An Icelandic Delicacy: Sviðasulta

Sviðasulta or Jellied Singed Sheep Head is not much to look at, but, boy, is it good. When it comes to unique culinary experiences, Iceland surely doesn’t disappoint. Icelandic cuisine is rich in flavor and history, from fermented shark to dried fish. Among these dishes, one stands out for its appearance and deep historical roots: the singed sheep’s head, or as the locals call it, Svið.

Origins of Svið

Svið dates back to times when every part of the animal was used out of necessity. Iceland, known for its cold, harsh winters, often faced periods of food scarcity. Even the sheep’s head became a culinary staple to ensure that nothing went to waste.

How is Svið Prepared?

Þorrablót and þorramatur – the Icelandic food feast!
The blanz, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  1. Singeing: It all starts with a flame. The head is singed to clean it and remove any fur.
  2. Boiling: Post singeing, the brain is extracted, and the head is boiled to perfection. Sometimes, it’s split in half before boiling to hasten the cooking process.
  3. Serving: Typically, Svið is plated alongside mashed turnips and potatoes, offering a hearty meal that warms the soul.

However, there’s another equally delightful variant – Sviðasulta. Made by pressing boiled bits of the sheep’s head into a gelatinous loaf, it’s then sliced and served cold, often with flatbread or rye bread.

Modern-Day Consumption

While many modern Icelanders might not indulge in Svið daily, its spirit comes alive during Þorrablót, a traditional winter feast. Traditional foods like Svið take center stage during this festival, celebrating Iceland’s rich history and culture.

For travelers, tasting Svið becomes more than just a meal; it’s a rite of passage. The taste? Milder than you’d expect. The texture, especially of the eye and tongue, can be intriguing, challenging even the most adventurous palate.

If you wander the streets of Reykjavik or any other Icelandic town, you can savor this delicacy in traditional restaurants. Or, if you’re on a budget, head to the local supermarket. You might not find it every day of the year. Still, if you’re in Iceland in January and February, you will definitely find it in stores.

The Heart of Icelandic Cuisine

More than just food, Svið is a testament to the resilience and resourcefulness of the Icelandic people. It’s a dish telling stories of the nation’s past, challenges, and ingenuity born from adversity.

Fancy Making Sviðasulta at Home?

Below is a traditional recipe for Sviðasulta. Dive into the world of Icelandic cuisine and give this unique dish a try!


  • 4-5 half a singed sheep’s head (the quantity depends on how much jelly you want to make)
  • Enough cold water to cover the heads
  • 2-3 tablespoons of salt
  • Lamb soup stock (optional)


  1. Rinse the singed sheep’s heads well and clean them.
  2. Boil them in well-salted water for approximately 1 1/5 – 2 hours until the meat comes off the bone easily.
  3. Transfer the heads to a plate and let the broth drain well.
  4. Reserve part of the broth and put it in a bowl or other container. Add lamb soup stock if desired to enhance the flavor.
  5. When the heads are mostly cooled, remove the meat from the bone and cut it into large chunks.
  6. Place the meat in a mould which holds about 1.5L.
  7. Pour the broth over the meat so that it floats well between the pieces and that it is filled to the brim. Ensure you have enough broth; otherwise, the jelly will be loose.
  8. Let the mixture cool, close the mould tightly, and chill it in the refrigerator.
  9. The jelly will keep well in the refrigerator for approximately a week.

Et voila! You can eat it on its own, with Icelandic rye bread or flatbread – if you are really adventurous, you can cure it in whey before eating.

Enjoy this unique dish with your family and friends, and impress them with your culinary skills!

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