Theoretically, if you are reading this post, you are already familiar with Swedish Fish, the iconic bright-red gummy candy originally from Scandanavia. I truly thought that familiarity was universal, but when I brought these Oreos to my office, some claimed they had never heard of them(!) A friend posted a photo of the Swedish Fish Oreos package online, adding, "Gross!" Someone commented helpfully: “I think Swedish Fish are some kind of candy? Not a real fish?”
Let us all pause for a moment to imagine a world in which it is even conceivable that Oreo would put out a cookie flavored with actual fish. Although, wait... it’s possible that world may already exist – I’m looking at you, Japan and China – but that is a post for another day.
In any event, if one is not familiar with Swedish Fish, then the whole point here is certainly lost. But if you adore them, as I do, this Oreo was cause for excitement. Cherry red was always my favorite flavor of any candy, and Swedish Fish were originally available exclusively in red, a fact in which I rejoiced. To me, the flavor of Swedish Fish avoids the Robitussin/cough syrup overtones to which many cherry candies fall prey, channeling instead a bright, almost floral sweetness, with faint notes of tropical fruit punch. This flavor is a specific one, certainly not to be confused with any common cherry gummy candy. To my mind, the flavor scientists at Oreo had set a very exacting goal for themselves, because true Swedish Fish-ionados (sorry) would accept no substitutes.
Of course, I knew that Oreo’s super-thick layer of bright crimson creme would not be able to replicate my actual favorite thing about real Swedish Fish, which is the mouthfeel. Swedish Fish are of the variety of gummy candy known in Europe as “wine gums,” which have a firmer texture and more toothsome chew than an American gummy bear (which I always found insipidly soft, to be honest). Wine gums have an opaque matte finish, versus the uniform translucence of gummy bears. Swedish Fish are also detailed, with bumpy replica “scales” and the word “Swedish” embossed into the side, although you generally can’t read it. Best of all, Swedish Fish are wildly stretchy, which is just a fun quality to have in anything. Just ask a yoga instructor.
But I digress. When you first open this Oreo package, you don’t even need to intentionally take a deep whiff – the scent of Swedish Fish instantly assaults you. You may not have realized that Swedish Fish even HAVE a scent, because the candy itself isn’t terribly aromatic, but with the Oreos, what you smell is precisely the way that Swedish Fish taste, a bright aroma that is the very essence of RED. Cherry, cheerfulness, childhood, it’s all there. And the flavor of the creme matches the aroma perfectly. This creme is a masterpiece of flavor mimicry. And there is tons of it. Though this cookie is not billed as Double-Stuf, most of the novelty flavors have thicker creme layers than an ordinary Oreo, and this one appears to be truly twice as thick.
There’s just one thing that detracts here, and that is the presence of the traditional chocolate Oreo wafer. This is a departure from Oreo’s usual habit of including the Golden or Graham wafer variation with their novelty flavors. Theoretically, I actually prefer the chocolate wafer, and I don’t know that the Golden or Graham would have made any more sense here than the chocolate did. But I can see the logic – chocolate and cherries go together in the real dessert world – but Oreos aren't exactly chocolate, and Swedish Fish aren’t exactly cherry. Here, the contrast doesn’t do either the creme or the wafers any favors. Each makes the other taste more unpleasantly artificial than is strictly necessary, and the combination simply tastes muddled. This is the rare occasion when I would recommend disassembling the Oreo, enjoying that gloriously silly creme for what it’s worth, and discarding the cookies, because there is no synergy here.
When I judge any novelty flavored product, I think there are two criteria to keep distinct. The first is faithful adherence to the promises made: did the flavor scientists achieve what they set out to achieve? Is this a convincing representation of the flavor on the label? The second fundamental question is more existential: is the end result actually delicious? Should this Dr. Frankenstein have created this monster? Does this deserve to exist?
In the case of these Oreos, the answer to the first question is clearly yes: Swedish Fish achievement unlocked! With the exception of the distraction provided by the chocolate cookie wafers, these Oreos hit the flavor mark.
As to the second, existential question, opinions are mixed. Some tasters refused to even try these; some couldn't get through a whole cookie, proclaiming it too sweet and strange; and others finished one but proclaimed they couldn’t possibly eat any more of them. But I have... slowly... finished the rest of the package. They're unnecessary, they're weird, and I'm oddly into them.
And here’s a suggestion for what to do with leftovers: Swedish Fish Oreo Ice Cream! While the liquid custard for a vanilla ice cream base was heating, we got the mad idea to dissolve a number of scraped-off Oreo creme centers into the pot, turning the custard mixture pink. The aroma at this point was faintly Swedish-Fishy, but muted by the strong scents of dairy and vanilla. We ran the batch through the ice cream machine, and while it was still at soft-serve consistency, we crushed in the denuded wafers that had been scraped of their creme, creating a deranged Cookies & Cream knockoff.
And it was good! The chocolate wafers made more sense in this Cookies & Cream ice cream than they did in the cookie alone. The Swedish Fish creme added only faint notes of its cherry, florals, and punch to the ice cream. Frankly, it would have been even better, had it been more Fish-forward, if you ask me.
**UPDATE**: On September 30, 2016, I had the opportunity and good fortune to meet my hero, Alton Brown, during his book signing tour for EveryDay Cook. I only had a few minutes to speak with him while he signed the book and posed for a photo with me. I took that opportunity to tell him about this blog. He immediately asked if I had a
favorite thing that I'd reviewed. "Swedish Fish Oreos!" I blurted out, because it was the most outrageous thing that came to mind. Alton repeated slowly: "Swedish... Fish... Oreos?" "Yes!" I cried, "And we made them into ice cream!" "NO!" Alton exclaimed, with incredulous delight. I explained that the result was like Cookies & Cream, with the Oreo wafers crushed into a vanilla base, only we'd used the red Swedish Fish Oreo creme to flavor and color it. Alton gave an appreciative nod, then he shot me a stern look and said: "You know - what you've just described is illegal in several states."
That was a joke, of course. It isn't, but it probably should be.