Friday 1 September 2023
What Viking Funerary Flatbread Teaches Archeologists About Ancient Baking
When most people think of the Vikings, they probably envision what the Vikings did way before picturing what they ate. But if food is fuel, then it's safe to say that the nomadic and infamously chaotic lifestyle of the Vikings needed lots of it. Most of what culinary archaeologists know about the Viking diet has been compiled from a combination of dig sites, the foods eaten by heroes in Norse sagas, and even a limited selection of ancient cookbooks. The Vikings as a people left behind precious few records and accounts. But one momentous archeological dig site uncovered a historical gem: Viking Funerary flatbread.
The loaves were uncovered in graves at Birka — a large, formerly hopping Viking trading post near Stockholm — earning this flatbread the name "Birka bread". Miraculously, the loaves were charred and therefore remained preserved through time. Whether the loaves were intentionally charred as a culinary choice or if they were burned in funeral pyres remains unclear.
The flatbread loaves found at Birka were made from a simple combination of salt, eggs, and flour, specifically barley and wheat. Other types of Viking bread used oats or spelt flour. For closest replication, curious home cooks should make their Birka bread over a campfire. But today's foodies don't value the loaves just for their recipe; the bread tells a much larger story than the sum of its parts.
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