The Ultimate Guide to Swedish Meatballs (a.k.a. Svenska Köttbullar)

Meatballs and Swedish cuisine go together like coffee and cream, but where did the dish originate? What’s the best recipe for making Swedish meatballs? Are there different kinds of Swedish meatballs? And how do you best serve meatballs? 

Even if you’ve made meatballs your entire life, you might just find a thing or two in this article that you didn’t know. It’s the ultimate guide to Swedish meatballs, after all. And we share plenty of different meatball recipes —including a Michelin star one!

The Humble Meatball

There is almost nothing that brings back memories as effectively as different dishes and the scents and tastes that go with them. One waft of frying meatballs and I’m back in one of my grandmothers’ or my dad’s kitchen. Meatballs were a food staple when I was growing up, part of what's known as "husmanskost."

The concept of "husmanskost" refers to traditional Swedish home-cooked food or farmhouse fare. The term "husmanskost" can be directly translated as "houseman's food" or "household food." It typically consists of simple, hearty dishes made from locally available ingredients, reflecting the culinary traditions of Sweden.

In short, I wouldn’t consider the Swedish meatball a culinary delight, but rather a staple food. However, with Ikea came a sort of meatball revolution as they started serving Swedish meatballs in their cafeterias around the world. And back in Sweden, with the trend of “going back to our roots” came an upswing for the humble meatball. Suddenly, it wasn’t odd to find meatballs in gourmet restaurants…though most likely the meatballs would then be made with some fancy meat, like moose, or other game. 

Modern times have been good to the meatball, but where did it originate? In Sweden, we’ve had a raging debate about this!

The History of Swedish Meatballs

The Swedish government caused a sensation in 2018 when tweeting that the Swedish meatball is, in fact, Turkish. Well, at least originally. 

You see, dear Karl XII (in English referred to as Charles XII) was exiled for a while and likely spent time in the Ottoman Empire in what is today Turkey. When he returned, together with his entourage…and later possibly some creditors looking to get their money…the meatball (known as köfte in Turkey) ended up in a recipe book by Cajsa Warg. This is where the term “meatball” was coined. The same book’s later editions included a recipe for dolmas made with vine leaves. This strongly suggests that there was some Turkish, or Mediterranean, connection and the most obvious one would be the King’s visit to the Ottoman Empire.  

Kofte or köfte is a type of meatball usually made of veal, beef, lamb, or a combination of the three. However, this meatball isn’t always shaped as a ball…some köftes look more like fingers, or almonds. And while köfte often contains meat, there are also vegetarian versions, such as the leek-based Pirasa Koftesi and the lentil-based Mercimek Koftesi. 

But does köfte itself originate in Turkey? That’s debatable. The word "köfte" is of Turkish/Persian origin (it means “chopped meat”), and Turkey is famous for its diverse varieties of köfte, each with its own regional variations when it comes to ingredients and preparation methods. 

The earliest documented recipes for “kofta" appear in early Arab cookbooks, dating back to the medieval period. These recipes typically involved large, ground lamb meatballs glazed with a saffron and egg yolk mixture. Similar dishes with variations in name and ingredients can be found in many countries with cultural connections to the Middle East and Central Asia, including Iran, Lebanon, Greece, and Afghanistan.

There are apparently mentions of "meatball-like" recipes in a Roman cookbook from the fifth century AD. And the Chinese ad something akin to meatballs already during the Han Dynasty, which goes as far back as to around 200 BC. Though these meatballs were made with ground meat and rice, or vegetables and millet.

Going back to Sweden, what's interesting to note is that there were meatballs in Sweden before Karl XII returned from the Ottoman Empire. It seems it wasn't the king who started the trend after all. 

Perhaps Very Swedish After All...

As the blogger Swedish Spoon points out, En liten handbok i kooke-konsten (a little guide to the art of cooking) by Åke Rålamb, published by Bengt Höök in 1695, and a householding book by Christina Valleria, probably published before 1708, both included recipes for meatballs, even if they were called fricadelles and ox meat-lumps respectively. (Danish meatballs are called fricadelles till this day but are, generally speaking, larger and flatter than the Swedish meatballs.)

Rålamb’s recipe calls for chopped veal and suet, spiced with mace, salt, and pepper and these meatballs were either put back into the sinewy layer surrounding the meat and fried, or rolled in grated bread and egg and boiled, then fried in butter.

The other recipe, by Valleria, calls for beef, suet, eggs, bread crumbs, meat soup (likely what we would call meat stock today), and leek, to be seasoned with parsley, salt, pepper, ginger, and nutmeg. These meatballs should be boiled in meat soup and then fried in butter. Valleria included a few other recipes for meatballs in her book—some which call for onions and wine. So it seems the war about the *best* recipe for meatballs began a very long time ago… 

Note that this was before there were meat grinders, which is why the meat was chopped and kept together with suet. Chances are meatballs became more popular in 1895 when the first meat grinders hit the market. 

The Meatball’s Rise to Fame 

While Swedish and other Scandinavian settlers in America and other places brought with them recipes for Swedish meatballs and the meatballs gained some traction that way, their real rise to fame came with Ikea. 

Yes, that’s the furniture giant, but they also have a cafeteria where they serve meatballs and a food store where they sell pre-packaged meatballs and other “life essentials” for expat Swedes…and new curiosities for those not raised in Sweden (such as Almondy…if you haven’t tried it, now’s your chance!). 

It’s not just Ikea selling ready-made meatballs. Just as you can buy pre-packaged hamburgers and other types of meat in Swedish stores, you can buy pre-packaged meatballs. 

Pre-packaged meatballs might either be made with “pure” ingredients, or they might be made from processed meat and contain interesting additives. 

The thing is, while popular pre-packaged meatballs like Mamma Scan’s contain only “clean ingredients” (Swedish pork and beef (73%), water, potatoes, potato flour, onion, salt of salt, potato fiber, grape sugar, sugar, spices, spice extract) they don’t taste the same as when you make meatballs yourself. It’s not like you pop some potato fiber into your own meatballs! 

And that’s how many Swedes see Ikea’s meatballs—they’re store made, not homemade, so they just don’t taste as good as “real” meatballs…or do they? After all, Ikea’s meatballs became a worldwide sensation that led to a meatball craze. So I’m guessing even amongst Swedes you’ll find people who think the Ikea meatballs are pretty epic. 

Plus, if you like the store made version, just wait till you try the homemade version! Made all the more special if you make it together with friends and family, creating memories. 

That said, when you’re in a hurry…who doesn’t like frozen meatballs that can be ready in a few minutes? It’s parents’ and any busy professionals’ saving grace! 

The Ikea Meatball Controversy

We don’t produce blue cheese because the green mold spreads very easily.”

Ikea released a recipe for meatballs during the COVID pandemic so people could make their own when they couldn’t get to Ikea. But for those who thought they finally got the recipe for Ikea’s meatballs, they were sorely disappointed. Have a look below to find what Ikea’s meatballs contain, as well as the recipe they released. 

The Ingredients for Ikea’s Famous Meatballs

Beef, Pork, Water, Bread Crumbs (enriched Wheat Flour [wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid], Salt, Dried Yeast), Eggs, Salt, Dehydrated Onion, Egg Whites, Natural Flavoring, Allspice. Contains: Wheat, Egg. 

This is your typical store bought meatball, not the kind you’d make at home! As you can tell from the recipe below. 

What Meatballs Should Contain… and Not Contain

If you ask just about any Swede, they have their own favorite recipe for meatballs but below are some of the ingredients most traditional recipes call for: 

Meat—beef, pork, or a combination of the two

Binding agents—eggs, breadcrumbs, and/or mashed up potatoes

Onions and/or garlic—onions are more common than garlic from a historical perspective, but garlic has gained popularity…there’s also the question whether to use a powder, or the real deal (onions need to be finely chopped or grated, or the pieces stick out of the meatballs and burn when the meatballs are fried)...but some people prefer their meatballs free from both onions and garlic!

Seasoning: salt and pepper form the basis, but many people add things like nutmeg, mustard and/or parsley

Now, if you engage with just about any Swede, chances are they’ll tell you why their recipe is superior to any other meatball recipe. If you’re clever you tell them you want to taste it and get yourself an invite to dinner… 

When writing this article I was discussing this with co-workers and we started arguing about potatoes vs. bread crumbs…well, not so much argue, as baffle at the other person’s choice of ingredients…

You can also argue whether meatballs should be fried in oil or butter, but traditionally speaking, they were fried in butter (and sometimes boiled first, as seen in the recipes already mentioned). 

The Modern Meatball

As people have become more selective about what meat they eat, the meatball has evolved. Today you can find meatballs made from both turkey and chicken in many stores. And as a Swedish expat, I have made meatballs from ostrich meat in countries where that is prominent. 

With a plant based diet on the rise, you’ll also find plenty of recipes for vegan and vegetarian meatballs these days. Some recipes try to imitate the flavor or “real” meatballs and are usually made from some form of vegetarian protein. Others are simply balls made from vegetables, beans, or lentils. If they should be classified as “meatballs” can be debated… 

As mentioned, with a renewed interest in local foods, the meatball has also been transformed into a gourmet experience and made from various game, including deer and moose. 

Of course, people have also started experimenting with meatballs. These days you’ll find people trying all sorts of things, but the original Swedish meatball contains the ingredients mentioned above. 

How to Serve Swedish Meatballs 

Once you’ve decided on what meatball recipe to use (we’ve included several options below)…or not use…you have to decide how to serve the meatballs. 

In Sweden, meatballs are traditionally served with boiled or mashed potatoes and accompanied by lingonberry jam or fresh lingonberries stirred with sugar (rårörda lingon) and/or a brown sauce made with milk or cream. Some people like to serve them with pickled cucumber, too.

If you’re in a hurry, or want to please the children, you might serve the meatballs with macaroni and ketchup instead. 

Köttbullsmackan—the Meatball Sandwich

Of course, you can also eat meatballs the day after you made them. Some would even say they taste better cold. If that’s you, you might want to try to slice them in half and serve them on your next sandwich. 

In Sweden, it’s popular to either cover the meatballs in beetroot salad (cooked beetroot that’s been chopped and blended with mayo and/or crème fraiche and/or thick yogurt) or mustard. 

When to Serve Meatballs

Normally, meatballs are served for dinner with potatoes, mashed potatoes, or macaroni. If it’s a meatball sandwich, it’s likely to be served for lunch (unless it’s a smörgåsbord—i.e. Fancy sandwiches served at apathy or gathering). 

Meatballs aren’t seasonal—they’re served throughout the year, though as it’s a hearty meal, you might be more prone to serve it during the cold months! 

Meatballs are usually also served for Christmas dinner (on the 24th of December) and sometimes Easter and Midsummer, too. 

For these holidays, you tend to start with serving herring and other types of fish and then progress to various meats, including meatballs. This is especially true for Christmas, but many serve meatballs for Easter and Midsummer, too, while others stick to just fish dishes. In our family, the meatballs are served together with prinskorvar (prince sausages—a type of cocktail sausage).

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Meatballs 

To wrap this article up, let’s look at five things you didn’t know about meatballs! 

1. Meatballs Were Born of Necessity: They were originally a way to use up tougher, cheaper cuts of meat and leftover bread to create a hearty and satisfying meal.
2. Every Culture Has a Meatball: From Swedish köttbullar to Italian polpette to Japanese tsukune, there are variations of meatballs found all over the world, reflecting local ingredients and flavors.
3. Nobody Knows Where the First Meatball Was Made: While there are claims from different regions, the exact origin remains a delicious mystery.
4. The World's Largest Meatball Was Made in South Carolina: This behemoth weighed in at a staggering 1757 pounds and took a year of planning to create!
5. IKEA sells over1Billion Meatballs per year!

We hope this vetted your appetite for meatballs! 

In Closing—the Essence of Swedish Meatballs 

For most Swedes the true essence of Swedish meatballs is the memories they conjure—from eating meatballs during holiday festivities to spending hours with family preparing meatballs from scratch (perhaps even grinding the meat yourself!). 

Plus, for many Swedes who travel a lot or live overseas, meatballs served with lingonberry jam (something it’s not all that easy to get your paws on unless you live near an Ikea overseas) is a sign of being home. It’s the taste of home. 

Making meatballs is a tradition that goes back centuries. It ties you to your ancestry and, most likely, to your own family’s traditions if they have any kind of culinary streak. So when you’re invited to a Swede for a meatball dinner, expect meatballs made from a family recipe. 

Then, if we want to get more philosophical, we can talk about the shape of meatballs. They are shaped like balls. We could have gotten lazy and just turned them into a meatloaf, but we haven’t. Perhaps because we like to make patterns with them on our plate (yes, adults too), or because the round shape is just somehow more tantalizing... 

Who knows? 

Not I. 

But what I do know is that well-made meatballs are a treat. If you haven't already, you should try some—be they the traditional kind or even the vegan kind. It’s a great addition to your dinner repertoire. 

Below you’ll find some recipes, should you wish to try some traditional Swedish recipes for meatballs (or up your game with your existing one!). Of course, we also have pre-packaged meatballs in case you don’t have the time to make your own…or simply didn’t get the cooking gene! No one should be without meatballs, culinary skills or no!

Recipes for Meatballs, Cream Sauce, and Pickled Cucumbers
Below you’ll find some popular recipes for traditional Swedish meatballs as well as pickled cucumbers. 

Ikea’s Recipe for Making Swedish Meatballs at Home

500 grams (about 1 pound) of ground beef

250 grams (about 0.5 pounds) of ground pork

1 onion, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, crushed or minced

100 grams (1/2 cup) of bread crumbs

1 egg

5 tablespoons of whole milk

generous amounts of salt and pepper

Cream Sauce Ingredients

Dash of olive oil

40 grams (3 tablespoons) of butter

40 grams (3 tablespoons) of plain flour

150 milliliters (2/3 cup) of vegetable stock

150 milliliters (2/3 cup) of beef stock

150 milliliters (2/3 cup) of thick double cream

2 teaspoons of soy sauce

1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard



- Combine ground beef and ground pork in a bowl. Break it up with your fingers to get rid of lumps.

- Add chopped onion, garlic, breadcrumbs, egg and mix together.

- Add milk and season with salt and pepper.

- Roll mixture into small meatballs. Place on a clean plate, cover and refrigerate for two hours.

- Heat oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Add meatballs and brown on all sides.

- Heat oven to 180 C (350 F). Add browned meatballs to an ovenproof dish, cover and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.

Cream sauce

- Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a pan.

- Whisk in 3 tablespoons of flour and stir for two minutes.

- Add 2/3 cup of vegetable stock and 2/3 cup of beef stock, stirring continuously.

- Add 2/3 cup of double cream, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard.

- Simmer until sauce thickens.

- Drizzle over meatballs and enjoy.

Aquavit’s Michelin Star Meatballs

The New York restaurant Aquavit serves Nordic food and has received 2 Michelin stars. They’ve shared their recipe for meatballs by chef Emma Bengtsson. 


1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
2 ounce bread crumbs (preferably panko)
1 egg
2 ounce cream
1 ounce milk
2 tablespoon mustard (dijon, coarse, or stone ground)
4 tablespoon butter for searing
1 teaspoon allspice
black pepper, to taste
salt, to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 quart veal stock
1 quart heavy cream
1 tablespoon lingonberry jam


Mix the cream, milk, bread crumbs, mustard and egg together and let soak for 5-10 minutes.
Mix with the ground meat with the spices, then add in mustard mixture.
Mix well with your hands until fully incorporated.
To test the seasonings, fry a small sample in a pan and adjust to taste before rolling the rest of the meatballs.
Roll the meat into small balls around 1oz each and place on a baking paper.
Let them sit under plastic in the fridge for 1 hour before searing them.
This will help them keep their shape.
Sear meatballs on medium heat in the olive oil until about halfway cooked.
Then add butter to the pan and sear until the butter has browned and meatballs have cooked through.
[In the pan where you seared the meatballs,] reduce veal stock to half, add heavy cream and reduce to a third.
Add lingonberries, keep reducing for 15 minutes.
Strain and season with salt and pepper.
Serve [the meatballs] with cream sauce, pickled cucumbers and mashed potatoes, if desired.

You can watch the video of Emma making the meatballs here. If you’re feeling lazy, you can just buy our meatballs instead! 

Leif Mannerström’s Meatballs

This is a recipe from another famous Swedish chef. 


400 g ground beef (beef mince)
400 g ground pork (pork mince)
1 dl (⅓ cup) half-and-half cream
1 dl (⅓ cup) breadcrumbs (can be substituted with soaked baguette for more flavor)
1 egg
½ dl (¼ cup) water
2 medium cooked potatoes
2 small yellow onions
1 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp anchovy paste
2 tbsp concentrated veal stock
2 tbsp soy sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Butter for frying

Mix together the half-and-half cream, breadcrumbs, egg, and water until you have a loose batter. Let it sit for about 10 minutes.
Peel the onions. Grate one onion and finely chop the other. Fry the chopped onion until golden brown.
Mash the cooked potatoes with a fork.
Combine all ingredients into a smooth batter. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Form the batter into small, round meatballs, about 25 g each. Fry the meatballs in butter until golden brown.

Meatballs Made with Ground Pork

This recipe comes from Paul Svensson (a well-known Swedish chef) and honors some traditions from the Swedish South. 


800 g ground pork
2 teaspoons salt
2 shallots
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
1 dl breadcrumbs - preferably organic
1.5 dl milk
1 teaspoon allspice - ground
2 pinches white pepper - freshly ground
3 tablespoons butter

Mix the ground pork with salt. Let it stand in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes.
Peel and finely chop the onion. Fry the onion in oil until it is golden brown. Cool the onion and mix it with the ground pork.
Mix the breadcrumbs and milk and stir into the ground pork. Season with allspice and white pepper.
Form the ground pork into round meatballs and place them on a water-rinsed cutting board. Fry the meatballs in butter in batches for about 8 minutes each.

Meatballs Made with Ground Beef 

Here’s a recipe from a popular Swedish magazine that calls for only beef. 


1 kg ground beef
1 dl breadcrumbs
1 dl heavy cream
1 dl milk
2 yellow onions
50 g butter + 50 g
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Mix together the breadcrumbs, cream, and milk. Let it sit for about 10 minutes.
Peel and finely chop the onion. Fry it in 50 g butter until it is golden brown. Add the brown sugar and let it melt into the onion. Let the onion cool.
Mix the ground beef with the breadcrumb mixture, onion, eggs, salt, and pepper. Form the ground beef into round meatballs and place them on a water-rinsed cutting board.
Fry the meatballs in batches in 50 g butter in a frying pan for about 5 minutes each.

Vegan Meatballs

Whether you can call vegan meatballs meatballs is a debate for another day, but here’s a recipe for them! 

0.5 yellow onion
600 g soy mince
0.5 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1.5 teaspoons vegetable stock powder
0.5 teaspoon fine salt
2 pinches black pepper
0.5 dl water
250 ml oat-based cooking cream
1 teaspoon Japanese soy sauce
2 teaspoons vegetable stock powder
0.5 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 pinch black pepper
0.2 pots parsley
Thaw the formable mince completely before cooking.
Peel and finely chop the onion and fry it soft in olive oil.
Mix the thawed mince with the fried onion, Dijon mustard, vegetable stock, salt, and pepper. Form about 20 meatballs and fry them in oil all around for about 7-10 minutes on medium heat.
Add oat cream, water, soy sauce, vegetable stock, sugar, and pepper to the meatballs and let the sauce simmer for about 2-3 minutes. Top with chopped parsley.
Serve with:
Boiled potatoes
Pickled cucumber
A good salad
Recipe by: Mari Bergman

Meatballs Made with Game
If you like hunting, or have access to game, here’s a recipe you might enjoy. 

You can make the meatballs with any type of game mince, such as elk, red deer, fallow deer, wild boar, roe deer, mouflon, reindeer or a mixture. If you have a lean game mince, you can add more fat to the mixture to make the meatballs a little juicier. You can do this by adding cream, wild boar mince, or mincing with back fat.

1 kg (2.2 lbs) game mince
1 yellow onion
4 pinches ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 dl (1/2 cup) breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 dl (1 cup) cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons strong mustard
2 eggs
Chanterelle Sauce:
6 dl (2.5 cups) fresh chanterelles and/or trumpet chanterelles, mixed
1/2 dl (1/4 cup) shallot or yellow onion
2 dl (1 cup) heavy cream
3 dl (1.25 cups) milk
2 tablespoons wheat flour
75 g (2.6 oz) butter
2 pinches salt
1 pinch freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon soy sauce, preferably light Japanese Kikkoman
Peel and grate the onion.
Mix together the ingredients for the meatballs. Do not overwork the meatball mixture, as it will become tough.
Let the meatball mixture rest in the refrigerator for 15 minutes, so that the breadcrumbs can swell.
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit).
In the meantime, fry a test meatball and taste it to adjust the seasoning with more sugar, salt, or pepper.
Form small meatballs with your hands. If the mixture is sticky, you can put some oil or water on your hands. A tip is to prepare an oiled baking sheet, put the mixture in a piping bag, squeeze out, and cut off the balls with a spoon.
Brown a few meatballs all around. Fry them a few at a time in butter in a frying pan.
Transfer the meatballs to a baking sheet as you fry them.
Finish cooking the meatballs in the oven for about 20 minutes.
Serve with chanterelle sauce, mashed potatoes, or boiled or pressed potatoes, lingonberries, and pickled cucumber.
Chanterelle Sauce:
Clean and coarsely chop the chanterelles and/or trumpet chanterelles.
If you are using dried mushrooms, soak them in 1/2 dl (1/4 cup) water for 5 minutes to swell.
Peel and finely chop the onion.
Fry the onion in butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms. Fry over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir occasionally.
Sprinkle with wheat flour and stir the flour into the mushrooms.
Pour in the cream and milk and stir.
Let the chanterelle sauce simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
Season the chanterelle sauce with salt and pepper and, if desired, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.
You can also add other ingredients to the meatballs, such as breadcrumbs, grated onion, or chopped herbs.
You can also use other types of mushrooms for the sauce, such as cremini mushrooms or portobello mushrooms.
If you want a thicker sauce, you can add a little more wheat flour.
You can also add a splash of white wine to the sauce for extra flavor.
This recipe comes from a recipe site in Sweden. 

Pickled Cucumbers (Pressgurka)

This is the “quick” recipe for pickled cucumbers and can be made on the same day as the meal. 

1 fresh cucumber
3 tsp salt
2 tbsp white vinegar (12%)
1 dl (⅓ cup) water
2 tbsp sugar
½ tsp white pepper
2 tbsp chopped parsley
Rinse the cucumber and slice it thinly.
In a bowl, combine salt, white vinegar, water, sugar, and white pepper.
Place the cucumber slices in a jar and pour the marinade over them.
Sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Let the cucumber sit in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before serving.

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