Exploring Past and Present Diets of the Netherlands

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The history of food in the Netherlands is a fascinating journey through time, revealing the influences of culture, geography, and trade on the country’s culinary traditions. From its humble beginnings as a river delta, the Netherlands has evolved into a land of diverse and delicious cuisine.

The traditional Dutch diet has its roots in the Burgundian-Habsburg court and the colonial spice trade, which brought an array of exotic flavours to the region. Over time, the Dutch people developed a knack for efficient food production, making them one of the largest exporters of agricultural products in the world.

Today, the Dutch diet is characterized by its high consumption of dairy products and carbohydrates. From the iconic Gouda and Edam cheeses to herring and bitterballen, traditional Dutch foods showcase the rich flavours and ingredients that have been part of the country’s gastronomic heritage for centuries.

However, Dutch cuisine is not stagnant. It continues to evolve and adapt to modern tastes and trends. With a focus on sustainability and local sourcing, contemporary Dutch chefs are creating innovative dishes that combine traditional elements with international influences.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Netherlands has a rich culinary history shaped by its geography and historical influences.
  • Traditional Dutch foods, such as cheese and herring, are iconic and reflect the country’s heritage.
  • Modern Dutch cuisine focuses on sustainability and innovation.
  • The Dutch diet emphasizes balanced eating and active lifestyles.
  • Exploring the past and present diets of the Netherlands offers a fascinating glimpse into the country’s culture and traditions.

The Evolution of Dutch Cuisine

The cuisine of the Netherlands has undergone a remarkable transformation throughout history, reflecting the changing landscape of Dutch food and the influence of various factors. From its medieval roots to its modern-day incarnation, Dutch cuisine has evolved, adapting to new tastes and incorporating international influences.

In the medieval period, Dutch cuisine was primarily influenced by European food culture. Local ingredients such as milk, butter, and vegetables formed the basis of traditional Dutch dishes. However, with the emergence of the Golden Age, Dutch cuisine expanded its horizons. The import of spices and the establishment of coffee houses brought new flavours and culinary experiences to the Dutch people.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the introduction of the potato as a staple food had a profound impact on Dutch food habits. This humble vegetable became a key ingredient in many Dutch dishes, revolutionizing the way the Dutch ate. Industrialization further shaped Dutch cuisine, leading to an increased focus on efficiency and making the Netherlands a prominent exporter of agricultural products.

The Transformation of Dutch Food

Today, Dutch cuisine continues to evolve, reflecting global influences and a focus on taste. The Netherlands has become a melting pot of flavours, with a vibrant food scene that embraces both traditional and innovative dishes. Dutch chefs are known for their creativity and their ability to fuse traditional elements with international flavours, creating a unique culinary experience.

The changing Dutch diet is a testament to the country’s adaptability and openness to new culinary influences. From the medieval period to the present day, Dutch cuisine has transformed, offering a diverse and exciting array of flavours and tastes that showcase the rich history and cultural heritage of the Netherlands.

Medieval PeriodEuropean food culture influences, locally available ingredients
Golden AgeImport of spices, the emergence of coffee houses
18th and 19th CenturiesIntroduction of the potato, the rise of industrialization
Modern EraGlobal influences focus on taste and innovation

Traditional Dutch Foods

The cuisine of the Netherlands is rich in traditional foods that have been enjoyed for centuries. These classic Dutch dishes showcase the unique flavours and ingredients that are characteristic of Dutch cuisine.


One iconic Dutch food is herring. This popular fish is typically served raw, cured in salt, and eaten as a snack. It is often enjoyed with onions and pickles, adding a tangy and refreshing flavour to the fish.


Bitterballen are deep-fried meatballs that are crispy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. Filled with a mixture of beef or veal ragout, these bite-sized treats are a favourite among locals and visitors alike.


Stroopwafels are caramel-filled waffles that are a beloved sweet treat in the Netherlands. Made from thin layers of dough, these waffles are sandwiched together with a gooey caramel syrup, creating a delightful combination of textures and flavours.

Dutch Cheese

No discussion of traditional Dutch foods would be complete without mentioning Dutch cheese. Gouda and Edam are two famous varieties that are enjoyed both locally and internationally. These cheeses are known for their smooth and creamy texture, as well as their distinct flavours.

Traditional Dutch Foods

These traditional Dutch foods are just a few examples of the culinary delights that can be found in the Netherlands. Whether you’re a fan of savory or sweet, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in the iconic Dutch cuisine.

Festive Foods in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, traditional celebrations are often accompanied by a variety of festive foods that add flavour and joy to the festivities. From Sinterklaas to Koningsdag, Dutch holiday foods play an important role in creating a festive atmosphere and bringing people together.


Sinterklaas, celebrated on December 5th, is one of the most beloved holidays in the Netherlands. During this festive occasion, people indulge in a range of delicious treats. Speculaas, spiced cookies often shaped like Sinterklaas and his helpers, are a popular choice. These flavorful cookies are made with a blend of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Another festive treat is pepernoten, small gingerbread-like cookies that are enjoyed by children and adults alike. These crunchy goodies are typically made with honey, cinnamon, and other spices.

“Sinterklaas is a special time of year when families come together to enjoy the joy and excitement of the holiday. The traditional foods associated with this celebration bring back nostalgic memories and create a sense of warmth and togetherness.” – Dutch local


Koningsdag, the King’s Day celebration on April 27th, is another festive occasion in the Netherlands. This national holiday is marked by vibrant street parties, parades, and a sea of orange, the colour associated with the Dutch royal family. It’s also a day when people enjoy a variety of orange-coloured foods and drinks. One popular treat is the orange tompouce, a delicious layered pastry filled with sweet custard. Another traditional beverage is orange bitter liqueur, a flavorful and aromatic drink that adds a touch of celebration to the festivities.

“Koningsdag is a time when the entire country comes alive with a sense of pride and joy. The orange-themed foods and drinks create a festive atmosphere and add to the excitement of the day.” – Dutch local

Whether it’s Sinterklaas or Koningsdag, festive foods play an integral role in the traditional celebrations of the Netherlands. These delicious treats and vibrant flavors bring people together, create a sense of nostalgia, and add a touch of magic to these special occasions.

Festive OccasionTraditional Food
SinterklaasSpeculaas, Pepernoten
KoningsdagOrange Tompouce, Orange Bitter Liqueur

Famous Dutch Chefs and Restaurants

The Netherlands is renowned for its culinary excellence, with a number of famous Dutch chefs making waves in the international gastronomy scene. These talented chefs have elevated Dutch cuisine to new heights and have earned prestigious Michelin stars for their exceptional restaurants.

Chef Jonnie Boer

One of the most prominent figures in Dutch gastronomy is Chef Jonnie Boer, owner of the acclaimed restaurant De Librije located in Zwolle. Boer’s innovative and artistic approach to cooking has earned him three Michelin stars, placing De Librije among the top restaurants in the world. With a focus on local and seasonal ingredients, Boer showcases the diverse flavours of the Netherlands in his dishes.

Chef Sergio Herman

Another celebrated Dutch chef is Sergio Herman, who has garnered international recognition for his culinary prowess. Herman is the mastermind behind several renowned restaurants, including The Jane in Antwerp, Belgium, and Pure C in Cadzand, the Netherlands. His innovative and boundary-pushing cooking style has earned him multiple Michelin stars, cementing his status as one of the leading chefs in the Netherlands.

Famous Dutch Chefs and Restaurants

Michelin-starred Restaurants in the Netherlands

In addition to the achievements of individual chefs, the Netherlands is home to a number of Michelin-starred restaurants. These establishments, recognized for their exceptional cuisine and outstanding service, offer gastronomic experiences that showcase the best of Dutch culinary traditions and innovations.

Some notable Michelin-starred restaurants in the Netherlands include:

  • De Librije in Zwolle, owned by Chef Jonnie Boer
  • The Jane in Antwerp, Belgium, owned by Chef Sergio Herman
  • Pure C in Cadzand, the Netherlands, also owned by Chef Sergio Herman

These restaurants, among others, exemplify the culinary excellence found in the Netherlands and attract food enthusiasts from around the world.

Traditional Dutch Beverages

In addition to its rich culinary heritage, the Netherlands is known for its diverse selection of traditional beverages. From unique spirits to famous beers, the Dutch have a variety of popular drinks that reflect their culture and taste preferences.

One well-known traditional Dutch beverage is jenever, a juniper-flavoured spirit that has historical significance in the country. Considered the precursor to gin, jenever has been enjoyed by the Dutch for centuries. It is often served straight or as the base for cocktails, adding a distinctive botanical flavour to drinks.

“Jenever is a true Dutch classic, loved for its smoothness and versatility. It adds a unique touch to cocktails and is a staple in many Dutch households.” – Bartender at De Walrus, a popular bar in Amsterdam

Another popular drink in the Netherlands is Dutch beer. The country has a long-standing brewing tradition and is home to numerous local breweries. Dutch beers are known for their craftsmanship and flavour profiles, ranging from light and refreshing to rich and full-bodied. Some popular Dutch beer styles include pilsner, witbier, and bock beer.

Popular Dutch Drinks:

  • Jenever – A traditional juniper-flavored spirit.
  • Dutch beer – Locally brewed beers with a range of styles.
  • Coffee – Dutch coffee culture is well-established, with coffeehouses playing a significant role in the historical spread of coffee.
Traditional Dutch Beverages

The traditional Dutch beverages offer a taste of Dutch culture and provide a refreshing complement to the country’s diverse cuisine. Whether it’s sipping on a glass of jenever or enjoying a locally brewed beer, these drinks add to the overall experience of exploring Dutch flavours and traditions.

Modern Trends in Dutch Cuisine

The culinary scene in the Netherlands is constantly evolving, with modern trends shaping the contemporary Dutch food landscape. Chefs and restaurants are pushing the boundaries of traditional cuisine, creating innovative dishes that incorporate both local and international flavours.

Locally Sourced Ingredients: One of the key trends in Dutch cuisine is a focus on sustainability and the use of locally sourced ingredients. Many restaurants now prioritize working directly with nearby farms and producers, ensuring the freshest and highest quality ingredients in their dishes.

Fusion of Flavors: Contemporary Dutch food often combines traditional Dutch elements with global culinary influences. Chefs are experimenting with new techniques and flavour combinations, resulting in exciting and unique dishes that showcase the best of both worlds.

“Innovation is at the heart of Dutch cuisine. We draw inspiration from our rich culinary heritage while staying open to new ideas and flavors. The result is a vibrant and diverse food scene that caters to a wide range of tastes and preferences,” says Chef Jan de Vries of Amsterdam’s acclaimed restaurant, Haute Cuisine.

Table: Examples of Innovative Dutch Dishes
Seaweed Salad with Dutch Cheese CrumbleA modern twist on a traditional salad, combining local seaweed and crumbled Dutch cheese for a unique flavor profile.
Indonesian-Dutch RijsttafelAn elaborate feast of small, flavorful dishes that highlight the fusion of Indonesian and Dutch cuisines.
Beetroot Carpaccio with Goat Cheese FoamA visually stunning dish featuring thinly sliced beetroot topped with light and airy goat cheese foam.
Hollandaise BitterballenA modern take on the classic Dutch deep-fried meatballs, filled with creamy hollandaise sauce.

The modern trends in Dutch cuisine reflect the country’s culinary innovation and adaptability. Dutch chefs continue to push boundaries and create dishes that satisfy both traditional and contemporary palates.

Health and Nutrition in Dutch Diets

The Dutch diet has undergone significant changes over time, with a growing focus on health and nutrition. The increased availability of fresh produce and a greater emphasis on balanced eating have shaped the dietary habits of the Netherlands. The government and health organizations actively promote the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. This shift towards a more balanced and nutritious diet is reflected in the lifestyle choices of the Dutch people, who are known for their active lifestyles and love for outdoor activities such as cycling.

In recent years, there has been a rise in the popularity of sustainable eating practices in the Netherlands. More and more individuals are opting for locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. The farm-to-table movement is gaining momentum, with many restaurants establishing direct relationships with nearby farms to ensure the freshness and quality of their ingredients. This not only supports local agriculture but also ensures that Dutch consumers have access to nutrient-rich foods.

“Balanced eating is a key aspect of the Dutch dietary habits,” says nutrition expert Dr. Maria van der Meer. “The focus is on incorporating a variety of food groups into daily meals, ensuring a good balance of macronutrients and micronutrients. This approach promotes overall health and well-being.”

The Dutch have also embraced the concept of “gezelligheid,” which roughly translates to cosiness and conviviality. This cultural aspect of Dutch dining encourages people to enjoy their meals in a relaxed and social setting, which can contribute to a more mindful and enjoyable eating experience. By taking the time to savour their food and eat in moderation, the Dutch prioritize their overall well-being and foster a healthier relationship with food.

Health and Nutrition in Dutch Diets

Benefits of Dutch Dietary Habits

The balanced eating habits of the Dutch have several benefits for their health. The emphasis on whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, provides essential nutrients and fibre, supporting digestive health and reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Additionally, the inclusion of lean proteins, such as fish and poultry, helps to maintain muscle mass and promotes satiety.

The Dutch approach to nutrition also encourages portion control and moderation, which can contribute to weight management. By focusing on quality rather than quantity, the Dutch prioritize nutrient-dense foods, which can lead to better overall nutrition. The combination of a balanced diet and an active lifestyle, including regular exercise and outdoor activities, further enhances the health and well-being of the Dutch population.


The past and present diets of the Netherlands reflect a rich culinary heritage shaped by historical, cultural, and economic factors. Over time, Dutch cuisine has evolved, incorporating global influences while retaining its traditional elements. The Netherlands boasts a variety of traditional foods, such as herring, stroopwafels, and Gouda cheese, which showcase the flavours and ingredients that have been part of Dutch cuisine for centuries.

Furthermore, the country’s festive foods add a touch of tradition and joy to special occasions. During holidays like Sinterklaas and Koningsdag, the Dutch indulge in speculaas, pepernoten, orange tompouce, and more, highlighting the importance of food in traditional celebrations.

Famous Dutch chefs and Michelin-starred restaurants contribute to the innovation and recognition of Dutch cuisine on the global stage. Additionally, traditional Dutch beverages like jenever and Dutch beer offer a taste of Dutch culture and craftsmanship. The Dutch diet is not static; it continues to evolve, with sustainability and innovation as modern trends. The emphasis on balanced eating and active lifestyles reflects a shift towards healthier habits.

In summary, the Netherlands’ past and present diets showcase a diverse culinary landscape that blends tradition with innovation. From traditional dishes to Michelin-starred restaurants, the country’s cuisine has something to offer every food lover. With a focus on sustainability and health, the Dutch are embracing a balanced approach to eating and maintaining active lifestyles. The future of Dutch cuisine looks bright as it continues to adapt to changing tastes and trends.


What factors have shaped Dutch cuisine over time?

Dutch cuisine has been shaped by its location in the North Sea river delta, the influence of the Burgundian-Habsburg court and colonial spice trade, and a focus on efficiency in food production.

What are some traditional Dutch foods?

Traditional Dutch foods include herring, bitterballen, stroopwafels, Dutch cheese (such as Gouda and Edam), stamppot, erwtensoep, and poffertjes.

What are some festive foods in the Netherlands?

Festive foods in the Netherlands include speculaas, pepernoten, chocolate letters, orange tompouce, and orange bitter liqueur.

Who are some famous Dutch chefs?

Famous Dutch chefs include Jonnie Boer and Sergio Herman.

What are some traditional Dutch beverages?

Traditional Dutch beverages include jenever, Dutch beer, and coffee.

What are some modern trends in Dutch cuisine?

Modern trends in Dutch cuisine include a focus on sustainability, the use of local and seasonal ingredients, and experimentation with new techniques and flavours.

How has the Dutch diet changed over time?

The Dutch diet has shifted towards healthier eating habits, with a greater emphasis on balanced and nutritious meals, as well as an active lifestyle.

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