Viking is the name given to people involved in pirating, trading, and raiding of many European countries during the 8th-11th centuries. Vikings originating from Scandinavia, present-day Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, Vikings were vulgar, violent, and rogue.
Apart from being seafaring people, the Vikings also established an ordered government and were the first Europeans to reach North America (Vinland). They were also very invested in building houses, stone paintings, violent games, and social gatherings.
The Vikings had a very interesting vikings food diet. Cereal and burgers were definitely out of the question back then, so let us find out what did Vikings eat.
The farming culture of the Vikings was decrypted after several archeo-botanical investigations done by both archaeologists and paleoethnobotanists.
Undigested remains of plants, kitchen middens, and garbage wastes have proven to be of great importance for this investigation. This shone a light on various agricultural and horticulture practices followed by the Vikings and their cuisine, which helped us understand them better.
They grew plants and raised animals like cows, geese, sheep, oxen, ducks, pigs, fishes, chickens, and goats. Initially, they were raised for domestic works, but later the Vikings decided to kill them for food.
The Vikings were very liberal with their options for meat. From all the movies, series, and stories we have heard about the Vikings, we all sort of imagined them to be ferocious meat-eaters, and it is partly true.
They enjoyed lamb, chicken, sausage, beef, pork, and they were smokes, boiled, cured, and consumed. They also had a particular taste for the Icelandic horse, Icelandic cattle, and Danish goose.
They ensured to extract the marrow from lamb and horses, and so they were leg bones split and cut lengthways. Their practice of killing and eating horses led to clashes with the Christians.
One of their major foods was a broth known as “Scause.” Scause was made from boiling vegetables and meat for days, continuously changing the old meat to new ones, increasing broth concentration. This would go along with bread baked with different types of beans and grains.
Vikings were majorly known for their travel and pirating which made them spend a lot of time in the sea. This made them explore all kinds of available options at sea for food. Whales and Walrus were commonly consumed food. They were also very keen to hunt seals, shrimps, crabs, oysters, salmon, and many more.
Since they spent so much time at sea, seafood was more important to them than other meat-based foods, which allowed them to explore various options present at sea.
Vikings lived near the sea, as it was one of their livelihoods. So seafood was a vital part of their meal, even more than meat.
Apart from all the options, fish was their most important food as it was available and easy to catch and hunt. They also consumed “Dulse,” red algae rich in minerals and vitamins. They were easily harvested from seashores and stored for long periods.
Fruits and Vegetables
The Vikings had vast lands for cultivation and farming. They grew various vegetables, which would be eaten, boiled, or added to the Scause. They used white carrots instead of orange as those were the only available ones, cabbage, onions, peas, beans, and leeks; they also collected and ate many apples (crab apples), wild raspberries, hawthorn, rowan, elderberry, plums, cherries, etc. They also grew hazelnuts, whey, rice, and barley which would be used to make porridge or cooked rice.
The Vikings always served berries with their food, but vegetables were also essential. Since vegetables took longer to go bad than meat, they collected as many as possible and stored them in safe places. They used vegetables to make stews, gravies, or simply eat it boiled or cooked.
Spices were of great importance in Viking’s meal. They not only cultivated them on their own but also traded with them. Flax was one of their most important spices, which were used as food for oil extraction and production of linen. Their herb gardens grew spices like black pepper, coriander, celery, rue, pepper cress, and thyme.
Spices were obtained from China and Persia, who met with Vikings in Russia and imported cinnamon, and in return, they exported things like glass and silk.
Since their meals were mostly boiled, they had to use the right spice to enhance the smell and flavors of their dishes.
A typical Viking meal plan for the day
Now that we saw various options the Vikings had for food, let us look at a typical meal plan for the day. Unlike us, the Vikings only had 2 meals a day, known as Dagmal (morning meal) and Nuttmal (evening meal).
They ate as much as possible during these meals as they worked throughout the day and had to eat enough to sate their hunger. Along with food, the Vikings also needed to drink. They would drink beer, mead, bjorr (a robust wine made from fruits), and wine mostly imported from countries like France.
During festivities, weddings, or celebrations after a successful raiding, vast servings of typical and common Vikings food would be presented to everyone by a moderate Viking family. Wealthy Vikings would show off their wealth to their guests by serving exotic and imported fruits, cheeses, and wines.
The Vikings also enjoyed poultry and dairy items. They cultivated cattle, both for their meat and other things. Milk and buttermilk were popular among them. They would drink it, use sour milk and buttermilk to make loaves of bread, make fermented milk like skyr, and make cheeses and butter.
The Vikings did not have many resources to work with, so they used what they had. They usually cut meat into pieces, boil them, and eat it. As fishes and seafood were among their top ingredients, they used them to make most of their meals. Even though they primarily relied on fish and vegetables, the Vikings had a balanced diet.
Since they lacked refrigerators, they stored the leftover food in cold places around the house. The Vikings had a habit of drying their fishes and salting them later. This ensured that the food did not turn bad for a long period.
They picked various berries and vegetables. The Vikings would pickle them and store them such that they did not expire for another 6 months. Their dagmal was mostly bread and leftover stew and fresh berries, and the nuttmal consisted of fresh food and exotic dishes.
During winters, Vikings had a very little source of food since they primarily relied on seafood and vegetables. So before the winter season started, they collected and stored vegetables, meat, fruits, and fishes to save them during harsh climates.
Even though the Vikings were great warriors, raiders, and traders, they had trouble regarding safety measures in food.
Archaeological discoveries have found the presence of various parasites and worms in their stomach. This could be due to lack of proper storage, eating the wrong food, or lack of medicinal facilities.
This also led to food poisoning, seasickness, and sometimes even death. They explored various types of berries, oblivious to the poisonous ones, which led to major health issues in many people. It is noted that the Vikings had to make several stops during their sea voyages due to the sickness of either the animals or the people who consumed the animals.
An Islamic geographer named Ibn Fadlan mentioned how the Vikings lacked hygiene after traveling in one of their ships.
The Vikings were not only violent with people but also with animals. They used bows, arrows, spears to hunt animals like deer, boar, beers, sometimes even rabbits. Even though Vikings used spears, they did not use swords as much. The Vikings hunted down different types of fishes and whales they could find.
Once they catch an animal, they try to make the most out of the remains. They tried to make needles from the bones, made clothes, spoons; exported walrus skins, bear fur, tusks, and horns were also high in demand back then and other implements.
Vikings were one of the best hunter-warriors in the world during that time. They were tall, strong and some discoveries even described them as figures of Greek Gods. To fuel their body for all the adventures and voyages the Scandinavians had, they looked out for the perfect diet plan.
They experimented with lots of new ingredients they found, searched for different ways to store them safely without it turning bad, and loved new flavors.
Despite living near seas where the winter hits hard, they worked hard on cultivations and harvesting. While the Vikings are mostly considered rogue pirates or hunters, they also found many ways for agriculture.
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