Harðfiskur: Exploring the History and Health Benefits of Dried Fish in Iceland

Iceland has a rich history of fishing, and dried fish (known as "harðfiskur" in Icelandic) has been a staple of the Icelandic diet for centuries. The tradition of drying fish in Iceland dates back to the Viking Age, when the island was first settled by Norse explorers.

In those early days, dried fish was a crucial source of protein for the settlers, who relied heavily on the sea for their survival. They would catch fish in the surrounding waters, and then dry it in the sun and wind until it was hard and brittle. This allowed them to preserve the fish for long periods of time, ensuring that they had a reliable source of food throughout the year.

Over time, the drying of fish became a major industry in Iceland. In the 19th century, Iceland began exporting large quantities of dried fish to other countries, particularly Great Britain, where it was used to feed the growing urban population. The industry continued to grow throughout the 20th century, and by the 1950s, it was the largest industry in Iceland, employing tens of thousands of people.

Today, dried fish is still an important part of the Icelandic diet, and it remains a popular export. The process of making dried fish has remained largely the same over the centuries, with fish being caught, gutted, and then hung on drying racks in the open air. The wind and sun do the rest, slowly dehydrating the fish until it is hard and brittle.

In addition to being a popular food in Iceland, dried cod is also a key ingredient in many traditional Icelandic dishes. One of the most famous of these is "plokkfiskur," a dish made from boiled potatoes and flaked dried cod, which is often served with a white sauce and melted butter.

Plokkfiskur- Iceland Food Center

Another popular dish is "harðfiskur og rjómi," which consists of dried fish served with sour cream.

Dried fish has several health benefits that make it a nutritious addition to your diet. Here are a few:

  1. High in protein: Dried fish is an excellent source of protein, which is essential for building and repairing tissues in the body. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of dried fish can provide up to 80% of your daily protein needs.

  2. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids: Cod, in particular, is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to a wide range of health benefits, including reduced inflammation, improved brain function, and lower risk of heart disease.

  3. Low in fat: Dried fish is typically low in fat, making it a good option for those watching their calorie intake. This also means that it has a longer shelf life than fatty fish, as the low fat content makes it less prone to spoilage.

  4. High in vitamins and minerals: Dried fish is rich in several vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, and calcium. Vitamin D is important for bone health and immune function, while vitamin B12 is essential for proper nerve function and red blood cell production.

  5. A good source of iodine: Many types of dried fish, including cod, are also rich in iodine, a mineral that is important for thyroid function and brain development.

Today, dried cod fish remains an important part of Icelandic cuisine. It is often accompanied by potatoes and a simple sauce made from butter and flour. While it may not be as essential to the Icelandic economy as it once was, dried cod fish remains an important cultural symbol and a testament to Iceland's history of resourcefulness and resilience.


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