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What Are The Methods For Preserving Food In Iceland?

In Iceland, due to its climate and geographic isolation, preserving food has been an essential practice to ensure a stable food supply throughout the year.

Here are some traditional methods for preserving food in Iceland:


Drying is a common preservation method used for various types of food. In Iceland, fish is traditionally air-dried to create stockfish or hangikjöt (smoked lamb). Hangikjöt is cured, smoked, and then hung to dry, resulting in a flavorful and long-lasting meat product.

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Smoking is another prevalent preservation method in Iceland. It is used primarily for fish, such as salmon, herring, and cod. The smoking process imparts flavor and helps extend the shelf life of the fish. Traditional smoking methods often involve using wood from birch, beech, or alder trees.

Image by moerschy from Pixabay


Fermentation is a preservation technique that has been practiced in Iceland for centuries. One example is the fermentation of shark meat, known as hákarl. The shark meat is buried in a pit and fermented for several months to remove toxins and develop a distinct flavor. Similarly, sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) and pickled vegetables are commonly made and enjoyed in Icelandic cuisine.


Salting is a method used for preserving fish, meat, and even dairy products. Fish, such as cod, herring, and trout, are salted and cured, creating products like salted fish (harðfiskur) and salted cod (bacalao). The salt draws out moisture, inhibiting bacterial growth and extending the shelf life of the food.

Lactic Acid Fermentation

Lactic acid fermentation involves the use of beneficial bacteria to preserve food. Skyr, a traditional Icelandic yogurt, is made through this fermentation process. Skyr is strained from the whey and has a creamy texture, tangy flavor, and extended shelf life. It is often enjoyed plain or used in various dishes and desserts.


Pickling is a preservation method that involves immersing food in a vinegar or brine solution. Pickled herring (síld) is a popular traditional dish in Iceland. Herring is pickled in a mixture of vinegar, sugar, onions, and spices, creating a flavorful and preserved fish product.

Basic recipe for pickling herring (síld) in the traditional Icelandic style


  • 500 grams (1.1 lbs) fresh herring fillets
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 200 milliliters (3/4 cup) white vinegar
  • 200 milliliters (3/4 cup) water
  • 50 grams (1/4 cup) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt


Prepare the Herring:

  • Clean and fillet the fresh herring, removing the heads, tails, and any bones. Cut the fillets into smaller pieces, if desired, such as bite-sized strips.

Prepare the Pickling Brine:

  • In a saucepan, combine the white vinegar, water, sugar, black peppercorns, mustard seeds, bay leaf, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar and salt dissolve completely. Remove from heat and let the brine cool to room temperature.

Layer the Herring and Onion:

  • In a clean, sterilized jar or container with a tight-fitting lid, layer the herring fillets and sliced onions. Start with a layer of herring, then add a layer of onions, and repeat until all the herring and onions are used. Ensure that the herring and onions are evenly distributed throughout the jar.

Pour the Pickling Brine:

  • Once the brine has cooled, pour it over the herring and onions in the jar, ensuring that the contents are completely covered. The brine should fully submerge the herring and onions.

Seal and Refrigerate:

  • Seal the jar tightly with the lid and refrigerate it for at least 24 hours to allow the flavors to develop and the herring to pickle. The longer you let it pickle, the stronger the flavors will become. Enjoy!
  • After the pickling process, the herring can be enjoyed as a traditional Icelandic delicacy. Serve the pickled herring chilled as an appetizer or as part of a meal. It pairs well with dark rye bread, boiled potatoes, and Icelandic condiments like remoulade or skyr sauce.

Note: Pickled herring can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks. Over time, the flavors will continue to develop and intensify. It’s important to use fresh and properly cleaned herring for optimal taste and safety.

Remember, this is a basic recipe, and you can adjust the seasonings and spices to suit your taste preferences. Feel free to experiment and add personal touches to make it your own!


With modern advancements in technology, freezing has become a common preservation method in Iceland, similar to other parts of the world. It allows for long-term storage of various food items, including fish, meat, vegetables, and berries, enabling Icelanders to enjoy seasonal produce year-round.


These methods have played a vital role in Icelandic cuisine, allowing the preservation of food in a challenging environment. While modern refrigeration and food preservation techniques are more prevalent today, traditional preservation methods still hold cultural significance and are appreciated as part of Iceland’s culinary heritage.

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