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Reindeer are the magical creatures of the Arctic nature

Reindeer are the magical creatures of the Arctic nature

Heli Koskinen

When we Finns ask foreigners what they know about Finland, reindeer are one of the first replies we get. Many people know reindeer from the Christmas legend as the animal which pulls Santa Claus’s sleigh as he delivers gifts to children around the world. But unlike Santa Claus, reindeer are very real. Reindeer are half-wild animals which live in the extreme conditions of the Arctic nature. Reindeer herding is a traditional livelihood of the indigenous Arctic folks which keeps the Northern rural areas inhabited and brings income for the locals in the form of meat, handicrafts and tourism.

Reindeer are an important part of the culture of Lapland

Reindeer is a species of deer that lives in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions, such as the Finnish Lapland. The half-wild reindeer have been adapted to survive in the harsh conditions and the drastic seasonal changes of the Arctic nature, from the summer heats to the freezing cold winters. Thanks to the thick winter fur, reindeer can survive in as cold as -50 ℃. Reindeer survives in bare tundras throughout the year by eating various scrubby plants, lichen and mushrooms, which are highly nutritious food.

 Reindeer herd walking on a snowy road in Lapland

Reindeer own the roads in Lapland.

Reindeer are an essential part of the culture of the indigenous Arctic folks, the Sámi. Reindeer herding is a traditional livelihood which has been adapted to the extreme weather conditions of the North over a long period of time. Reindeer herding has enabled the development of unique cultural communities in the otherwise scarcely inhabited and wild areas of the North. Reindeer herding produces healthy and tasty meat for consumption and provides income and wellbeing for the families and communities in the reindeer herding districts.

Reindeer herding is also closely connected to the production of local handicrafts and the tourism of Northern Finland. The myth around reindeer fascinates visitors of Lapland, the home of 200 000 reindeer, who wish to see them in their rugged yet beautiful natural habitat. Though reindeer can’t fly, like in the Christmas legend, they do pull sledges. Sleigh rides are a traditional form of transportation of the Sámi. A sleigh ride on snowy fells is something visitors of Lapland are also eager to experience. What could be more magical than gliding in the glistening snow in a real sleigh pulled by reindeer, admiring the beautiful snow-covered trees and hills under Northern lights?

Reindeer and Reindeer sleigh on a snowy ground in front of a fence

Traveling Santa style! Visitors of Lapland can experience a real sleigh ride with reindeer.

Reindeer meat is sustainable and ethical

Reindeer herding is among the most ethical forms of livestock breeding in the world. Reindeer are treated with respect during their whole lives in Finland. Reindeer get to graze free in nature or in vast fenced areas. Reindeer live the majority of their lives free with other reindeer.

Reindeer mostly forage their own food, which is among the purest in the world. Reindeer may require human feeding only during the winter months, depending on the yearly weather conditions. Feeding is begun in most reindeer herding districts when digging lichen gets more difficult in the frozen ground and reindeer don’t get enough food from natural pasture areas. Reindeer are fed with hay, pellets and lichen.

When a reindeer is slaughtered, the whole carcass is utilized, which contributes to the sustainability of reindeer husbandry. Meat is the main product but the fur, horns and bones of reindeer are also utilized for clothes and utensils. Excess bones are also utilized to cook bone broth, a traditional and highly nutritious drink used to improve the immune system, joint problems and digestion.

Reindeer meat has superior nutritional values

Not only is reindeer meat delicious and tender, it is also healthy. Reindeer meat contains very little fat (2–4 %), out of which the majority is unsaturated fatty acids known to decrease the “bad” LDL cholesterol. The fatty acid composition of reindeer meat resembles that of fish, which is considered to have a healthy fatty acid profile. Reindeer meat also contains plenty of protein (20–24 g/100 g), minerals and vitamins A, B and E – more than traditional production animals. The meat contains a lot of iron and it is recommended for those with anemia. When considering the nutritional values, reindeer meat is among the best meats available.

How to enjoy reindeer meat and other reindeer delicacies

Reindeer meat is an inseparable part of the diet of the people of Lapland, used to cook everyday meals as well as festive dinners. The most traditional way to enjoy reindeer meat is to cook reindeer stew with mashed potatoes, lingonberries and pickled cucumbers. Reindeer meat is also excellent when enjoyed as steaks or fillets and paired with other pure flavors of the North, such as potatoes, herbs and berries. Reindeer soup is also a traditional dish in Lapland.

Reindeer stew with mashed potatoes, lingonberries and pickles.

A traditional Lappish evening meal, reindeer stew, or 'poronkäristys' (it's delicious!).

Reindeer meat can also be utilized in less traditional ways: it makes for an excellent pizza topping or a filling for pies. It can also be used in lasagna or to make hot dogs from pulled reindeer. Since reindeer meat is lean, it is well suited for freezing.

Another traditional way to utilize reindeer is cooking bone broth, a healthy and nutritious drink. Bone broth is cooked from reindeer bones by slowly simmering the bones in water seasoned with herbs and spices. Simmering can take up to 24 hours which ensures that as much valuable nutrients as possible, such as collagen, bone marrow and amino acids, are dissolved from the bone. Bone broth can be enjoyed as a warming drink or it can be used as a basis for soups, casseroles and risottos.

If the idea of cooking bones for 24 hours doesn’t really tickle your fancy, you can choose a ready-made bone broth. Biomed Reindeer bone broth powder is a ready-to-use powder made from freeze-dried Finnish reindeer bone and bone marrow extract, simmered slowly in clean Finnish spring water. The powder is easy and versatile to use: it can be mixed with hot water or added to other drinks and foods. The Biomed bone broth powder is also a sustainable product, as it utilizes precious ingredients that would otherwise go to waste.

You can also find other reindeer delicacies from our selection at Arctic Pure. Try for example canned reindeer meat, reindeer paté and reindeer meat spread from Riipisen, or reindeer jerky from Renjer. Or perhaps you would dare to try Taiga's reindeer chocolate – that is, dark chocolate seasoned with dried reindeer crisps? Get to know our selection of reindeer delicacies and try something different!

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