Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Danish Food



Milk, whey, or buttermilk are freely used often as refreshing beverages and also in soups and gravies. Cream is used generously in ice cream, whipped cream sauces (savory not sweet), as well as in desserts as sweetened whipped cream. In fact, plain cream, whipped cream, and sour cream are found in almost every dish: soups, salad dressings, meat and fish casseroles and sauces, and certainly in desserts. Coffee, however, is preferred black.

Danish cheeses, noted for their buttery richness and mild nutty taste, are exported all over the world. The Danes themselves enjoy cheeses for breakfast, as part of lunch, and often as a dessert with fruit or as a late evening snack.


Fresh fruits in season are preferred, but fruits are also enjoyed when stewed then thickened with corn or potato starch and served with cream. The staple vegetables are potatoes and red or green cabbage although the former are preferred. String beans and white asparagus are enjoyed when available, as arc pickled cucumbers, pickled beets, a variety of summer vegetables, canned or fresh peas, and carrots Danes use other vegetables, which are lovingly pre-pared: cauliflower, Belgian endive, onion of ever) type, kale, celeriac, and a great variety of local mush-rooms. To the staples of potatoes and cabbage arc added pickles or root vegetables in winter and green: in summer. Salad to the Danes means a mixture laden with meat or fish and bound with mayonnaise. Tossed salads with light dressings are largely ignored except by aristocrats.


Danish meat dishes are served moist and juicy. If the meats are naturally dry, they are accompanied by gravy or sauce. Broiling or dry-roasting methods an seldom used in meat or fish cookery. Though fish is plentiful, meats are the staple. Of these, pork is the favorite and all parts are used. Offal, sausages, and ground meats are often served for economy. Blood is used in soups and for sausages. Fish include shrimp, eels, herring (used in countless ways), salmon, trout, mackerel, turbot, plaice, cod (fresh, dried, or salted).

Eggs are used occasionally for a light meal such as an omelet but mostly as an ingredient in or garnish for other dishes. The only legumes used widely are dried yellow peas, used at least weekly for a soup, gule aerter. Nuts are used in bakery and then almost always almonds.


Gruels or porridges of barley or oats are used only in rural areas or by children or invalids. Rice and pasta are also seldom used. Some oats are found in desserts or as oatcakes accompanying the traditional butter-milk soup. Most grains are eaten in the form of breads, rolls, and crisp breads. Heavy, dark, moist rye bread is sliced especially thin for smorrebrod.

Gruels and porridges of barley or oats still do form the staple peasant diet together with cabbage and potatoes and the very occasional addition of small amounts of fresh or cured home-raised pork.


Butter is used generously for everything. Unsalted butter is preferred. Danish margarine is also of fine quality and taste and is being used increasingly.


Danes enjoy cakes, pastries, and crisp cookies often as snacks with coffee. The characteristic lightness and crispness of Danish bakery is attributed to hartshorn salt (ammonium carbonate) used instead of baking powder. In Canada and the United States it can be purchased in drugstores. Thick and sweet preserves as well as powdered sugar are often used to garnish desserts, especially pancakes.


Danish food is not highly seasoned. Cream, butter and eggs, mustard, horseradish, dill, onions, and leeks are favored. Poppy seeds and caraway seeds are used mainly in or on breads or rolls. For baked goods, the lightly spiced aroma familiar to Danes is the pungent one of cardamom, saffron, and toasted almonds.


Black coffee in copious quantities vies with beer and akvavit as the favored drinks. Akvavit is a strong clear liquor distilled from grain or potatoes and always served ice-cold. In fact, it is traditional to serve akvavit from a frozen block of ice, syrupy, thick, and potent. Taken straight it is often followed by a chaser of beer and then nibbles of salted foods. Children consume large quantities of soft drinks; this is recent, not traditional. In cases of overindulgence, the Danes take a “cure” in the form of gammel Dansk bitter, a medicinally bitter brew (suspected of being alcoholic), said to clear the head and stomach.

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