The Viking diet is a clean, sustainable, and power-packed eating lifestyle that was enough to fuel venturesome warriors who braved the rough seas and rivaled the world powers at that time.
This blog takes a closer look into the eating lifestyle that powered these brutal Northmen.
See, being a Viking wasn’t easy. There was no telling when your ship would capsize. If you did manage to land on foreign land, you would have to fight on unknown terrain. You were also prone to sickness because of the lengthy travels by sea and your immune system being exposed to exotic germs and bacteria.
Yet, the Vikings still managed to instill terror where ever they stepped foot. They were also revered warriors who successfully besieged numerous kingdoms and civilizations. Vikings were famed for their towering physiques, superhuman strength, and endurance.
Yep, they were the stuff of legends.
And the Viking diet was just as versatile. It provided the Norsemen with all of the energy and nutrients they required to build their strong muscles.
The Viking diet isn’t like contemporary diets we’ve covered. It doesn’t have set rules, food recommendations or meal plans because the history and information on it is limited. Instead, you can follow the Nordic diet which is a modernized version of the Viking diet.
We will, however, look into what the Vikings ate, its similarities with the Nordic diet, and how you can incorporate similar healthy eating habits.
What Is The Viking Diet?
The Vikings sourced their food through farms, raising livestock, hunting, gathering, and fishing. However, the rigid terrain and harsh weather conditions limited farming and cultivation.
Vikings ate two meals in a day. One in the morning called Dagmal or the day meal. The second one was called Nattmal or the night meal.
The night meal was a bit more lavish as it consisted of stews and bread. What was leftover, was usually saved for the morning meal. The morning meal also consisted of bread, fruit, porridge, and buttermilk.
Their drink of choice with their meals was either ale or mead. Both are alcoholic beverages fermented with either grains or honey.
The landscape in which the Vikings lived, wasn’t as favorable as England, France, or other parts of Europe. Hence, they ventured out to find new lands which were more hospitable.
Even with such grueling landscapes, the Viking diet had its benefits. From the common folk to the nobles, almost everyone ate some kind of protein daily.
Proteins ranged from cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, hens, geese, ducks, and numerous kinds of fishes.
Al-Tartushi, an Arabic traveler wrote that the people of Hedeby relied heavily on fish and that they could choose from 26 different kinds of fish.
That is a lot of variety. The most preferred fish according to historians was herring. Rightly so, herring has an incredible protein content along with essential nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and selenium.
They also ate horse meat once in a while but this wasn’t common as horses were considered an important asset both for war and farming. Historians say that horsemeat was either for religious purposes or rare events – either way, it wasn’t a crucial part of the Viking diet.
The Northmen were also adept hunters. The Northern parts of Scandinavia have an abundance of reindeer and elks.
Vikings would hunt them en masse. Smaller game and birds were also up for hunting as well as bears and moose.
Once these animals were brought back, almost everything from meat to intestines to hide was used.
So, some kind of protein was definitely on the menu daily.
Dairy is also big in the Viking diet. The Norsemen loved their cheese, yogurt, curds and butter.
Skyr is a dairy product home to the Scandinavians. It is kind of like yogurt taste-wise but has a thicker consistency. It has a considerably high amount of protein, nutrient and minerals.
Skyr has around 11 grams of protein per 100 grams. This is the highest protein content as compared to other dairy products like Greek yogurt.
Drinking milk was also a must for the Vikings.
They loved milk from cows, goats and sheep. Apart from ale and mead, buttermilk was also their choice of drink with their meals.
Salted butter was another popular dairy product. Correction, heavily salted butter, the Vikings used to excessively salt the butter to help preserve it during their long winters.
Grains are also an everyday food in the Viking diet.
Rye and barely were the main cereals along with oats. Grains were important because the Viking loved their alcoholic beverages like ale which was also a common drink with meals.
Porridge was popular, so popular that it wound up in numerous stories and fables. There is a famous poem in which Thor talks about his meal and mentions eating oatmeal and herring. So, even the God of Thunder loved a filling bowl of oatmeal.
Flatbread was another daily food the Vikings indulged in. It was made with barely and served with stews.
Vegetables like cabbage, onions, peas, garlic, leeks, and turnips were found naturally in Viking territory.
Historians say that carrots, potatoes, cucumbers, and tomatoes didn’t originate from Scandinavia. So, it’s likely that these vegetables were incorporated after their successful ventures into Europe.
Fun fact: The Vikings used onion soup as a means of diagnosis. To see if an abdominal injury was beyond treatment, like a sword wound, they would feed onion soup to the patient. If the wound smelled like onions, it meant that the intestines were punctured.
To add a bit of flavor to their stews, they used a variety of herbs.
Thyme, mint, coriander, dill, horseradish, and mustard were herbs that grew naturally on Viking territory.
Fruits & Nuts
Finally, fruits and nuts were also part of the Viking diet. Apples, pears, cherries, lingonberries, strawberries, bilberries, and hazelnuts were local treats. These are all fruits and nuts that grew organically in the Viking terrain.
The Viking diet evolved as they ventured out to Europe and the Middle East.
As they made their way through kingdoms after kingdoms, they brought back whatever they laid their hands on. The Viking culture started to grow and they adopted numerous foods into their diet later on.
However, the foods listed above are what historians say was home to the Vikings pre-exploration.