Learning about Viking diet
Hello friends, it’s Chris welcoming you back to Speaking With My Stomach.
This probably won’t surprise any of you, but I am a huge nerd. I’m also into fitness and healthy eating. Weird combo, I know. So I’ve been doing a lot of research on Viking diet and eating habits.
It turns out that Men’s Journal had a piece not too long ago called How to Eat Like a Viking. The Men’s Journal article, balanced with some info from a Viking history group called Hurstwic, builds a picture for a robust yet lean diet, when paired with a very active lifestyle.
The Viking Age was roughly from 793 to 1100 AD, and captures the imagination of many, because it’s popularly depicted as giant hairy men with axes running around burning and pillaging everything they could. While this is true to some degree, this age is interesting for so many more reasons.
The Vikings, hailing from Scandinavia, were some of history’s most notorious fighters, but they were also rowers, sailors, craftsmen in many forms, traders, and farmers, among other trades.
Being a Viking Age Scandinavian meant that you had a very active lifestyle, because whether you were a warrior, a smith, or a farmer (farmers were also often raiders during the right season), life was tough, rigorous, and required a lot of energy.
So what did these behemoths eat to keep going on their travels, on their farms, or on the battlefield? We’ll also be looking at the modern “Nordic Diet” that is less known compared to the paleo diet or keto, but is still worth reading about.
We can’t know for certain what the entirety of the Viking meal plan looked like, but we do have some clues coming to us from Norse stories that started out as oral traditions passed down, and then put into epic poems called sagas. We also have archaeological finds from Viking camps and towns that include bones, cookware, and various kitchen tools.
A lot of the food the Vikings ate are still around, and while the recipes are of course going to be different, we still have the base ingredients. So let’s get creative, and cook like the Vikings!
Scandinavia is generally a cold and dry climate with a short growing season, much like our own here in upper Michigan. We’re in the modern age of globalization, which means we can pretty much get any food we desire at almost any time. That makes eating like a Viking a lot easier for us than it did for the Vikings.
The average Viking was either a craftsman in a village or town, a fisherman, or farmer. This meant they could trade for, catch, or grow their own food, but options were still quite limited by today’s standards, and fresh food was a little more difficult to obtain.
Men’s Journal tells us that the modern Nordic Diet tries to stay with what’s in season, just like the Vikings. Luckily for us and others who may be thinking about the Nordic Diet, it’s autumn time, which means it’s the season of farmers markets just a little bit longer. Try to buy local, and try to buy fresh.
The three keys to the Nordic Diet are “grains, vegetables, and fatty fish.” Men’s Journal suggests herring, salmon, and mackerel as their starfish. We’re in the U.P., so we can probably keep salmon, but sub in whitefish and trout as our trifecta in order to stay as fresh and local as possible.
You can use these fish as entrees, or you can have them be ingredients in fish stew, soup, and chowders. Yes, chowders have dairy, but the Vikings had access to dairy products whether it be cow or goat milk.
The Vikings ate primarily fish for meat because they were sailing people, with many of their settlements on the sea. Men’s Journal spells out for us in modern times why it’s a healthy way to get clean protein.
“Rich in protein and other nutrients and low in calories, fish is filled with omega-3 fats, which serve as an anti-inflammatory and balance omega-6 fats. People generally get 15 times more omega-6 than omega-3. The ideal amount would be close to a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 and omega-3. It might be bad to eat something that contains inflammatory fat, but we still need some. It’s used when the body defends itself from intruders.”
As for grain, we can focus on rye, oats, and barley. Rye is going to be key for our baking products like rolls and bread. Oats can be an ingredient in breads too, but is going to be the base for porridge, which is like oat soup. Oatmeal is a fantastic breakfast, too, and can be made better by adding apple chunks, or mixed berries, with raw honey used for a natural sweetener. Barley makes an awesome soup. Beef and barley being one of my all time favorites.
The brief mention of honey and berries makes for a good segway into the Viking sweet tooth. Vikings didn’t have the processed sugar that we have today, but they did love their natural sugars, which berries and honey were the primary sources of. By medieval European standards, the Norse peoples were almost gluttons, and had considerably larger sweet tooths.
Berries and honey are great additions for breakfasts, making sweet porridge, and for sweet but healthier bakery treats. The Nords even used honey to make mead, which is essentially honey wine, but was saved for special occasions because it’s not cheap stuff.
I almost forgot to talk about vegetables, so we’ll cover that quickly. Due to Scandinavia’s short growing season and rough terrain, root vegetables and cabbage were the way to go.
Root veggies are low calorie, high protein, which is again, good for a highly active lifestyle. Carrots, beets, parsnips, parsley root, and Jerusalem artichokes are Men’s Journal’s biggest shoutouts. Because we’re in the Copper Country, we can add beets and rutabagas to our list. Nettles, ramps, garlic, Swiss chard, asparagus, peas, spinach and leeks are going to be our rich greens. These can be garnishes, their own sides, or in a pot with venison, chicken, or rabbit.
Boar, bear, and elk are some Viking meats we can’t so easily add to our diet, I’m afraid. Elk is obtainable at some stores, however.
So this is a super basic overview of the Viking diet, as well as the modern Nordic Diet, without going into too many fine points on cooking methods and concepts. If you guys would like a deeper dive into this, please let me know!
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