How did cod become
a hit in Portugal?
The Portuguese traditionally eat a meal with cod on Christmas Eve.
But how did a nation with an extensive coastline, with a great
variety of fresh fish, get to love a fish imported from the North Atlantic?
How did cod become a hit in Portugal?
The Portuguese traditionally eat a meal with cod on Christmas Eve. But how did a nation with an extensive coastline, with a great variety of fresh fish, get to love a fish imported from the North Atlantic?
The Age of Discovery, when Portugal led the exploration of the world, is central to an understanding of the country's history. It will therefore not be a surprise to learn that Portugal’s love of salted cod, is linked to this as well.
Cod is not a fish native to Portugal. Most of it comes from the North Atlantic. It is believed to have first been caught by Vikings. By the 16th century, vast fleets from Spain and Portugal were fishing for them. These fleets caught fish off Newfoundland, on the east coast of Canada. Today most of the cod comes from Norway or Iceland.
To discover the new worlds, Portuguese sailors needed a ready supply of food. Often they would sail for weeks, with no source of fresh food. So preserved food was needed. Being a sailor involved highly intensive manual labour. Archaeologists researching the wreck of the Mary Rose in Portsmouth found five of the skeletons recovered were young men with “strong, robust and well-muscled skeletons”. Researchers have estimated that the average sailor needed some 4000 calories per day.
Freezers did not exist in those days and voyages could take the ships through hot climates. A means was required to preserve food and salt had long been used as a preservative. Salt dries and draws water out to dehydrate the food. All living things require water and cannot grow without it; this includes bacteria which cause food to go off. Salted food preserves for long periods, depending on the oil content in the food to start with, which prevents it completely drying out. Although meat can be salted, it can go rancid, whereas cod is very low in oil, making it ideal for salt preservation.