It is the holiday season and many Minnesotans will eat lutefisk. It is one on our most infamous foods – dried cod that has been reconstitute in a bath of water and food-grade lye. It doesn’t have much of a taste and looks like a serving of gelatinous goo. But for thousands of us, it is a celebration of the tradition and heritage.
Where do Minnesotans eat it? They eat lutefisk dinners in church basements, restaurants and VFW posts across the state. Many families cherish a tradition of serving it every Christmas, along with Swedish meatballs.
The tradition of lutefisk started in Norway several hundred years ago as a way to preserve all of the cod that was caught in the spring. Folklore says it was the food of the Vikings, but lutefisk experts don’t know for sure. In the 1800’s, Minnesota Scandinavian ancestors brought the food to the Upper Midwest.
The largest producer of lutefisk in the country is right here – the Olsen Fish Company in North Minneapolis. All of their dried fish comes from Norway. The company reconstitutes it back to its original form in the plant. This process takes two weeks and involves soaking it in water and food-grade lye, or sodium hydroxide. The chemicals are used to “fluff” the fish up and to help preserve it. In 2012, they sold 450,000 pounds.
Does everyone like it? Many Minnesotans have never tried the stuff because of the look or the smell. Andrew Zimmern, of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, said it is one of the worst foods in the world and he eats anything!
So maybe if you haven’t tried the Minnesota tradition of lutefisk yet, this will be the year to do it!