Stirring Up Skyr: From Live Cultures to Cultural Heritage

Jón Þór Pétursson, Valdimar Tr Hafstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In recent years, the Icelandic dairy product skyr has been transformed from an everyday staple to a national food heritage. Skyr is high in protein and low in fat, and its nutritional value accounts for its international success. However, the domestic and international marketing of skyr glide effortlessly from medieval literature to modern healthy living in promoting skyr as a unique, wholesome, and authentic product: heritage food and Iceland’s “secret to healthy living.” In this article, we explore how skyr has been recontextualized as heritage through the cultural staging of skyr-making and through branding efforts. It was not until skyr had become a standardized export commodity that people began to fear that action was needed to protect the traditional way of skyr-making. Picking up on the trend of “heritagization,” pioneered by Slow Food (which added skyr to its “Ark of Taste”) and by small farmers catering to tourists, industrial skyr producers have come around to narrating the cultural history of skyr, employing heritage branding to carve out a unique place within the global dairy-scape. We untangle the messy relationships between the local and the global in such heritage efforts by examining how global trends and markets influence people at local levels, impacting the way they think about and act on their own cultural forms, and how the local level, in turn, impacts global flows under the sign of heritage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-74
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of American Folklore
Issue number535
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Ethnology

Free keywords

  • Afs ethnographic thesaurus: Cultural heritage
  • Dairy products
  • Emotions
  • Food consumption
  • Heritage tourism
  • Tradition


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