In one story in the Poetic Edda, we meet a young Viking who kills a dragon and roasts the dragon’s heart over an open flame. This is, perhaps, the kind of image we conjure when we think of the “Viking diet”. Meat, and lots of it, roasted, preferably originating from some slayed monster. More historical interpretations might tone it down a little bit, but we generally think of Vikings as wildmen who, after a long day of adventuring and pillaging, consumed nothing but roasted meat, bread, porridge, and lots and lots of booze.
But what they actually ate according to archaeological digs all around Scandinavia might surprise you.
“There are no original recipes from the Viking age available. We know for certain what crops and animals were available a thousand years ago. Excavations reveal what the Vikings ate and what they imported, for instance peaches and cinnamon.” – Diana Bertelsen, Viking food researcher and expert working with Denmark’s Ribe Viking Center.
Peaches and cinnamon? Actually, yes.
“The Vikings had a wide range of food and wild herbs available to make tasty and nutritious dishes,” Diana Bertelsen said. It makes sense. The Vikings weren’t just marauders and raiders, they were also part of an extensive trade network that spanned the known human world, and with trade comes variety. The Vikings ate all sorts of food, including leafy greens, berries, turnips, cabbages, seaweed, and flat rye bread.
“We have no reason to believe that the food was bland and tasteless,” Bertlesen explained. Instead, she pointed out that archaeological digs have revealed that the Vikings cooked with all sorts of spices, including garlic, coriander, and dill.
Their diet also varied depending on the time of year and their social status. During the summertime, fruits and vegetables and herbs were in abundance, like any other diet. In the winter, rye bread and porridge were the staples.
Medieval scholar Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough gave one example about how wealth was a deciding factor in a Viking’s diet.
“In Greenland,” Barracough said, “Vikings ate more seals, particularly on the poorer farms, while on the richer farms they ate more caribou.”
However, two dishes that were practically universal for all Vikings were “stockfish” and “skyr”. Stockfish was a bit like jerky. It was made from the most common fish (in Scandinavia, this was salmon or herring), that was dried and heavily salted. It was the perfect source of protein for long voyages across the open sea.
Skyr was a fermented, yogurt-like cheese. This dish was also immensely popular, and Vikings often ate it with fruit and cinnamon, just like we eat our yogurt today.
It’s just another example of how our original perception of one ancient culture might be far from the truth. The more archaeologists dig up and historians and researchers uncover, the more we realize that the ancient world might have not been as barbaric and simple as we’re inclined to believe.So, how would you fare on the diet of the ancient ‘Sea Wolves’? Could you sit down to a feast spread by these ancient marauders and enjoy it? The Viking dish, skyr, is still available today, offered in some stores as a “superfood”. Some people still eat ancient foods as part of their everyday routine. Would you?