry/Cowberry aka “Brushnika” is very popular as juice, jam and compote in Russia as well. I bought some juice by mistake thinking it was cranberry while there in July and fell in love with the tart flavor with the first sip.

    My retired Doctor mother in law says that they are even better for one’s kidneys and urinary tract than cranberries. And they are great cancer fighters too.

    I am reading now that they grow well in northern regions of the USA (I live in Connecticutt) and want to try to start some plants when we have the space to do so.

    I found the Swedish juice and jam at Ikea in Sep and vow to always have some on hand. My only complaint is that it’s a bit too sweet (I’m diabetic), but I dilute the concentrate more than directed to make it taste more like what I had in Russia.

  • Oddgeir |

    the Cowberries do not exlusevly grow in only Sweden and Denmark – you’ve got ‘em in Norway, Finland and Russia as well.

  • Måns |

    You probably didn’t fin the wikipedia article about lingonberries because you spelled it wrong. It’s LINGONBERRIES, as in one word, and not LINGON BERRIES.

    I ahve to advice against eating them raw. Not tasty at all. But there are two kinds of jams you can make. Either by stirring them while raw or by boiling them. My favourite is the raw lingoberry jam.

  • John |

    Lingonberries are now available as jam in Lidl – bought them in a hurry as I thought they were cranberries. Quite tasty and wend well with turkey – no body noticed the difference until the following day when they read the label.

  • Jon |

    @John – Glad it worked fine with the turkey!

    Also thanks everyone for the comments here. I wrote this entry in 2005 and it’s still highly ranked in Google! :-)

  • Jana |

    We have them also in Slovakia, they are called brusnice. I have a friend which is a chemist and he was very angry that our people translate cranberries as brusnice. He told me it is not the same because our brusnice (lingonberries) can be used for some urinal problems (and they really work :-) and he said that cranberries do not contain the same things (lingonberries are much better for health according to him). And yeah, we also usually eat them with diferent kinds of meat and they are really great with fried cheese with white mould. Sorry, I dont know how it is called in English. But the most favourite species here are Encián, Plesnivec and Hermelín (last one is of czech origin)and they taste really great :-).

  • Dick Thorén |

    I’ve just eaten Pitepalt, main ingredients grated potato barley flour and wheat flour that you make little balls of, then boil for 45 – 60 minutes. To this I served “fried bacon” (or the little thicker Swedish one called “fläsk”) and lingon berry jam. It was delicious!

    One of my favorite dessert is made of rusks that you poor over little milk to make them a little soft. Then you serve them with lingon berry jam and vanilla sauce. It was my mother that “invented” this during the World War II for my older brothers, it was very cheap as my parents always picked a lot of lingon berries.

  • Mads |

    I’m just so happy that I’ve found this site. I really hate lingon berries but all these compliments have opened my eyes. Thanks!

  • Tomas |

    Hi,
    Right now, while I type this, I eat toasted slice of bread topped with lingonberry or cowberry jam. Brilliant for breakfast!!!
    Lingonberry or as others here call it cowberry is not swedish berry.
    I’m from Lithuania, another nothern European country, where we have this berry in abundance in our forests. It’s a shame that here in England you can get this jam only in IKEA shops. But I have to say,the taste of that jam from swedish IKEA is not the same as that from Lithuania.
    Some of lithuanian food shops in east london sell lingonberry jams.
    My grandma would give you a lot of recipes where you could use it. but the best i tried was roast duck with this jam.
    Bueno Apetito!

  • Jon |

    @Tomas – I’ll have a look! I live in London now, very far from an IKEA, so an alternative source of lingon jam would be good. I’ll try to find a shop with Lithuanian products in my area.

  • Irina |

    I’m form Nothern Russia and grew up picking cowberries (brustnika) every autumn. We had a big bucket of frozen berries on the balcony to last us through the winter. We used it simply with tea ( I like it with no sugar) and cakes. it is also fantastic to accompany meat dishes.
    I now live in England in Brighton and really miss having this berry in my diet. I would travel to London to buy it.
    I would be very greatful if anyone can tell where i can buy it please.

    Thank you very much.

    Irina.

  • Liina |

    I would also like to add that lingonberry jam or the “cold lingonberry jam” that Måns referred to (basically just mashed up lingonberries mixed with a small amount of sugar, easy to do at home) is also delicious on oatmeal/porridge. As a Sweden living abroad I had not had lingonberry jam for a while and when I got hold of a jar from home, that first spoonful of jam was one of the tastiest things I’ve ever had.. :) In other words, I miss it big-time! Of course I could buy the jam at IKEA but I find it way too sweet and prefer the “cold”-jam mixture.

  • Flossie |

    Found this site looking for a good lingonsylt recipe.

    @ Liina What does the “cold” jam recipe mean?

    @Tomas What is your grandma’s recipe?

  • Liina |

    The “cold jam” is actually just mashed lingonberies mixed with a whole lot of sugar, a simpler way of preserving food than making jam. It doesn’t taste as sweet as jam does since it’s not boiled, the berries keep more of their sour and tangy flavour, which I preferr.

    This discussion has been going on for six years…pretty cool :)

  • Flossie |

    Thanks Liina for replying. Can I check that you mean cooked cold lingonberries?

    Or perhaps they are raw?

  • Roger |

    Flossie: The lingonberries are raw when you mash them with sugar. No cooking at all.

  • Tim the Swede |

    Flossie: like Roger said there’s no cooking at all involved. In Sweden we call it “rårörda lingon” meaning raw stirred lingonberries. It goes about 7 deciliter of sugar per kilo of berries. Put the berries in a bowl and add a little bit of sugar at a time while stirring with a wooden spoon, allowing the sugar to dissolve and the berries to get a bit moshy. Can it and keep it cool and dark preferably in the fridge. You can also freeze it.

    Lingonberries is by no way exclusive to Sweden or Scandinavia. It is also very popular in Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Romania, Slovenia, Poland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland & Czech Republic, It grows in the Northern Hemisphere from Eurasia to North America. So pick up your buckets and start roaming the forrests! ;-)

    Some names the lingonberry is known under in different countries/regions: cowberry, csejka berry, foxberry, quailberry, beaverberry, mountain cranberry, red whortleberry, bearberry, lowbush cranberry, cougarberry, mountain bilberry, partridgeberry and redberry.
    The latin name is Vaccinium vitis-idaea.

    Another berry to keep an eye out for is the cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus). It looks kind of like a blackberry but is bright orange. You usually find them in marshes. It’s delicious to have cloudberryjam and whipped cream to waffels. It is also very tasty warm with vanilla icecream.

  • Tim the Swede |

    Forgot to mention that you can buy both lingonberryjam and cloudberyjam at amazon (who could’ve guessed?), although it is pricey. If you live in North America you can also check out http://www.swedensbest.com/

  • Flossie |

    Thanks for your replies. We go to Sollerön and I picked a whole load of lingon this summer so I will have to try the raw jam next year. No cloudberries though (i don’t mind as they are not my favourite fruit). Picked a mountain of winter chanterelles for the first time too.

So, what do you think ?