Kumis is a dairy product much like kefir , but is made out of a liquid starter culture , in contrast to the solid kefir “grains”. Because mare’s milk contains more sugars compared to cow ‘s or goat ‘s milk fermented into kefir, kumis contains a higher, though still mild, alcohol content.
Kumis is a fermented dairy product traditionally made out of mare’s milk. The drink remains important to the people from the Central Asian steppes, for example the Turks, Bashkirs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Mongols, Yakuts and Uzbeks. It had been also consumed by Hungarian tribes.
Even other places around the globe where kumis is popular today, mare’s milk remains an extremely restricted commodity. Industrial-scale manufacture of kumis therefore generally uses cow’s milk, that is richer in fat and protein but lower in lactose compared to milk products coming from a horse. Before fermentation, the cow’s milk is fortified in one of many ways. Sucrose could be added, to permit an equivalent fermentation. Another technique adds modified whey in order to better approximate the composition of mare’s milk.
Kumis can also be transliterated kumiss, koumiss, kymys, kymyz, kumisz, kymyz, or qymyzThe Russian word originates from the Turkic word qimiz. The term kumis is believed to be a consequence of the name of the Kumyks, among the many Turkic peoples.
In Mongolian, the beverage is known as airag or, in some areas, chigee.
Creation of mare’s milk
A 1982 source reported that 230,000 horses were kept in the USSR particularly for producing milk to produce into kumis.
Rinchingiin Indra, when writing about Mongolian dairying, says “it needs considerable skill to milk a mare” and describes the process: the milker kneels on a single knee, by using a pail propped on the other side, steadied using a string tied to an arm. One arm is wrapped behind the mare’s rear leg along with the other in-front. A foal starts the milk flow and it is pulled away by some other person, but left touching the mare’s side through the entire process.
In Mongolia, the milking season for horses traditionally runs between mid-June and early October. During one season, a mare produces approximately 1,000 to 1,200 kilograms of milk, of which about 50 % remains to the foals.
Nutritional properties of mare’s milk
87.9% of Inner Mongolians are lactose intolerant. During fermentation, the lactose in mare’s milk is transformed into lactic acid, ethanol, and carbon dioxide, along with the milk becomes an accessible method to obtain nutrition for those who are lactose intolerant.
Before fermentation, mare’s milk has almost 40% more lactose than cow’s milk Reported by one modern source, “unfermented mare’s milk is often not to be drunk”, because it’s a powerful laxative. Varro’s On Agriculture, from the 1st century BC, also mentions this: “as a healthy laxative the best is mare’s milk, then donkey’s milk, cow’s milk, last but not least goat’s milk…”; drinking six ounces (190 ml) per day could be adequate to provide a lactose-intolerant person severe intestinal symptoms.
Production of kumis
Kumis is manufactured by fermenting mare’s milk during the period of hours or days, often while stirring or churning. (The physical agitation has similarities to creating butter). Through the fermentation, Lactobacilli bacteria acidify the milk, and yeasts transform it into a carbonated and mildly alcoholic drink.
Traditionally, this fermentation was held within a horse-hide container, which can be left on the top of the yurt and turned over occasionally, or strapped on the saddle and joggled around during the period of a day. Today, a wooden vat or plastic barrel can also be used instead of the leather container.
In modern controlled production, the first fermentation takes two to 5 hours at a temperature of about 27°C (80°F); this may be followed by a cooler aging period. The finished product contains between .7 and 2.5% alcohol.
Kumis itself contains a small amount of alcohol, similar to small beer, the common drink of medieval Europe with which they avoided the consumption of potentially contaminated water. Kumis can, however, be strengthened through freeze distillation, a method Central Asian nomads are reported to obtain employed. It can also be distilled into the spirit known as araka or arkhi.
History – then and now
Kumis is definitely an ancient beverage. Herodotus, in his 5th century BC Histories, describes the Scythians’ processing of mare’s milk: The milk thus obtained flows into deep wooden casks, about in which the blind slaves are put, therefore the milk is stirred round. Truley what rises to the top is drawn off, and considered the best part; the under portion is of less account.
It is widely considered that this may be a description of ancient kumis making, and it also matches up good enough with later accounts, such as this one given by 13th-century traveller William of Rubruck:” and when they have beaten it sharply it begins to boil up like new wine and to sour or ferment, and they continue to churn it until they have extracted the butter. Then they taste it, and when it is mildly pungent, they drink it. It is pungent on the tongue like rapé wine when drunk, and when a man has finished drinking, it leaves a taste of milk of almonds on the tongue, and it makes the inner man most joyful and also intoxicates weak heads, and greatly provokes urine.”
Toward the end of the 19th century, kumis had a strong enough reputation as a cure-all to support a small industry of “kumis cure” resorts, mostly in southeastern Russia, where patients were “furnished with suitable light and varied amusement” during their treatment, which consisted of drinking large quantities of kumis. W. Gilman Thompson’s 1906 Practical Diatetics reports that kumis have been mentioned as very theraputic for a variety of chronic diseases, including tuberculosis, bronchitis, catarrh, and anemia. Gilman also says that a large portion of the credit for the successes of the “kumis cure” is due not to the beverage, but to favorable summer climates at the resorts. Among notables to try the kumis cure were writers Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov. Chekhov, long-suffering from tuberculosis, checked into a kumis cure resort in 1901. Drinking four bottles a day for two weeks, he gained 12 pounds but no cure.
Strictly speaking, kumis is in its own category of alcoholic drinks because it’s made neither from fruit nor from grain. Technically, it is closer to wine than to beer because the fermentation occurs directly from sugars, as in wine (usually from fruit), in contrast to from starches (usually from grain) which had been first worted to be transformed into sugars, as in beer. But regarding experience and traditional method of consumption it is much more comparable to beer. It is even milder in alcoholic content than beer and is usually consumed cold. It is arguably the region’s beer equivalent.
Kumis is rather light in body in comparison to most dairy drinks. It has a unique, slightly sour flavor with a bite from the mild alcoholic content. The precise flavor is greatly variable between different producers.
As indicated above, kumis will likely be served cold or chilled. Traditionally it’s sipped out of small, handle-less, bowl-shaped cups or saucers, called piyala. The serving of it’s an essential element of Kyrgyz hospitality on the yaylak or high pasture, where they keep their herds of animals (horse, cattle, and sheep) throughout the summer phase of transhumance.
One custom that could be disturbing to the visitor’s notions of hygiene is that of pouring the dregs of each and every cup back into the kumis storage container. This way, none is wasted, and the hostess assures herself that there’ll be enough for future visitors.
The capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, is named after the paddle used to churn the fermenting milk, showing the significance of the drink in the national culture.
In A Confession, Leo Tolstoy, a famous Russian writer, spoke of running away from his troubled life by drinking kumis.
In 2005, George W. Bush visited Mongolia, becoming the first U.S. president to do so, “and probably the first to drink fermented mare’s milk in a felt tent guarded by the latter-day Golden Horde and a herd of camels and yaks”, according to the Washington Post. The same article casts doubt on whether Bush actually drank: “No word on whether Bush actually swallowed or not, but some of his aides evidently did, judging by the looks on their faces afterward.”