Loituma’s initial incarnation was in the autumn of 1989 as a septet called Jäykkä Leipä ("Stiff Bread"), born in the Sibelius Academy’s Folk music department. The original lineup included singers Sanna Kurki-Suonio and Tellu Paulasto, who later left for Sweden to join Hedningarna.
Over the years, the group has persistently followed its own musical path, incorporating diverse influences into its music. One of the cornerstones of Finnish folk music is the art of singing, through which the stories and feelings which comprise aspects of the Finnish heritage are conveyed, aided by backing musicians Martti Pokela and Toivo Alaspää. Another cornerstone of Loituma's art is a Finnish folk instrument called the kantele, which is featured in varied ways in their recordings.
Loituma members compose or arrange the tunes themselves, but often use improvisation. Lyrics come from many sources, including two main traditional sources: the Kalevala, the national epic of Finland; and the Kanteletar. The lyrics are in Finnish.
Loituma gained great popularity in 2006 when the Loituma Girl (also known as Leekspin), a looped Flash animation of an anime girl Orihime Inoue from the Bleach series twirling a leek, set to a scat singing section of Ievan Polkka from Loituma's 1995 debut album Things of Beauty, was posted in Russian LiveJournal. The animation instantly became an Internet phenomenon and the song clip soon enjoyed overwhelming popularity as a ringtone, with most of the young urban population aware of the "Yak zup zop" lyrics.