Veggie lovers challenge Swiss eating habits

The Swiss are known for being hardcore meat eaters but traditions are slowly changing thanks to increased health consciousness and the growing influence of expats.

Veggie lovers challenge Swiss eating habits
Photo: Tibits

A recent study conducted in the German-speaking part of Switzerland found that 18 percent of those questioned identified themselves as “flexitarians” – or occasional meat eaters.

Three percent were vegetarian or fish eaters and one percent avoided all animal products, according to the survey done for 20 Minuten newspaper. The remaining two-thirds were regular meat-eaters.

Swissveg, the information centre for a plant-based diet, also estimates that around three percent of Switzerland’s population is vegetarian. It says that while this figure has stayed roughly the same for 14 years, there is a growing awareness of the health benefits of a non-meat diet, leading many people – young adults and women in particular – to reduce meat consumption.

“As with all change in Switzerland this is no revolution, but rather a gradual evolution,” Swissveg spokesman Renato Pichler is convinced. “However, long-term it is unstoppable.”

International flavour

Mirjam Hauser, a trends and consumer behaviour analyst at market research company GIM Suisse, sees the veggie trend as part of a broader move towards a more varied diet, with an increasingly international flavour.

“Immigration from the European Union is driving demand for a wider range of foodstuffs and menus, including ethnic cuisine, which frequently goes down well with the Swiss too,” Hauser tells The Local.

“When there is an influx of more well educated people to Switzerland they tend to be more food aware and eat more healthily, raising demand for meat-free dishes,” she says.

Zurich-based Spanish expat and vegan author Ana Ortega believes immigrants enrich Swiss society with their culinary traditions. “Cheese fondue, rösti and raclette are great Swiss dishes but not to eat every day. Why not bring in a bit more creativity? Why not add some colour and spices? Why not replace the old potato with the sweet potato, and the meat with some beans? And if it happens to be good for you, even better!”

Colour, spices, sweet potatoes and more are all available to diners in the Tibits vegetarian restaurant chain, with its many Asian-inspired dishes. And for those preparing their own meat- or dairy-free meals the range of ingredients available in Swiss shops has been steadily increasing.

Photo: Tibits

Eva’s Apples, the first vegan shop in Zurich, this month opened an offshoot in Bern. Products can also be ordered online. But Ortega says you don’t have to go to these lengths.

“I wrote Vegan recipes for Newbies with the intention of showing society how easy it is to eat vegan,” Ortega tells The Local. “The ingredients you need for a vegan-based diet are already within everyone’s reach at Migros, Coop and your local store and farm. You find chia seeds and even almond butter – something I am really crazy about now – in your local supermarket. It really is that simple!”

Swiss supermarkets say they are attempting to satisfy customers’ appetite for vegetarian and vegan products, bringing out new lines and adapting vegetarian recipes to make them suitable for vegans.

“We want to offer our one million customers a day, including vegans, the products they are looking for,” Coop spokesman Ramon Gander tells The Local. “Although vegan food is a niche market, it is a trend that is likely to keep growing.”

Vegan meatballs

Coop says it stocks over 200 own-brand products with the official vegetarian stamp, almost half of them vegan. Sales are increasing, with some vegan products recording double-digit growth in the past year, according to Gander.

It is not just supermarkets that are adapting to the changing eating habits. Swedish furniture retailer Ikea recently introduced a vegan version of its hugely popular Köttbullar meatball in its Swiss restaurants.

Despite the vegetarian trend, the Swiss meat industry association Proviande says meat consumption is stable, at around 52 kilos per head per year.

It is eager to counter the negative press the meat industry often gets by stressing the quality of Swiss production.

But the fact that its “Swiss meat – everything else is trimmings” advertising campaign is subsidized to the tune of 50 percent by the government, ruffles feathers at Swissveg.

The vegetarian information centre says subsidies to the meat industry cannot be justified given the ecological cost of meat production. But without the subsidies Swiss meat would become more expensive and production would no longer be economically viable.

Trends and consumer behaviour analyst Mirjam Hauser can foresee a drop in meat consumption, as more people adopt a flexitarian diet, but thinks this is not necessarily bad news for the Swiss meat industry.

“If in future people eat less meat, they will appreciate it more and demand better quality products,” she tells The Local.  

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You are not Swiss until you try these seven weird foods

Switzerland is not exactly known for innovative cuisine but for hearty and, some say, uninspiring food. But can some of the country’s dishes be qualified as ‘weird’?

You are not Swiss until you try these seven weird foods

Unlike its neighbours France and Italy, Switzerland’s culinary tradition is relatively plain.

After all, how many foreigners would actually say “I am going to Switzerland for the food”?

Still, don’t rule out some surprises on the culinary front. Whether you consider these dishes as ‘weird’ or just very unappetising depends mostly on how adventurous you are and how solid your stomach is.

So let’s begin.

The Berner Zungenwurst (Bernese tongue sausage)

Some of the wackiest foods have a regional flavour — literally and figuratively.

One of them is a traditional “tongue sausage” from Bern.

A cookbook from 1835 states that two or three pig tongues should be used as ingredients, along with meat and blood from pork and beef. What’s not to like?

These days, however, the tongue has been phased out, but the name remains. Contemporary cookbooks call for Zungenwurst to be made from pork and beef meat, along with crackling and spices. 

In 2019, Zugenwurst achieves EU protected status, which prevents imitators from reproducing the sausage, unless they do so under a different name.

If you can get over its appearance, you might actually enjoy it.

Photo: Photo: Tamorlan, CC BY-SA 2.5/.

READ MORE: Three things to know about Switzerland’s protected ‘blood tongue sausage’

Saucisse de choux

West of Bern, in Vaud, another sausage reigns: the so-called “cabbage sausage”.

No tongue or blood here; this traditional smoked sausage is made from white cabbage, pork and bacon, and eaten boiled with potatoes and leeks — another typical Vaud dish called “papet”.

According to legend, the origin of this sausage dates back to the year 879, when the family of the Emperor of Germany stayed in the Vaud town of Orbe for several weeks.

As the meat ran out, locals mixed cabbage with the sausage meat to fill the stuffing. The smoking stage appeared in the Middle Ages, when it was realised that by smoking the meat, it could be kept longer.


Unless you grew up eating Marmite in the UK or Vegemite in Australia, it may take you a whIle to develop your taste buds to accept, and actually like, Cenovis —  the dark brown paste made from yeast extract.

This very salty paste is spread on a slice of buttered bread.

READ MORE: Six common myths about Swiss food you need to stop believing

How did this idea originate in the first place?

According to the company website, “it was in the mind of a visionary brewer from the Rheinfelden region in the canton of Basel-Country that the idea of using the precious yeasts from the production of beer germinated”.

Spiny thistle

If you think this plant is unfit for human consumption, Genevans will disagree with you.

That’s because cardon épineux genevois is not only a local specialty, but it is also  the first vegetable to be included in the official Swiss registry of origin.

It can be eaten, for example, as a gratin — grilled with (Swiss) cheese on top — to accompany meat or fish.

First consumed around Europe in the 16th century where it was widely cultivated, these days canton of Geneva is the only place that still produces thorned thistle.

Genevans make a dish out of this plant. Photo by Pixabay

READ MORE: Ten varieties of cheese you should be able to identify if you live in Switzerland


That Switzerland has its own beverage is not in itself unusual (and certainly not weird) — after all, it does have plenty of cheese and chocolate of its own.

What is slightly odd, however, is that this carbonated drink is made from milk whey.

Perhaps it is because Swiss cows produce too much milk and this surplus had to be used somehow — we don’t know. What we do know is that in 1950 two men, Roberth Barth and the biologist Hans Süsli, got together in Zurich and used a recipe initially conceived to produce a whey beer to create a soft drink that tastes a bit like a mixture of ginger ale and bubble tea.

As is the case with Cenovis, you probably have to train your taste buds (or trick them) to like it.

Chestnut paste tarts

To the untrained eye, these little tarts, called vemicelles, look like worms piled on top.

In fact, in Latin “vermiculi” actually means “worms”. But if you can get past the appearance and the name, these pastries are actually quite delicious.

And making them from scratch (rather than buying them ready made) is almost an art form: traditional recipe calls for about half a kilo of chestnuts.

An incision has to be made in each chestnut before boiling. Then, chestnuts should be shelled, simmered with milk and sugar before being pressed through a special machine to create the long “worms” of chestnut paste.

Photo by Robert Patti on Unsplash

Last but not least…cholera!

OK, what is actually weird about this dish is not its content  but the truly off-putting name.

There is a reason for that: this dish was invented during the cholera outbreak in the 1830s when people were scared to leave their homes and made a pie with whatever leftovers they had on hand: potatoes, onion, apples, bacon, leek and cheese.

As far as we know, this is the only food still in existence that was created out of necessity during a health crisis. To this day, there is no dish called Covid (although all of you budding chefs out there may see that as a challenge).