The Vikings have always been known for their fierce warriors and skilled sailors, but their culinary habits have remained a mystery to many. In this article, we will reveal 18 lesser-known facts about Viking food, shedding light on their diet and food preferences. From their love for fresh vegetables to their penchant for feasts, here are some interesting tidbits about the Viking diet you might not have known.
Here are 18 Facts About Viking Food & Diet
1. Viking diets were rich in fresh vegetables, herbs, fruits, and nuts
Many people believe that Vikings were just meat-eaters, which is not true at all. The Vikings relied on farming and gathering for sustenance, cultivating various crops, herbs, and fruits in their gardens.
They grew a variety of vegetables and staple crops such as oats, barley, rye, cabbages, onions, leeks, garlic, turnips, beans, and peas. These were used in a variety of dishes like porridge, bread, and stew.
Herbs like parsley, dill, mustard, and thyme were also grown for seasoning and medicinal purposes. Additionally, they harvested wild fruits like berries and nuts, which added flavor and nutrition to their diet.
2. Vikings ate a lot of fish – it made up 25% of their diet
Living along the coasts of northern Europe, the Vikings had easy access to a variety of fish, both ocean-going and freshwater. It is estimated that fish made up around 25% of their diet, which is more than the average consumption today. They ate fish like tuna and salmon and supplemented their diet with eggs from wild seabirds, ducks, and chickens.
3. Dairy products were an essential part of the Viking diet
Vikings raised cows, goats, and sheep on their farms, using their milk to produce a variety of dairy products. They consumed milk, whey, and buttermilk as beverages, and also used milk to make cheese, butter, curds, soft cheese, and yogurt-like products. Sour whey was even used to preserve cooked meats during winter months.
4. Viking children enjoyed similar diets to adults
Children in the Viking era consumed many of the same foods as adults. They typically began their day with porridge, often mixed with dried fruits, or a bowl of buttermilk and bread. In the evening, they would eat a stew filled with meat and vegetables or have some cooked fish, possibly accompanied by bread.
5. Vikings loved their beer and mead
Vikings used the grains they grew, like barley, to make beer. They mixed barley with water and hops, which added flavor to the ale. Beer was primarily consumed during feasts, along with mead, another alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey. These drinks were an essential part of Viking celebrations and social gatherings.
6. Vikings had a day meal and a night meal
Vikings typically ate two meals a day: the dagmal, or day meal, and the nattmal, or night meal. The dagmal was eaten about an hour after waking up and often consisted of leftovers from the previous night or porridge for children.
The nattmal was served at the end of the working day and typically included stews, meats, or fish, as well as bread and dried fruits with honey as a sweet treat.
7. Gull’s eggs were considered a delicacy
Viking cuisine was heavily influenced by the resources available in their environment. Alongside farming chickens, geese, and ducks for their eggs, Vikings considered gull’s eggs a unique and special treat.
Gull’s eggs were collected from the nests, often located on cliffs or near coastal areas. The rarity and difficulty in obtaining these eggs added to their appeal, making them a prized item to bring back from foraging expeditions.
8. Food scarcity led to Viking invasions
One of the significant reasons behind the Viking invasions of other countries was the scarcity of food in their homeland.
In particular, Denmark faced challenges such as poor soil quality, long winters, and short growing seasons, making it difficult to grow sufficient crops to sustain the population.
This food scarcity led the Vikings to explore and invade other countries, where they found better soil and more abundant resources for farming and raising livestock.
9. Vikings enjoyed feasts with a variety of foods
Viking feasts were grand events where a large variety of foods were prepared and consumed. These celebrations typically included a greater assortment of dishes than their daily meals, with an emphasis on meat, fish, fowl, vegetables, wild greens, bread, and fruit.
At these feasts, Vikings also indulged in their favorite beverages, such as ale and mead. Ale, made from barley and flavored with hops, was a common drink, while mead, a strong fermented drink made from honey, was another popular choice.
These feasts were not only an opportunity to enjoy an abundance of food but also a time for socialising, bonding, and celebrating important events in their community.
10. Vikings used a variety of seasonings to flavor their food
The Viking diet was far from bland, as they made use of various wild plants, herbs, and spices to add flavor to their dishes. Common seasonings included nettles, cress, parsley, and thyme. They also used salt and pepper, demonstrating that their taste preferences were not too different from our own.
11. Importance of honey in Viking diet
Honey played a crucial role in the Viking diet, as it was not only the primary sweetener but also a key ingredient in making mead, their popular alcoholic beverage. As a result, having one’s own bee hive was considered a luxury, and those who couldn’t afford it had to rely on foraging in the wild.
12. The significance of hospitality in Norse culture
Hospitality was highly valued in Norse society, and it was essential to offer guests the best food and drink available in the household. Serving syra, a sour brew by-product of making skyr, to guests was considered a serious social offense, especially if there was ale or mead available.
13. Preservation techniques and fresh food consumption
Due to the lack of means for preservation, most of the food consumed by the Vikings was fresh. Animals were slaughtered and consumed quickly, while preserved food like grains, dairy products, and bread were used during harsh winter months. This indicates that the Norse diet was more diverse and nutritious than what is commonly portrayed.
14. The role of women in brewing and serving drinks
In Viking Age Scandinavia, women were the first brewers and wine-makers. Serving drinks was considered a defining role for women during this period, highlighting their importance in preparing and presenting food and beverages.
15. The brewing process of ale, mead, and wine
The brewing process for these beverages was similar, involving heating water in a cauldron or vat and adding specific ingredients like honey, malted barley, or fruit. The alcohol content was regulated by the amount of sugar added, and the brew was left to ferment and later strained into ceramic jugs for storage.
16. The prevalence of alcohol consumption across age groups
Due to the health risks associated with drinking water, alcohol was consumed by people of all ages, including children. Borneol, a type of ale specifically made for children, was created by processing the dregs left after brewing regular ale or mead.
17. Distinction between ale, mead, and wine
While ale was the most popular and accessible alcoholic beverage, mead was considered a drink of choice for those who could afford it. Wine, made from grapes, was the rarest and most expensive option, as it had to be imported, and was said to be the exclusive drink of Odin, the chieftain of the gods.
18. The importance of communal dining in Norse culture
Family meals were typically eaten in a common room of the house, with everyone gathered around a table and sitting on benches. This highlights the significance of companionship and shared experiences in the Norse culture, even when it came to everyday meals.
The Viking diet was diverse, nutritious, and delicious, combining fresh vegetables, fish, meats, and dairy products. Their love for feasting and their culinary ingenuity contributed to a rich food culture that continues to be fascinating to this day.
These 18 lesser-known facts about Viking food reveal the resourcefulness and adaptability of the Vikings and their surprisingly sophisticated approach to food and cooking.
Frequently Asked Questions on Viking Food & Diet
1. What was the Vikings’ favorite food?
There isn’t a single favorite food among the Vikings, but fish was a significant part of their diet, making up about 25% of their food intake. They also enjoyed various meats, dairy products, and vegetables.
2. What were Viking special foods?
During feasts, Vikings enjoyed a wider variety of foods, including different types of meats, fish, fowl, vegetables, wild greens, bread, and fruits. They also drank ale and mead, which were considered special beverages for celebrations.
3. How did Vikings cook food?
Vikings cooked food over an open fire pit called a hearth, typically found in the middle of their halls. They roasted meat on a spit or boiled it in soapstone pots or iron cauldrons. Stews were popular, combining meats, vegetables, and wild greens. Flat stones or iron griddles were used to bake breads.
4. Were Vikings vegetarian?
No, Vikings were not vegetarians. Their diet included a variety of meats, fish, and fowl. However, they also consumed a significant amount of vegetables, fruits, and grains, making their diet balanced and nutritious.
5. What fruit did Vikings eat?
Vikings ate a range of fruits, including apples, pears, cherries, and various wild berries such as sloe-berries, lingonberries, strawberries, bilberries, and cloudberries.
6. What was Viking food called?
There isn’t a specific term for Viking food in general. However, their two main meals were called “dagmal” (day meal) and “nattmal” (night meal).
7. How many meals did Vikings eat a day?
Vikings typically ate two meals a day: the dagmal (day meal) about an hour after waking up and the nattmal (night meal) at the end of their working day.
8. What did Vikings eat for dessert?
Vikings enjoyed dried fruits with honey as a sweet treat. Honey was the only sweetener they knew, and they often combined it with fruits like cherries, lingonberries, strawberries, sloe-berries, bilberries, and cloudberries.
9. What did Vikings eat at sea?
While at sea, Vikings relied on preserved food, such as dried, salted, or smoked fish, meats, and hardtack (a type of dry, hard biscuit). They also consumed preserved vegetables, fruits, and dairy products like cheese.
10. What is a traditional Viking dinner?
A traditional Viking dinner, or nattmal, would consist of a stew made from fish or meat, cooked with vegetables and flavoured with various herbs and spices. It could also include bread and dried fruit with honey as a sweet treat. Vikings drank ale, mead, or buttermilk to accompany their meals.