This small seabird, sometimes known as ‘the clown of the sea’ because of its multicolored beak, has almost become a symbol of Iceland itself, and for good reason. The country has the largest puffin population in the world with colonies dotted all over Iceland, where you can visit and observe them in their natural habitats. Although very cute and photogenic, puffins are also frequently hunted and their consumption is a long-standing tradition in Icelandic cuisine.
While other native Icelandic wildlife is part of a long-standing tradition, such as minke whale, shark, and horse, smoked puffin is perhaps the most palatable. Some say it tastes like beef jerky. There are many ways to eat it, most involving a variety of sauces and gravies. The act of eating raw puffin heart is considered a delicacy and is supposedly the best part. However, it is no longer as common as it used to be and you will only find the older generation of Icelanders eating raw puffin heart nowadays. Iceland’s puffin colonies are the most numerous in the whole world with estimates of 10 to 15 million. While puffin-hunting is illegal in Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands are the only places where it is still permitted.
Adventurous food personalities, such as the BBC’s ‘Food and Drink’ chef Tom Kerridge, received backlash, especially from PETA, after talking about eating a puffin in Iceland. This came after a winter storm’s gale winds moved the feeding opportunities for many seabird colonies and led to the starvation of up to 25% of seabird populations in Europe. Although puffins are not endangered, they are protected by many countries, which means safeguarded by law. Another popular food personality, Gordon Ramsay, has also been criticised for eating puffin.