Photo: ©Slow Food Sápmi/Bianca Brandon-Cox 
Photo: ©Slow Food Sápmi/Bianca Brandon-Cox 
Photo: ©Slow Food Sápmi/Bianca Brandon-Cox 
Photo: Karl Jonasson Collberg
Photo:Karl Jonasson Collberg

Forest and mountain birds

Ptarmigan is the most widely hunted bird for food, however capercaillie and black grouse are also sought after. 

Ptarmigans were scorched over an open fire then cleaned and cooked with dried reindeer meat. Commonly birds were snared by women and children, typically in bud rich thickets in the tracks of the reindeer where the birds found food during winter. Today snaring is still used beside hunting with shotguns and dogs. 

Like with other meats smoking was used to preserve birds. Today birds are still eaten by the Sámi, though most of it is sold.  


Reindeer Milk

As late as the mid nineteen-hundreds reindeer milk was still an important part of the Sámi diet, with milking being more or less intense common in different parts of Sápmi. 

A vaja (reindeer cow) give only about a 0.1 litre of milk. This milk however is very fatty and heartening.  It was used fresh but also soured with plants to make a kind of sour milk called tät-mjölk (literally thick milk). 

The milking was done into special containers (named náhppi (n), náhppe (l), naehpie (s) depending on the region). The milk was poured into a reindeer stomach, turned inside out, then hung to dry. In more modern times linen bags were also used that allowed the whey to strain out. The bags were hung in airy places and the contents turned into a hard grainy substance which lasted for a long time. The taste is similar to mature cheese and was used in lieu of cream in coffee.

Goats were also held as livestock for their milk. The goat milk whey was boiled to create whey cheese. Goats cheese was also made, using typical methods however the cheese was often dried and smoked in the Kåta. 

In modern times mass produced dry-milk has contributed to a drastic reduction in the use of reindeer milk.

Reindeer fat

With its high content of nutrients and its full-bodied umami flavour reindeer fat is culinary gold. During the summer the reindeer builds up a fat reserve that sustains the animal throughout the winter season. The flavour of the fat comes from the special composition of the reindeers diet which includes grass, herbs, leaves, reindeer moss, crowberries and other wild-growing plants. 

Reindeer fat is widely used in Sámi cuisine for several purposes. Analysis of the fat carried out in 2013 by the project "Sámiskt Mat & kompetenscentrum" shows, amongst other things, a cholesterol content less then a quarter of that found in ordinary butter. Reindeer fat is thus a product with great market potential.

Photo: ©Slow Food Sápmi/Bianca Brandon-Cox 

Herbs and berries

Throughout the millennia berries and herbs have not only added spice to Sámi cooking but also provided fibres and vitamins. Some have also been used medicinally. 

The Swedish legal tradition access for all can easily give the impression that all wild plants may be freely harvested. However certain flora, including roots, mosses and fresh spruce shoots, are not included in this right. This is commonly overlooked and if you are unsure about the harvesting regulations or if you operate commercially you should contact the provincial authority (Länsstyrelsen). 

You may also search for red-listed species. Be aware however that there are regional differences.


The traditional base of the Sámi diet is meat and milk from the reindeer, fish, game, arctic berries, herbs and plants. With various different methods of storage and refinement these ingredients are turned into long lasting flavourful food 

Meat and fish is smoked in the traditional tents (kåta) whilst minced reindeer meat is slowly dried in the harsh winter cold. Herbs are used to create acidity in dishes that are stored in cold springs where they can be retrieved the coming year. 

From these methods comes flavour; full-bodied intensity, smokiness, acidity - all characteristic and with their own preserving qualities. 

Reindeer meat

The love for the reindeer is strong. To the reindeer herders they are much more than cattle. They follow their reindeer from birth marking them and then protecting them from danger. 

Everything from the reindeer is used. Meat, fat and organ meats provide food whilst skin, horn and bone are used to make clothes and tools.

Reindeer meat is very nutritious having a low percentage of fat (in average 3%), with healthy Omega3 fatty acids and a protein content of 22%. It also contains several important minerals and vitamins A, B, C and E.

The migration patterns of the reindeer stretches across national borders, following suitable terrain. During the winter the reindeer graze in moss-rich forests then move to the mountains and the spring grazing grounds. The calves are born in May, which marks the start of a new year of reindeer herding. Migration is however affected by other industries and politics like demarcation and border issues, expansion of infrastructure and mobile activities like forestry and tourism.

Fish

The thirties saw scarce times, with much death in the reindeer population. This forced many Sámi to settle by lakes where fishing became a means to survive. With this came an infrastructure of purchasers travelling by seaplane to remote mountain lakes. This fishing represented a majority of all fish caught in the northern municipalities as late as the seventies.

Today mountain fishing has decreased substantially though it remains an important source of income, both as a full-time employment and as a supplement to reindeer herding. Whitefish, Arctic char and Brown trout are species predominantly fished during summer. 

During winter some fishing is still performed with under-ice mesh nets, this fish is however mostly for domestic use.

For everyday consumption boiling or frying are the most common ways to prepare fish. The fish is prepared with salt and eaten with butter and potatoes. Fish smoked in the Kåta (called - suovasguolli (n), suovas- guolle (l) or soevesguelie (s) depending on which region of Sápmi you are in) is a flavourful delicacy prepared with the fresh catch of summer. Depending on the level of smoking it is eaten either as it is or lightly fried.

Smoking and drying vastly increases the storage time of fish. Curing fish is an ancient method of preservation still widely employed throughout Sápmi.



Ingredients in Sámi Cooking