Vikings may be thought of as the fierce warriors of legend, but they were also surprisingly savvy when it came to the foods that they ate, and it turns out that the Viking diet is much more varied than had previously been thought. This means that Sigurd of the Volsunga Saga, or Siegfried from Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung, may not have necessarily devoured the first bit of meat that came their way, but could just as easily have eaten a delicate bowl of yogurt with cloudberries instead.
Diana Bertelsen, who helped to create recipes for the Ribe Viking Center in Denmark, explained in National Geographic that thanks to archaeological excavations we now know what kind of foods the Vikings favored and what the Viking diet would have been like.
“The Vikings had a wide range of food and wild herbs available to make tasty and nutritious dishes. There are no original recipes from the Viking age available, but 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.”
Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough, who is a medieval scholar, suggests that the Viking diet was extremely diverse and part of it would have had to do with the location where the Vikings lived. For instance, if you lived in the coastal part of Scandinavia where it can get bitterly cold, Vikings would have found themselves eating specific kinds of fish, such as herring and salmon.
These would have been preserved with the use of salt and dried before eaten. These particulars kinds of fish would have been especially suitable in this part of Scandinavia as they would have provided the Vikings with just the right amount of protein in their diets and enabled them to partake in arduous sea journeys, as Barraclough explained.
“It is a bit like beef jerky, only fishy. It would have been a valuable food source on long sea journeys.”
The Viking diet would also have been determined by one’s wealth. As a result of this, the average Viking who once lived in Greenland would have consumed plenty of seals, while those who Vikings who had more money would have eaten caribou instead.
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The seasons were another factor that would have influenced the Viking diet. An average meal might feature food items such as turnips, fresh berries, cabbages, seaweed, rye-based flatbread, and porridge derived from barley. Even though these staples of the Viking diet may seem colorless, Diana Bertelsen says that historians “have no reason to believe that the food was bland and tasteless.”
In fact, the Viking diet would have been filled with flavor, as evidenced by work archaeologists have done on Viking sites, which show that they were very fond of ingredients like dill, garlic, onions, and coriander, also known as cilantro. And while meat and fish did play a rather large role in Viking meals, Vikings were also quite find of dairy products, including yogurt.
Skyr, in particular, was one favorite food of Vikings. This food item was fermented and was like a cross between yogurt and cheese and is extremely popular today after being called a superfood. Cook’s Science note that in the United States, skyr is considered a yogurt and sold as such, but in places like Iceland it is considered more of a cheese and is often eaten with fruit and cream.
Skyr was so important to Vikings that Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough explained that the Vikings even have a story in which “a man hides from his enemies in a vat of skyr, which comes very specifically up to his nipples.”
Were you surprised that the Viking diet was so varied, and have you ever tried skyr before?
[Featured Image by Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images]