'Fake news': Historian denies Swedish meatballs originated in Turkey

A prominent food historian and cultural expert has weighed in on a controversial claim that Swedish meatballs originated in Turkey.

Advertising for Ikea meat balls in an Ikea store car park, in Malmo, Sweden, 25 February 2013.

Advertising for Ikea meat balls in an Ikea store car park, in Malmo, Sweden, 25 February 2013. Source: SCANPIX SWEDEN

Swedish food and culture expert Richard Tellström has slammed a claim that Swedish meatballs originated in Turkey, following a tweet saying so from the Scandinavian country's national account last week.

The tweet from Sweden.se sparked a frenzy when it claimed the origins of the meatball could be traced back to the 18th century when King Charles XII brought the recipe back from Turkey.

Swedes were quick to defend the popular cuisine.

But Mr Tellström, who teaches at Stockholm University, claimed there was no evidence to suggest the meatball had originated in Turkey.

"It's a sort of fake news definitely. You make something up for a political or a commercial purpose, and you spread the news without doing proper research," he said, according to The Swedish Local.

"It's more likely, considering the linguistic source, that meatballs are French or Italian.

"Meatballs is historically a very expensive dish, because you have to have fresh meat. We are talking about the top levels of society."

Following the episode, the Sweden.se account posted another tweet, saying researchers should have delved deeper into the "culinary history" before the original post. 

"Swedish food has been influenced by many foreign cultures. The same can be said about nearly all food cultures. That’s what we wanted to emphasise with our tweet. Having said that, we should have looked deeper into the origins and history of Swedish meatballs before tweeting," the tweet read.

The account backtracked on its initial claim, admitting while it had "little doubt about its [meatballs] origins last week", there are countless versions of the meatball across the world and that culinary history is complex.

2 min read
Published 7 May 2018 at 12:45pm
By Riley Morgan