Ulitsa Sovetskaya, 27, Lovozero, Murmanskaya oblast', Russia, 184592

First Contact:

gather% / fish % / hunt %
fat % / protein % / carb%

A rough estimate to help us understand how carnivorous and how ketogenic these people were before being exposed to western civilization


Click this Slide deck Gallery to see high quality images of the tribe, daily life, diet, hunting and gathering or recipes

About the Tribe

Sámi live across four nation states (Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia) and although their territories have been altered irrevocably in the last century, wherever they live, the rhythm of life for the reindeer herders, hunters and gatherers of Sápmi remains largely unchanged. Sámi remain largely connected to the seasons, and the lifecycle of the reindeer and the plants and animals and fish upon which their Indigenous food system is built. Reindeer are a totemic species for the Sámi and the herding, slaughtering, preparation and consuming of reindeer meat, along with a widespread consumption of lake and ocean fish are major ingredients of Sámi cuisine in all countries in which they live.

Importance of Animal Products


Slaughtering a reindeer in the traditional way means doing it in such a way that you can make use of the whole animal: for food, clothing, medicinal purposes and the many other things you can derive from the animal. When thinking traditionally, multiple decisions need to be made when choosing a reindeer to slaughter. You need to look at the animals’ gender, age and even fur color. These varied and complex decisions are underpinned by the need to maintain a diverse and strong herd, in case of harsh winter conditions. A diverse herd will be more resilient and give us herders more flexibility when dealing with unexpected climate events. Preserving meat The traditional way of slaughtering is also a matter of food safety. When you slaughter out in the tundra then you need to know what steps will best take care of your meat and avoid the growth of unwanted bacteria. Traditionally we have started with what we call giehtadit, which is to kill the animal with a knife right into the heart. This way, the reindeer will bleed out from inside the chest cavity after which we let the reindeer baggat, which means we let it rest and ‘inflate’ itself. The amount of time you let the reindeer baggat depends on the season, the weather and the temperature before you start to skin it. The Sámi concept of baggan is both about food safety and flavor enhancement. The baggan process makes the meat tender and juicy. This also has the effect of loosening the skin so you are not touching the meat so much during the slaughter. This is ‘on the land’ food safety where the traditional way of slaughtering may be the best way. Only after you have let the reindeer baggat, do you start to skin the reindeer. The traditional way of skinning a reindeer is doing it in such a way that you can make use of the whole hide. This way you can also use the legs and skin of the head for clothing. However, there are important seasonal differences. You slaughter calves in late July or early August for beaskanáhkki and then you use the whole skin to sew the traditional winter garment, which is called beaska. When you need a warmer beaska - such as when you need to watch over your herd during winter nights - then you slaughter later in the autumn, when the hair of the reindeer has grown longer. After you have skinned the reindeer you take out the intestines with which you make your blood sausages and then you open the chest cavity where the blood has already coagulated and has already separated. This way you will get the best blood for márffit (blood sausages) or guhpárat (meat balls made with blood). After that, you cut the meat up in a way that is not only the best way of preserving the meat but also a way in which you get the most out of the reindeer, in terms of food.

Sámi cuisine does not take shape in the ‘kitchen’, but really starts at the moment when and where the reindeer is slaughtered, the condition of the reindeer in the days and weeks before it was slaughtered and finally how it was killed. Mális is another important part of Sámi food culture and mális means to cook the meat with just water and salt. Then the quality of the meat is very important, as the reindeer must be fat. Because reindeer meat is not marbled, this means that the more fat it has on the outside, the higher the quality of the meat is. Meat quality is also determined by how you kill the animal.

SUOVASTUHTTIT: USING FIRE AND SMOKE TO PRESERVE REINDEER MEAT by Rávdná Biret Márjá Eira Sara, Inger Marie Gaup Eira, Kia Krarup Hansen, Inger Anita Smuk, Issát Turi, and Astrid Riddervold

Sámi reindeer herder’s traditional knowledge about meat security and meat conservation is rich and deep. These are technologies developed over millennia, which secure the sustainable and safe use of animals for food production. The renowned Norwegian philologist Konrad Nielsen who compiled the exhaustive Sámi language dictionaries in the late 1920s and 30s refers to suovas as the smoke fire - the fire that gives smoke for smoking, explaining the characteristics of the fire. Suovasbiergu means «smoked meat», while suovastuhttit is the Sámi term for the technique or practice of smoking meat and fish. Suovastuhttit is little documented, but is in daily use in reindeer herding communities across Sápmi. Reindeer herder’s knowledge of smoking meat integrates the understanding of selecting the right type of animals for slaughtering, at the right season of the year and using specific parts of the reindeer. Further knowledge includes; the correct use of salt and moisture generated from selecting the specific plants and firewood. This produces a specific and dense white smoke, which penetrates the meat tissue without the use of too high temperatures. The type of plants used and how long the smoking takes place (could be 3-6 hours), determines the degree of conservation and taste. A lack of traditional knowledge about the process of suovastuhttit might affect human health and wellbeing. The combined antibacterial effects of the components of salt and smoke protect the meat from degradation. Even today with modern deep freeze technologies, suovastuhttit is still practiced and the characteristic flavour of suovasbiergu is preferred in the Sámi household.


The Sámi ‘family meal’ is not only the center of a family coming and sharing food together. In fact, as described here, it’s not a ‘meal’ as might be understood by many, where people sit down at a certain time each day and have dinner. Life with reindeer means movement, especially in Spring and Autumn. Someone is always with the reindeer. Sometimes the whole family can be with the reindeer. Living with reindeer means your life is lived according to the rhythm of the animals. So, to describe a ‘family meal’, is really a description of the collective journey of reindeer, people and food. The family meal starts with choosing a reindeer to slaughter, how it is slaughtered, how it is processed and deciding who gets to eat which specific part of the animal. The family meal, is also a means by which important knowledge is transferred across generations about animals, health and food safety, based on the raw materials available. Creating the family meal requires a considerable amount of knowledge and time and involves many members of the family. Making it takes time. The meal might not be ready at a certain time, but there is so much to be done and often many people to do it. During this time of preparation, stories are told, knowledge is shared and children learn the useful life skill of work and self-sufficiency. During preparation time guests may appear unannounced. They are to be made welcome, and they too shall find food and warmth. A ‘family meal’ is really about the coming and going of family life, and this is not possible to create or recreate in a modern industrial slaughterhouse. I grew up in Guovdageaidnu in a reindeer herding family in a village where most people are Sámi, speak Sámi and have some direct or indirect connection to reindeer husbandry. I now live on the coast of Norway and herding and the preparation and eating of reindeer products remains at the heart of our daily life. When we make a ‘family meal’, although we never called it that, there are many steps and observances along the way to making it, codes of etiquette that need to be observed. I learned them from my immediate and extended family and now teach them to my own children. The preparations and observances start with the slaughter of the reindeer. After slaughtering a reindeer, the spine is the first part that is used to make a family meal, and for reindeer herders it is the best meat. It is regarded as almost holy. The spine is taken immediately after slaughtering and is usually cut up in joints and put into a pot for boiling. The large dorsal sinew (sávvosuotna) is removed when the carcass is still whole. This sinew is very good for sewing a coat made of reindeer fur or making nice handicrafts with small and neat stiches. Our family tradition is that certain parts of the spine are designated for the different family members. The tail (bieža) is for the butcher, the sacrum (gánis) is for the person who took care of the intestines (usually mother or a female person). The vertebrae (ruossadávttit) are for father and the other adults, and the vertebrae in the middle (gaskačielgedávttit) are for the youth. The vertebrae on the spine shoulder (sehpodatdávttit) are for smaller children because it is easy for a child to hold the bone. Kidneys (moninčalmmit), spleen (dávdi), blood sausages (márffit) and small intestines (sáhppasat) are boiled together with the spine. The broth acquires the varying taste of these different parts. Importantly, these parts replace vegetables with regards to vitamins. We drink the broth and dip the meat in it. The fat layer on the top of the broth is skimmed off, to be used as a separate dip. Spine and broth are a natural medicine for treating a wide variety of different sicknesses and spine broth is seen as the most valuable broth from a reindeer. Fresh reindeer meat does not need to be boiled for more than 20 minutes for it to become tender. If boiled for longer, the meat becomes hard, and then you have to boil the meat for at least another hour until it becomes tender again. The spleen is very good food for young babies, being good ‘food training’ and being easy for a baby to suck.

Blood sausages and small intestines are also a part of the family meal. These should be shared so that every family member gets a piece of the different tasting blood sausages. Also small intestines should be shared. This has been done from ancient times and was a way to ensure that everyone got all the vitamins and minerals from the food eaten by the reindeer. The names of the blood sausages are: Čeaksa (omasum), doggi (abomasum), maŋŋebuoidi (rectum), gahpárus (duodenum), guopmolággá (appendix), čalmmás (reticulum), seakkaguopmolággá (the thinner/smaller part of appendix) and čalmmásnjálbmi (opening of the reticulum). Also according to our practice, the upper marrowbones (čuožžemas) of the back legs were for father, the lower marrowbones of the back legs (njiehcehas) were for mother, the lower marrowbones of the front legs (vuorgu) were for the smallest children and the upper marrowbones of the front legs (dábbá) were for the older children in the family. According to this way, every member of the family got the pieces of the animal that gave them the most necessary nutrients. Not all families are alike of course and traditions and customs vary from region to region, from siida to siida. In some families I have heard that blood sausages made from the omasum are for males only. These stories, traditions and etiquette have much to teach us about a healthy relationship between people, animals and food.

For milennia Sámi food consisted of meat (in winter) and fish (in summer). In the past, when hunting played a more significant role, wild reindeer meat was also consumed. Reindeer husbandry became the main source of meat food for the Kola Sámi by the end of the 1800s, as hunting had already reduced game stocks. Reindeer meat was boiled, sun-dried, frozen and less often – salted. Among the Kola Sámi, there is almost no evidence of raw meat eating. As early as the 16thC it was recorded that Sámi had acquired the habit of boiling food and that even by that time they already slightly preferred fried meat to raw. By the late 19th and early 20thC, reindeer meat was usually served as a soup seasoned with rye flour, salt and ground berries (crowberries and cloudberries). People ate the meat first and then drank the remaining broth. However, for centuries Kola Sámi have consumed raw frozen meat, slicing it finely for eating. This is called stroganina, and is a wellknown dish among many northern reindeer herding peoples. While Sámi in what we today call the Nordic countries widely used reindeer milk to make cheese, Kola Sámi do not appear to have milked their reindeer to any large extent. In addition to reindeer meat and fish, in winter Kola Sámi ate poultry, mainly grouse, which they usually boiled in soup and sometimes fried. All parts of reindeer were consumed, except the lungs, which were given to the dogs. Kidneys, slightly seasoned with salt, were put on a stone in front of the fireplace and thus cooked. Liver was used for frying. Brains, heart, tongue, stomach and brisket were considered special delicacies. Sámi also liked fresh reindeer blood, which they drank for its medicinal purposes. To prepare kholodets with reindeer tongues, we need reindeer hooves and tongues. Clean the reindeer hooves thoroughly, and place in cold water. Change the water after 6 hours. Place the soaked hooves in a casserole and cover with water, add meat and bring to the boil. Then decrease the temperature and cook on a low heat for 8 hours. For preparation of dishes with reindeer tongue, it is important to soak it in cold water for several hours. Then the broth will be light and clean. 1.5 hours prior to the end of cooking, add a reindeer tongue, then (over the last 20 minutes) add peppercorns and a bay leaf, and/or some vegetables and season with salt according to your taste. Take everything out of the casserole, detach meat from bones and if applicable cool the tongue and peel the skin. Serve in bowls, adding garlic and cover with meat broth. Let the dish jellify and serve. Nowadays, kholodets is cooked with a wide range of ingredients. For the meat part of kholodets people use beef, veal, pork, poultry. Any variety of vegetables (carrots, onions, garlic, celery), herbs and spices are used. However, the most important part of meat kholodets remain the trotters or hooves, pork or beef ears and heads. These special ingredients allow the cooking of kholodets without adding gelatin. Kholodets prepared with gelatin becomes «zalivnoye», which is a completely different dish.

For example, North Sámi like to dry reindeer meat, whereas southern Sámi tend to smoke it and then dry it. There are many practical explanations for different regional practices that include access to firewood, the presence of permafrost, and the need for Vitamin C (where reindeer blood is a significant source of vitamins and minerals).

By this time I was heartily tired, and found the refreshment of some cow’s milk, and meat, with a chair to sit upon, very acceptable. I could not but wonder to see my two Laplanders, who had accompanied me during the whole of this day’s tedious walk, one of them fifty years of age, the other upwards of seventy, running and frisking about in sport, though each of them had carried a burthen all the way; not indeed a very heavy one, but, considering the distance, by no means trifling. This set me seriously to consider the question put by Dr. Rosen, “why are the Laplanders so swift-footed?” To which I answer, that it arises not from any one cause, but from the cooperation of many.

Animal food. 

It is observable that such of the creation as feed on vegetables, are of a more rigid, though strong, fibre; witness the Stag, the Bull, &c.; while, on the contrary, carnivorous animals, as the Dog, Cat, Wolf, Lion ,&c., are all more flexible. The fact and its cause are both evident. The Laplanders are altogether carnivorous. They have no vegetable food brought to their tables. They now and then indeed eat a raw stalk of Angelica, as we would eat an apple, and occasionally a few leaves of Sorrel; but this, compared with the bulk of their food, is scarcely more than as one to a million. In spring they eat fish, in winter nothing but meat, in summer milk and its various preparations. It may further be remarked, that salted food, which these people do not use, renders the body heavy.

The Laplander is satisfied with a small quantity of food at once. He does not eat his fill at one meal, but takes food from time to time, as he feels inclined.

On the contrary, the peasants of Finland cram themselves with as many turnips, and those of Scania with as much flummery, as their stomachs can possibly receive. The inhabitants of Dalecarlia eat till the body is as tight as a drum. Such people are much better qualified to labour in the cultivation of the ground, than to run over the alps. The Laplanders are always of a thin slender make. I never saw one of them with a large belly. Milk diet also contributes to render them active.

Carl Linnaeus, Lachesis lapponica, or, A tour in Lapland, Vol I., pg. 325-332 (1811, written in 1732)

I never met with any people who lead[Pg 27] such easy happy lives as the Laplanders. In summer they make two meals of milk in the course of the day, and when they have gone through their allotted task of milking their reindeer, or making cheese, they resign themselves to indolent tranquillity, not knowing what to do next. In winter their food is cheese, taken once or twice a day, but in the evening they eat meat. A single reindeer supplies four persons with food for a week.

Carl Linnaeus, Lachesis lapponica, or, A tour in Lapland, Vol II., pg. 26-27 (1811, written in 1732)

Importance of Plants

They have no vegetable food brought to their tables.

Transition to Industrialized Food Products

KOLA SÁMI – REINDEER KHOLODETS by Alexander Krasavin, Olga Fefelova & Andrei Dubovtsev

Compared to the cuisines of other peoples of the circumpolar North, Kola Sámi were subject to intense modifications due to the influences of long-lasting cultural and economic contacts with surrounding peoples – Russians, Norwegians, Finns, Komi and others. Kola Sámi have purchased and traded with Russians for rye flour for well over a century usually baking lenten rye flatbreads with it. In the 1920s Kola Sámi began eating vegetables, especially potatoes and onions. Until recently Sámi did not pick mushrooms, which are very abundant in Lapland. Nevertheless, berries – crowberry, cowberry, bilberry and cloudberry – are picked with enthusiasm and eaten dried or soaked, and also used as seasoning (in soup and other dishes).

Cancer becomes more common among Labrador Eskimos who ate the same Europeanized diets.

“In 1941 another Eskimo, Amos Martin, dled of cancel of the throat. Other cases between 1943 and 1945 in Nain were Boaz Obed, cancer of the stomach, and his wife Rosina, cancer of the womb. Then came Judith White, cancer of the breast (here was successful amputation). Then came two half-breed brothers, John and Amos Voisey, both of whom died of cancer of the throat and mouth. This was followed by John Samiat, Eskimo, cancer of the throat; then Karoline Kojak in 1955, cancer of the womb and breast. All these cases, with the exception of Nochasak, were at Nain and there were undoubtedly cases on other stations; all died with the exception of Mrs. Kojak who returned from hospital last summer and is still living.”

This paragraph was read in manuscript by Dr. Philip R. White, specialist in vegetable cancers but a general student of malignancy problems. He suggests that the paired junctions are remarkable and should not pass without remark — two men who die of stomach cancer whose respective wives die of womb cancer; and both of a pair of brothers who died of throat cancer. Numerous commentary possibilities rise to mind. However, with the foregoing analysis of the views expressed by northern medical missionaries in mind, it is fairly obvious what their suggestions would be. Believing that cancer is environmental in causation and chiefly nutritional, they would point out that husband and wife almost necessarily live in the same houses and eat the same foods prepared the same way. Like similarity would hold for brothers. So, why should not a nutritional disease be likely to strike these paired individuals within a few years of each other?

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