Lapland’s Sami reindeer people–simple life, superfood diet

Simple life, superfood diet of Lapland’s Sami people

lapland mapLapland is a cultural region that spans the arctic areas of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the northwest tip of mainland Russia.

Traditional Laplanders are called the Sami people.  Many of them still live the way their ancestors did, herding reindeer that forage across the wide arctic expanse for lichens in the winter and green plants in the summer.

The Sami lifestyle is simple and peaceful.  The diet is rich in an array of superfoods.

The Sami people rely on reindeer for their very existence.  They eat reindeer meat, use the milk for cheese, and the skins for clothing, blankets, and shelter.  They create tools and decorations from the bones and antlers.

sami people

The Sami also use reindeer as pack and harness animals.  Even the Lapland police use reindeer!  In arctic weather, reindeer are more reliable than motorized vehicles or other animals.

lapland police

All reindeer are considered domesticated in Lapland.  Reindeer hunting is illegal.

In this two minute video, a young Sami reindeer herder explains the connection he feels to his reindeer:

Lean reindeer meat as healthy as fish

With a fat content of only two per cent, reindeer meat is very lean. Beef typically has a fat content of nine percent, with lamb as high as 17 percent.

Reindeer meat also has more than twice as much vitamin B12 than veal or lamb. Vitamin B12 is essential to the human diet to prevent anemia and other health problems.

Reindeer meat’s healthy fatty acids resemble those in fish.  A three and a half ounce (100 grams) serving of reindeer meat contains the daily recommended dose of omega-3 and 6.

One reason that Lapland reindeer meat is so healthy could be the animal’s diet, which is comprised mainly of lichens in the winter and green plants in the summer.

Lichen improves the animal’s digestion, and is also rich in minerals. As a result, the meat contains high amounts of vitamin B12, selenium, zinc and iron.

Reindeer milk has an amazing 22% fat content, which is six times as much as dairy milk.

Laplanders make a firm cheese from reindeer milk called leipäjuusto, that softens when it is heated.

Traditionally, people used to let leipäjuusto get totally dried so that they could then store it for up to several years.

For eating, they used to heat the almost rock hard leipäjuusto cheese on a fire to soften it and to produce appetizing aroma.cheese bread

Today, the cheese is dried by keeping it in a well ventilated area for a few days.  But, unlike the original version, it has a mild flavor.

Outside Lapland, leipäjuusto is called “Finnish Squeaky Cheese.”

Introducing the rest of the world to Lapland’s reindeer –

The rest of Europe is discovering the health benefits of reindeer, as explained in this 2:30 minute video:

These next two videos show that the Sami are also learning how to make money from adventure tourism, while continuing their traditional way of life.

It’s not in English, but this following 5 minute video itself is fascinating.

Note how the wood burning in the fireplace is standing on end (at minute 1:10 and at 3:44).  If anyone can translate this, please let me know:

This four minute video has some great advice – “Never ask a reindeer man how many reindeer he has.  It’s the same as if he asked you how much money you have in the bank.”

Attracting tourists and other outsiders to Lapland is not without its hazards to the reindeer.  A collision with a vehicle is often fatal to reindeer, which are accustomed to living free range.

To make reindeer more visible to motorists, Finland’s Reindeer Herders Association is experimenting with spraying reindeer with glow-in-the-dark sprays.  A temporary spray is applied to their fur, and a permanent spray is applied to their antlers.glowing reindeer

For those who would like to try reindeer meat, you can buy a variety of Alaskan reindeer meats from American Pride Foods.  There are a also a growing number of other companies that offer Alaska reindeer and caribou meat.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game sees a great future for reindeer meat production, especially on the Seward Peninsula.  With increased production, availability and affordability of reindeer meat should increase as well.

seward peninsula

Raise reindeer yourself –

Want to try raising your own reindeer?

Just a few hours from south Thurston County, Schreiner Farms has reindeer, as well as a wide variety of other exotic animals.

Schreiner Farms reindeer
Schreiner Farms reindeer

Schreiner Farms is located near Dallesport, Washington, just across the Columbia River from The Dalles, Oregon.

Lapland’s superfood fruits and vegetables

The arctic potato

Almond potatoes are a special northern variety of potatoes grown in the Nordic countries. The Finnish variety, called Lapin Puikula, has been cultivated for centuries in Lapland, northern Finland. Almond potatoes are harvested late in the autumn.

The Lapin Puikula is a floury potato variety. Its tubers are small, long-oval, curved and pointed, with a beautiful yellow-coloured flesh. It has a delicious buttery taste. Lapin Puikula is much used in traditional Lapland cooking, for example served along with reindeer stew.

Outside Scandinavia, the Lapin Puikula may be available under the name “Yellow Finn”. If this potato is not available, you can instead use the “Yukon gold” potatoes or other similar varieties, although they are not quite the same thing.yellow finn

Yellow Finn seed potatoes are available from Peaceful Valley, Gurneys, and Henry Fields.

Territorial sells seed potatoes for Yukon Gold and a lovely variety called Rose Finn.

Other root crops

Besides their tasty and nourishing roots, the green tops of the following Nordic crops are loaded with vitamins and minerals.

Rutabaga, also called swede, is a cross between cabbage and turnip, was developed in the Nordic countries. Cultivated for centuries in Finland, it eventually replaced the turnip as the most important cultivated vegetable of the early 19th century.


One of the most popular classic Christmas dishes in Finland is the rutabaga casserole.

The turnip is probably the oldest cultivated vegetable in this region.  It was a very important source of nutrition before the introduction of potato to Europe.

Red, white, and gold beets, along with a variety of radishes, also add lots of nutrition to northern diets.beets

These root crops all grown well in south Thurston County, and are available from most seed suppliers.

Foraged berries and mushrooms

Cloudberry or Salmonberry

Lapland’s native berries are some of the most nutritious fruits on earth.

The Cloudberry or Salmonberry is high in Vitamins C and A, and also has come B vitamins and other good stuff.  The leaves can be made into a tea that’s used for treating urinary tract infections.

The Bilberry is a relative of our own blueberry, with many of the same health benefits.


The most widely known of Lapland’s nutritious berries is the Lingonberry.   More is being learned all the time about many health benefits of this small, tasty berry.  Besides being loaded with vitamins and minerals, lingonberries are a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.


Laplanders also forage for nutritious wild mushrooms.

Raintree Nursery sells lingonberry and salmonberry (cloudberry) plants.

There are many ways that we can incorporate the Sami people’s superfood diet and peaceful lifestyle into our own lives here in south Thurston County!sami 2

–Melissa Genson


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