In 1859, a new confection emerged on the market in the small town of Gränna. It was a hard, minty rock candy with whimsical red and white stripes. Called polkagris, the candy soon became known as a delightful Swedish sweet.
The treat was the work of Amalia Eriksson, a poor woman who became a widow shortly after giving birth to her daughter Ida. Eriksson couldn’t afford proper medicine when her daughter got sick, so she decided to whip up her own. She combined peppermint oil, vinegar, and sugar with the hopes the concoction could cure the child’s ailments.
Though not actually medicinal, Erikkson’s creation tasted so good her daughter willingly scarfed it down. This gave the 35-year-old widow an idea: She wanted to use her delicious invention to support herself and her family.
Her idea struck at a time when women weren’t allowed to own businesses. However, Erikkson was able to successfully petition the town council to allow her to open her own bakery and sweet shop. She began selling her minty creation, which she named “polkagris.” The business owner carefully guarded her recipe, which remained a secret until after her death.
Though the signature striped red and white confection may resemble a candy cane, the dash of vinegar gives it a softer, chewier texture than the classic holiday staple. According to town lore, candy canes modeled their stripes after polkagris’ design.
Polkagris is still a popular treat in Gränna. Visitors to the quaint mountainside town can pop into the numerous shops that sell the signature striped candy. It even comes in a variety of flavors, including obscure varieties like violet and salt licorice.
Gränna celebrates its history as the birthplace of the Swedish treat. There’s a statue of Erikkson in one of its parks. The town has even begun hosting an annual polkagris-making world championship to attract tourists, who must compete to make a perfect candy that weighs exactly 50 grams.