What did Vikings eat? The Vikings farmed crops, grew gardens and raised animals, as is typical of food produced from a feudal economy. They ate what they produced on their farms or what they could hunt, fish or gather. Viking farms were generally small, but large enough to keep the family or extended family well-fed in good years. Their food was seasonal, so they might have a lot of food available to eat at some times of the year and very little to eat at others.
On a typical day at the farm, the family would eat two meals. One, the dagmal, or day meal, was served an hour after rising. The family ate the nattmal or night meal at the end of the working day. For breakfast, the dagmal, the adults might eat a bit of some leftover stew still in the cauldron from the night before, with bread and fruit. The children would have porridge and dried fruit or perhaps buttermilk and bread. The evening meal could be fish or meat, stewed with vegetables. They might also eat some more dried fruit with honey as a sweet treat. Honey was the only sweetener the Vikings knew. Vikings drank ale, mead or buttermilk daily.
Feasts would include the same foods-meat, fish, fowl, vegetables, wild greens, bread and fruit, but in a greater variety than usual meal and more of it. Vikings enjoyed drinking ale and mead at feasts. Mead is a strong, fermented drink made from honey.
Women cooked meats, vegetables and breads over the hearth-an open fire pit in the middle of the hall. A Viking wife either roasted the meat on a spit over the fire or boiled it in a soapstone pot or iron cauldron. Vikings loved rich stews, so often meats, vegetables and wild greens were stewed in the cauldron with water. Breads were baked on flat stones or iron griddles over the fire. Salt and pepper were available to most Vikings while costlier spices were imported and added to the foods of wealthier Vikings.
This of course omits the more exotic foods that Vikings obtained by trade.
Barley and rye were the grains that grew best in the northern climate, along with oats. From these grains, Vikings made beer, bread, stews and porridge. Barley was used mostly for beer, with hops to flavor it. Flatbread was the daily bread of the Vikings. A simple dough was made from ground oats or barley, water was added and then the dough flattened out on a griddle and baked over the fire.
Vikings consumed a variety of vegetables including cabbage, onions, garlic, leeks, turnips, peas and beans. These garden crops were sowed in spring and harvested in late summer and fall. Women and children gathered wild plants and herbs, mostly greens. These wild vegetables included nettles, docks, cresses and lambs-quarters. Vikings also grew some herbs such as dill, parsley, mustard, horseradish and thyme.
Scandinavians raised cows, horses, oxen, goats, pigs, sheep, chickens and ducks. They ate beef, goat, pork, mutton, lamb, chicken and duck and occasionally horsemeat. The chickens and ducks produced eggs, so the Vikings ate their eggs as well as eggs gathered from wild seabirds… Because most Vikings lived on the coast, they ate all kinds of fish, both ocean-going and freshwater fish. In fact, fish was probably a good 25 percent of their diet.
Most Viking cows lived long enough to raise a calf and were then slaughtered for meat. Some cows, however, lived to about 10 years old, showing that they were milk cows. While Vikings enjoyed drinking milk, whey and buttermilk, they also used the milk to make other dairy products including cheese, skyr, a soft, yogurt-like cheese, curds and butter. Sour whey was used to preserve cooked meats in the winter.
Viking farms included apple orchards and such fruit trees as pears and cherries. Wild berries were harvested in the summer, including sloe-berries, lingon berries, strawberries, bilberries and cloud-berries. Walnuts were imported, but hazelnuts grew wild and nuts were a favorite treat.
In summer and fall, Vikings ate well as these were the seasons of plentiful, fresh food. It was important to preserve and store foods for winter and spring, when fresh foods were gone. Fish, fowl and meat were dried, salted or smoked. Vegetables and fruits were dried and stored for winter. Grains were ground and the flour made into bread, which was preserved and stored as well. Even though fresh foods were hard to come by in winter and spring, archeological studies reveal that Vikings didn't suffer from vitamin or mineral deficiencies.This article is part of our larger selection of posts about Vikings history. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to Vikings history