Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Finnish Food


Much milk is consumed as a fresh whole beverage, as clabbered milk, called viili piima, or fresh butter-milk. Finland is famed for its great variety of quality cheeses: Aura, Emmenthal, Kesti, Kreivi, Tilsitter. There are also many local fresh-milk cheeses similar to pot cheese or cottage cheese and called simply “breakfast cheese.” Both fresh rich cream and sour cream are used in many dishes.

Because of the short growing season, fresh local fruits (mostly berries) and seasonal vegetables are greatly enjoyed. Preserves of berries and dried fruits (lightly sweetened or even quite tart) are often served with meats. Local fruits include blueberries, raspberries, cloudberries, lingonberries, cranberries, strawberries, and gooseberries, while citrus fruits are imported. Apples, rhubarb, and rosehips as well as dried fruits are also used. Fruits are eaten fresh, atop cereals, or as fillings in pastries and sometimes cakes. They are also served as dessert in the form of tart fruit soups, thickened puddings, whips, custards, and snows (with whipped egg whites). Fine liqueurs are made from some of the berries.

The staple vegetables are potatoes and cauliflower. Cucumbers, onions, beets, carrots, and radishes are used but not in any quantity and there is some resistance to increasing the consumption of vegetables. Salads of fresh vegetables are almost unknown. Many types of wild mushrooms are used both fresh and preserved in salt brine to be served during winter. Most vegetables are consumed as pickles, while potatoes and cauliflower are eaten in long-cooked (sometimes four to five hours) casseroles.

All parts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb are used: roasts, stews, jellied meat loaves, sausages, soups (“slaughter soup” is made from offal and blood). Bottled animal blood is sold as an ingredient for other dishes. Chickens are not plentiful. The Laplanders’ domesticated reindeer is considered a great delicacy, especially reindeer tongue. Occasionally game birds, bear meat, and elk are consumed.
Although herring is the staple fish, other fish used include sprats, sardines, whitefish, bream, flounder, pike, and salmon. Freshwater fish from local rivers and lakes are most common. Rapuja are the tiny freshwater crayfish served in midsummer, while muikko are the tiny lakefish eaten whole.

Eggs are consumed mostly as an ingredient in other dishes, bakery, and desserts. But munavoi is a smooth spread of mashed hard-cooked eggs with butter. Legumes, other than the dried peas for soup, are not used.

Wholegrain bread is a part of every meal: slightly sour and filling. Porridges and gruels made from various grains are often the main dish at lunch and sometimes are eaten as desserts in smaller servings with berries added. Plain tasty yeast breads and crisp plain cookies are always served with coffee. Rye, barley, oats, and wheat are used singly or in combination for the many grain breads and dishes.

Much fat is consumed in the form of whole milk, butter, cheeses, cream, and sour cream. Butter is the main cooking fat although salt pork and bacon fat are also used.

The Finns are not great sweet-eaters, preferring viili piima (clabbered milk), kiisseli (fruit soups), or fresh berries in season as a dessert. Between-meal snacks will usually be coffee and a sandwich or a variety of plain crisp cookies or yeast breads, pound cakes, or other un-iced baked goods. Really rich and elaborate desserts are seldom served except on special occasions or for guests. Even the many types of berry preserves enjoyed with meats are only slightly sweetened.

Finns prefer natural flavors but like them on the robust side. From the sour rye bread and soured-milk dishes to the tart pickles and fruit desserts, the Finn preference is not for sweet flavors. Seasonings include dill, onion, garlic, juniper berries, and pine needles, which may be rubbed on game or fowl. Because smoked meats and smoked fish are so popular, smoke must be considered a flavoring as well as the abundantly used fresh milk and cream.

Coffee is the national beverage, but milk, buttermilk, and clabbered milk are popular. There are a variety of homemade fermented beverages, especially kalja, which is similar to beer but is non-alcoholic and not sweet. Vodka is called Ryyppy and is served icy cold. Finland is reputed to be the largest importer of fine cognac from France. Tea and herbal teas are occasional beverages, but the Finns enjoy their tea brewed strong.

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