The Vikings are remembered as fearsome warriors who raided the coasts of Europe but they also had a unique culture at home in Scandinavia. What was the Vikings’ favorite food?
Vikings ate a varied diet of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit. Stew was a very popular dish, as many different ingredients could be added to the pot to enjoy various flavors throughout the week. Herring was the most popular fish, as it was abundant and could be preserved in brine.
For more on the diet of the Vikings and their favorite foods, read on.
Given the harsh climate and the active daily lifestyle of Medieval Scandinavians, they preferred to eat fatty foods. This ensured they had enough energy in the winter months, which were especially trying periods.
There are few written accounts by Vikings, as they shared their stories orally instead of in texts throughout the majority of the Viking Age. Accounts from England described the Vikings as being gluttonous, particularly during a time when food was hard to come by.
Vikings traded, often using jewelry and other items that they took as loot during raids. Those who provided a valuable skill, such as smithing or fishing, could trade their goods for food.
In general, however, people living in Scandinavia were expected to be self-sufficient, growing vegetables and raising animals to provide meat. This meant that the staple foods in the Viking diet were meats, fruits, and vegetables that were straightforward to produce.
Our earliest accounts by the Vikings themselves come from the Viking Sagas, which are difficult to judge as historical records. Fortunately, there are many examples of animal bones, plant seeds, and other valuable clues in the remains of Viking Age settlements.
Types of Food
Vikings raised animals for meat and they preferred species that were resilient and could be used as working animals. Ideally, an animal would serve multiple purposes before eventually being eaten as meat. Pigs were the exception, being the only animals that Vikings kept purely for eating.
They also kept horses, sheep, cattle, and goats, as well as ducks and geese. Cows, sheep, and goats provided milk, which could be preserved as butter and milk. Butter was further preserved by the addition of salt, with milk products providing essential fat to help the Vikings through their winters.
Vikings ate horse meat but this was reserved for religious festivals, where horses would be sacrificed to the gods and then eaten. Throughout most of Europe, meat was an expensive dish that was generally reserved for the wealthy. In contrast, Vikings usually ate some form of meat or fish every day.
Medieval Scandinavians lived near the sea and fish was a staple food source in Scandinavia, as it continued to be in the centuries after the Viking Age. Fish did not require any effort to raise, unlike land species, and catching them was a more straightforward proposition than hunting for animals in the Scandinavian wilderness.
Food and Drink
Vikings drank heavily, particularly beer and mead. Water sources during the period were often dangerous, so Vikings brewed constantly, with different strength drinks depending on the occasion.
Vikings generally drank weaker beer throughout the day, which they also allowed their children to consume. Considering how much salt their food contained, they likely needed to drink regularly.
Stronger beers and mead were usually reserved for festive occasions. Vikings did drink grape wine but they needed to either import the grapes or steal wine during their raids on establishments such as monasteries. The common Viking was unlikely to have a chance to enjoy an expensive wine.
Scandinavians regularly foraged for fruit and berries, which were preserved for longer during the freezing months of winter. The health benefits of apples were well known in Viking society and even featured in Nordic mythology, where the gods ate the apples of the goddess Iduna in order to remain youthful.
Vikings ate a relatively complete diet in comparison to many Europeans at the time. Stew was a very popular dish, cooked in a large iron cauldron, into which a variety of vegetables and meats could be added.
In time, the stew gained more flavor as ingredients were added and removed. By the end of the week, it would be extremely flavourful, and Vikings often dipped their bread into it in order to enjoy those flavors. We don’t know exactly what was included in a Viking stew due to the lack of sources from the period.