Lýsi and the Icelanders – An Everlasting Love

Article published February 07. 2022

Lysi mixer

All around the world, scientists, as well as the public, are discovering the numerous health benefits of cod liver oil. To Icelanders, it’s not news, Lýsi has followed the nation for centuries – Icelanders of the past even named it the “gold of the ocean”. But Lýsi was not only used for its health benefits – the entrepreneurs of the past found myriad different ways to use the sought-after commodity. This superfood is at the core of being Icelandic.

Let there be Lýsi

The word Lýsi means ‘light’, since it was used as fuel for lamps since the country was settled. Lýsi began spreading around the continent of Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries, as cities farther south grew larger. Lýsi was used to light up the city streets of Copenhagen, while German merchants came to Iceland specifically to trade for Lýsi. This alternative source of light spread around the continent and lit up the night for countless Europeans. Lýsi is literally “bottled light”.

Source of life

Lýsi was harvested from all types of animals – whales, dogfish, sharks, fish, seals, skates, and even birds. The first settlers of old believed it had great healing and fortifying purposes. Lýsi came to especially good use during the long and dark winter months as it was a vital source of food in the scarce and difficult living in the North Atlantic. A healthy swig of Lýsi was said to keep the hunger away for half a day.

Lýsi tames the sea

Lýsi is believed to have saved many sailors since it was used to steady the waves, incredible as it sounds. Sailors kept a bag of Lýsi in their boats and during heavy storms, they’d pour some into the sea around the boat. It may sound like superstition, but it has a scientific explanation. The cod liver oil would increase the elasticity of the water, calming the waves, and ensuring a smoother ride home, no doubt saving many lives in the process.

Ain’t no sunshine

The bone deformation disease known as rickets was extremely rare in Iceland, even though it was widespread elsewhere in Northern Europe. The disease is caused by vitamin D deficiency; bones do not develop normally without vitamin D leading to soft bones and a deformed skeleton. The vitamin D provided by cod liver oil prevented the children from getting rickets even in sun-deprived Iceland. Research also shows that consuming Lýsi reduces seasonal affectional disorder, an unfortunate side effect of the lack of sunlight. Icelanders have thus used the power of Lýsi to combat the darkness for centuries.

Lýsi – Better than ever

Lýsi still plays an integral part in Icelandic society. People of all ages take their daily dose of Lýsi, to a tune of 300 milliliters per person in a year. Lýsi has come a long way from its beginnings – foul, dark, and groggy cod liver oil is a thing of the past as Lýsi employs highly refined scientific methods to ensure a clean product with an agreeable taste. Science has backed up old-school know-how as research in recent decades has confirmed what Icelanders have known for centuries – Lýsi is a lifesaver.