East Iceland Startup Makes Beverages Flavored with Locally Foraged Herbs

A start-up in East Iceland is producing nonalcoholic beverages using wild, Icelandic herbs, Austurfrétt reports. The company, Könglar (meaning ‘pine cones’), has been selling its beverages at restaurants throughout East Iceland since earlier this year and aims to be a truly local product. “People are always asking us if it’s possible to get [our drinks] in the [capital area],” says marketing manager Brynjar Darri Sigurðsson. “And we always say, ‘no, you have to come out East.’”

Producer Dagrún Drótt Valgarðsdóttir got the idea for making natural beverages from local, Icelandic ingredients after sampling a blueberry drink made in Finland. “We started to wonder if we could use that method using the nature we have here,” she says.

Könglar received subsidies from the municipality of Fljótsdalshérað, as well as the government’s Food Fund, which aims to “strengthen development and innovation in the production and processing of food and by-products from agricultural and marine products,” with an emphasis “on innovation, sustainability, value creation and the competitiveness of Icelandic food throughout the country.”

Thus far, the company’s beverages, all of which have names inspired by local folk tales, include a lovage drink, a dandelion iced tea, and a rhubarb soda. Dagrún says their focus has been “to use what’s around us as much as possible” instead of opting for imported produce or ingredients that aren’t native to Iceland. So, for instance, if they want the flavor profile of a tart, green apple, they use rhubarb, which is plentiful in East Iceland. In the future, Dagrún says Könglar would like to use their same production and infusion methods to make herbal-flavored beers and wine.

Follow Könglar on Instagram, here.

No Small Potatoes: Local Spud Farmers Hopeful For This Year’s Harvest

Potato farmers in Þykkvabær, the spud capital of Iceland, have high hopes for a good harvest this year, RÚV reports. This despite the presence of some potato blight, a fungus that wreaked havoc on last year’s potato crop.

Farmers say that if the weather remains good and sprouting goes well, domestic potato production will be sufficient throughout the year. Potato farmer Markús Ársælsson says this hasn’t been the case in recent years, but he’s still hopeful for this year’s prospects.

“It’s gone just fine and the outlook’s really good, but you never know until the end of the day what the result is going to be,” he remarked. “We might have a frost in August. But as things stand right now, it’s looking good.”

Potato blight is a major concern for farmers in Iceland, Markús agrees. “Yes, it rears its ugly head when weather conditions are like this and we’ve started spraying just to be on the safe side and that’s going pretty well. We’re hoping, just crossing our fingers, that nothing comes up now that makes this summer like the one last year, which was brutal. Because even though we sprayed them, for some reason, nothing helped with anything.”

Farmers take measures to ensure that their potatoes sprout as quickly and prolifically as possible, but growth does sometimes slow, which can make competing with imported potatoes even more difficult, says Markús. Growth delays on the domestic market means that Icelandic grocery stores will import potatoes and then want to sell off all their imported product before looking to buy more potatoes from domestic producers.

“It’s awful, of course,” said Markús. “Customers aren’t offered fresh Icelandic [potatoes], rather it’s ‘we’re going to finish off the old imported ones and then we’ll come back to all of you [Icelandic potato farmers].”

Over the years, domestic potato production has ranged from 7,000 tons all the way up to 12,000 tons in a particularly good year.

Widespread Iodine Deficiency as Diets Change with Times

Fish Shop Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir

Icelanders have stopped consuming the large quantities of fish and milk that they used to, leading to widespread iodine deficiencies. RÚV reports that the situation has nutritionists concerned, as iodine deficiencies in pregnant people can lead to developmental delays in children.

Both fish and dairy are integral sources of iodine for people in industrialized countries. Nutritionists stress the importance of iodine intake during pregnancy, as children who do not receive enough iodine during this time tend to score low on developmental scales. In some countries, iodine-fortified salt is used in the production of baked goods as a way of introducing iodine into a wider diet when fish and milk consumption is low. This is an option that is currently under consideration in Iceland, but could create its own problems. If iodine was introduced into baked goods and breads, for instance, young children would be at risk of ingesting too much.

A brief history of the modern Icelandic diet

The typical Icelandic diet was first examined in 1939, when Professor Júlíus Sigurjónsson concluded that where people lived naturally had a significant effect on what they consumed. At the time, Júlíus found that Icelanders who lived close to the sea tended to eat a great deal of fish, while those who lived inland tended to drink large quantities of milk.

No further studies on the Icelandic diet were conducted until just over half a century later, in 1990. By that point, Icelanders’ lifestyle had undergone incredible change and their diets attested to that. Nearly all of the energy Icelanders consumed in the 90s came from protein and fat, with the average Icelander consuming roughly half a kilo [2.2 lbs] of dairy and four slices of bread a day. Water was only the fourth most-consumed beverage in the country, after coffee (an average of four cups a day), milk, and sugary soft drinks. Cholesterol was high and coronary artery disease was common. But at the same time, Icelanders ate the most fish of any nation in Europe, proportionally speaking.

2002 – 2010

A study in 2002 revealed more dramatic dietary shifts. By that point, fish, milk, and potatoes had been replaced by vegetables, cereal, and pasta in the diet of most Icelanders. The nation had also developed a taste for pork and chicken, neither of which had been consumed in great quantity in the past. Young boys no longer drank half a litre soda every day, but a full litre.

By 2010, however, it seemed Icelandic dietary habits were moving in the right direction. People were eating more fruit, vegetables, unprocessed bread and fish oil. Protein drinks became a major source of protein. Sugary soda consumption went down, although consumption of sugar-free soda remained high. Milk consumption went down.

2019 – 2021

The most recent survey, conducted over the years 2019 – 2021, found that fruit consumption is down among Icelanders, while consumption of saturated fat is on the rise. The Directorate of Health advises that people should only get a maximum of 10% of their energy from saturated fat, but according to this study, only 2% of Icelanders abide by that advice. Wholegrain bread has only recently become widely available in the country. Nutritionists say that Icelanders now have the opportunity to increase their consumption of not only whole grains, but also beans, nuts, and seeds. Low fibre intake is a broad cause for concern.

“If we look at what is causing most premature deaths around the world, a lack of fibre is one of the things that makes the biggest difference,” remarked Jóhanna Eyrún Torfadóttir, a nutritionist with the Directorate of Health. “Lack of fibre is causing premature death.” If the pattern of high consumption of saturated fat, low consumption of fibre continues, says Jóhanna Eyrún, there will be an increased risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: “[O]ur biggest, long-term illnesses that are causing the most deaths.”

Icelandic diets are more diverse than ever

Today, Icelandic diets are far more diverse than they were in the past. More Icelanders are vegans and vegetarians, and more people are on low-carb and other special diets. This has made it difficult for the Directorate of Health to issue broad nutritional advisories like it once did.

In general, however, the Directorate has simple advice: Each a varied diet of moderate portions. People are advised to eat lots of vegetables and fruits, more whole than processed grains, fish two to three times a week, and meat in moderation. Low-fat dairy products and soft fats are preferable over saturated fats. Salt and sugar should be consumed in moderation and vitamin D is important.

Year’s First Outdoor-Grown Vegetables Harvested

The year’s first crop of outdoor-cultivated vegetables to has been harvested and will be appearing on local grocery store shelves in abundance by the end of the month, RÚV reports. Major summer crops include cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.

Outdoor-grown produce in Iceland is naturally subject to the whims of the country’s famously unpredictable weather. Given the local climate and the profusion of geothermal heat, greenhouses are favoured for much of the country’s locally grown produce. There are currently between twenty and thirty farmers who grow potatoes outdoors; roughly the same number cultivate vegetables outside. As a rule, the first summer harvest is in mid-July.

“Cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, then potatoes—they usually come in the middle of July,” explains Helgi Jóhannesson, a consultant for the Icelandic Agricultural Advisory Centre. “Then carrots and beets come later. They take longer to grow, so usually, at the beginning of August.”

Imported vegetables still account for the majority of produce on Icelandic shelves, but summertime, particularly after Merchant’s Weekend at the beginning of August, sees a dramatic increase in the availability of locally grown vegetables.

“It’s obviously clear that it’s much better than importing vegetables and people are excited about it—I always find it a rather festive occasion when [Icelandic-grown produce] has finally arrived again,” continues Helgi, who says that this year’s first summer harvest bodes well for the rest of the outdoor growing season.