Drying is the oldest known method of preserving food. Dried fish was one of the Iceland‘s first export commodities and the history of dryfish production is as long as the history of Vestmannaeyjar itsself.
Fish has been dried in Iceland since the time of the first settlers and stockfish (dried, whole, headless cod fish) has been sold commercially in Europe for more than a thousand years. The export of stockfish on a larger scale began in the 13th century and by the 14th century was one of Iceland‘s main exports. In more recent times most of Iceland‘s stockfish has been exported to Italy and Nigeria. Today Nigeria is the largest market for dried fish products in the world.
Stockfish was produced the same way for many centuries. Fish was hung out to dry on specially constructed wooden frames (called “hjallar“ or “trönur“). Around the year 1980 companies began to use specialized, indoor drying-chambers to dry fish by-products, such as fish heads and bones. However, experiments to produce stockfish this way have been unsuccessful so far. Drying technology has advanced rapidly in recent years and the future promises new methods of drying foodstuffs. Freeze-drying, for example, is a particuarly interesting option.