It's no surprise those bags of frozen meatballs are a top seller at IKEA's U.S. stores. But the bright-blue tubes of Kalles Kaviar smoked fish roe spread? No way. Who buys those? Turns out, lots of people. In fact, they're the most popular of all IKEA's seafood products. And those bland-looking cylinders of dry crispbread? They're a best-seller too, as are those suspect-looking jars of pickled fish fillets. In fact, everything I've usually avoided in IKEA's "Swedish Market" grocery section is a top-seller for the chain's stateside stores. I had to wonder, is it the novelty factor? Or are there really that many Swedish ex-pats living in the States?
Or maybe that stuff is actually pretty good. The only way to know is to put them to the test, so I sampled IKEA's most popular products in six different categories, plus a few extra items, in order to find the store's best groceries.
My criteria was simple: Is it delicious? And is it a good enough deal, or special enough, to warrant a trip? (After all, it's not like there's an IKEA on every corner.)
After carefully tasting my way through two-dozen products (rather than mindlessly chowing down on the drive home), I had to change my opinion about a lot of the foods I had previously dismissed.
Also, it quickly became clear that IKEA's grocery items are a lot like its furniture. That bed might look great in the showroom, but it's an entirely different story once you get it home among your hand-me-down stuff. Sometimes they need a few supporting pieces to come into their own, or a creative hack to liven them up. And then, there are those classic workhorses (the Kallax bookshelf and the Swedish meatballs) that never disappoint.
10 IKEA Groceries You Should Always Buy
- KYCKLINGKÖTTBULLAR chicken meatballs, $9 for two pounds: Savory and peppery, with an almost bouncy texture (almost as bouncy as the Vietnamese fish balls you find in bowls of pho), these meatballs are delicious. They can stand on their own, but their flavor is straightforward enough that you can toss them in pasta, add them to a soup, or even coat them in an Asian-inspired glaze.
- KÖTTBULLAR meatballs, $9 for two pounds: Made with beef and pork, these familiar favorites might as well be called sausage balls. Their heavier flavor and more grainy texture puts them in second place to the chicken meatballs. Sure, you can serve them as IKEA does, with gravy and lingonberry jam (see below), but they're just as good tossed with spaghetti and marinara.
- PANNKAKOR pancakes, $6 for 1.587 pounds: Easy to reheat in the microwave or, better yet, in a sauté pan with a little butter, these thin, eggy, frozen pancakes are very similar to crepes — just a little thicker — and can be used in much the same way. Fill them with anything from ricotta and jam to sour cream and gravlax. They're super versatile.
- PÅTÅR dark roast coffee beans, $4 for a 0.551-pound bag: Although it's not particularly complex, IKEA's dark roast coffee brews up smooth and rich, very similar in flavor to the ubiquitous Illy coffees of Europe. Considering the price and the fact that it's UTZ certified (i.e., sustainably farmed), it's a screaming deal.
- BRÖDMIX FLERKORN multigrain bread baking mix, $5: I had serious misgivings about this bread. Sure, it mixed up in seconds — just add warm water to the box and shake, then pour into a loaf pan and let it rise — but it came out looking as dry and cracked as a brown brick. But after it cooled, I sliced into it and found a moist, chewy, hearty loaf, similar to a German-style rye. It's dense yet delicious, and particularly good for open-faced sandwiches. The two Marmite-lovers in my house also gave it a thumbs-up as a vehicle for their favorite spread. It isn't amazing on its own, and won't be your PB&J go-to, but with the right toppings it's delicious.
- LÖRDAGSGODIS pick and mix candy, $8 per pound: IKEA's Swedish market now sports a giant wall of self-serve candy bins, in honor of Sweden's "Saturday candy" tradition. The idea is that you save your candy eating for one day a week. But when faced with dozens of bins of candy, good luck trying to limit yourself to just a few pieces (especially when you realize it's all naturally flavored and colored). After sampling the majority of the offerings, the standouts are anything sour — especially the sour rainbow roll-ups — and the tiny marshmallow fried eggs. Beware of the salty black licorice — it's definitely an acquired taste.
- MÜSLI cereal with berries, $5 for a 1.1-pound box: I always thought muesli should be called "punishment granola" because it's just like granola but without all the good stuff (read: fat and sweetener). I never buy it because I'm just not into chewing on raw oats in milk. But IKEA may have made me a convert. Its muesli is flavorful, with tiny bits of berries in every bite. And the pumpkin seeds and cornflakes give the texture lightness and crunch. It's great with both milk and yogurt.
- SILL DILL marinated herring with dill, $2.50 per 0.55 pound: This is one of IKEA's very best sellers, but looking inside the murky jar, I couldn't help but feel skeptical. But after giving them a try I must admit they've earned their best-seller status. They're tart, just a little sweet, and not too fishy. Kind of like a fish version of bread-and-butter pickles. If you like marinated Spanish anchovies (boquerones) and you like dill, you'll love these MSC-certified little fillets. They're delicious with a slice of IKEA's Ost Prast semi-soft cheese (see below) and a slice of IKEA's dense multigrain bread.
- GRÖNSAKSKAKA vegetable medallions, $6 for 1.3 pounds: These frozen pucks are made with shredded potatoes, broccoli, cream, eggs, and cheese, and they bake up tender, golden, and delicious — like a crustless cheese and broccoli quiche or stuffed baked potato, but in a more refined form.
- Dala Horse gummy candy, $2 for 5.3 ounces: The Dala Horse gummy candies are basically Swedish fish in equine form. In other words, they're awesome. The orange and pink flavors are a nondescript citrusy flavor, but the yellow is distinctly pineapple and nothing short of irresistible.
7 Other IKEA Groceries to Consider
- GRÖNSAKSBULLAR vegetable balls, $8 for two pounds: If you like Dr. Praeger's veggie patties, you'll like these veggie balls. They have the same soft yet chunky texture and generic flavor. It's kind of comforting to bite into them and find whole corn kernels and peas and large pieces of garbanzo beans, because you definitely know what's in them, but I can't help but wish for a little more oomph and a firmer texture. Stuffed into a pita with crispy lettuce, tomatoes, and tzatziki, they make a fine filling.
- PAJMIX ÄPPLE & PÄRON apple and pear fruit crumble, $6 for 1.5 pounds: There's practically the same ratio of fruit to crumble topping, which is great news for topping-lovers. The trouble is, the whole package isn't very generously sized, so there's hardly any fruit at all. Overall, the dessert is so basic it isn't going to inspire rave reviews, and it's not really a bargain at $6. But it does only take about 50 seconds to put together. When the fruit crisp craving strikes, or your half-gallon of vanilla ice cream is crying out for company, you're going to want a bag stashed away in the freezer. Try adding a few extra pinches of cinnamon.
- CIDER PÄRON, $2 for 16.907 ounces: If you're looking for a refreshing, non-alcoholic fruit drink, IKEA's canned, lightly fizzy pear cider (there's also an apple and a boxed lingonberry drink) will fit the bill. They're all cut with enough water so they're not cloying, and they get bonus points for being made with organic fruit. They're not flavorful enough to warrant a special trip, but they're worth stocking up on.
- KNÄCKEBRÖD RÅG rye crispbread, $3 for 0.5 pound: Full disclosure: I grew up having to eat Rykrisp and hating it (I had a hippie mom who was always on a diet), so I'm a bit psychologically scarred when it comes to crispbreads. That being said, I actually like IKEA's rye and multigrain versions. They're a bit lighter and not so woody in texture than what I've had in the past, and they really are tasty with cheese. Even better, add a slice of the dill pickled herring too.
- IKEA PS whole-grain mixes, $3.50 for 0.551 pound: These packets of healthful, quick-cooking grain mixes (made with oat, wheat, rye, and barley) have potential, but they're quite muddy-flavored on their own. Your best bet is to use them as a starting point for something better. Add things like freshly sautéed mushrooms and chopped fresh herbs. Or allow to cool and drizzle with vinaigrette, add some chopped sweet peppers, shredded carrots, and crumbled feta, and you have a quick grain salad.
- SJÖRAPPORT frozen salmon fillets, $12 for 1.1 pounds: IKEA's frozen Atlantic salmon fillets are responsibly farmed off the waters of Norway and ASC-certified. They're very popular, but take a lower spot on my list because they're not cheaper than the farmed Atlantic salmon from Norway you can buy at places like Trader Joe's. They're also not cheaper than the frozen wild Alaskan salmon you can buy at Costco, which, no matter how you slice it, is an environmentally better choice.
- OST PRÄST semi-hard cheese, $7 for 0.66 pound: IKEA has three refrigerated cheeses: a blue and two semi-soft cheeses. I tried the most popular — Ost Präst, a semi-soft cheese that had the texture of fontina but with the same tangy aftertaste as Swiss cheese. It's not great on its own, and for about $14 a pound, there are better cheeses out there. However, when eaten on the crispbread or multigrain bread, especially with pickled herring on top, it's quite tasty.
Your turn! What are the IKEA groceries you get every time?