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What Is Kumis? Fermented Horse's or Mare's Milk From Russia

John is knowledgeable about Russians and their culture— including the traditional beverage, kumis. He also enjoys the Art of Yoga!

Here is a fresh bottle of kumis—fermented horse's milk—I just drank this before lunch!

Here is a fresh bottle of kumis—fermented horse's milk—I just drank this before lunch!

What Is Kumis?

Traditional kumis is fermented mare’s milk, which has a slightly sour taste with a small percentage of alcohol (caused by lactic acid fermentation). It is a traditional drink that can be purchased in Russia (as well as a mainstay of Central Asia—in particular, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan). Kumis is readily available to purchase from most supermarkets in Russia as well as street vendors such as Babushkas.

Tribes throughout Central Asia also brew this drink. It is usually considered a type of wine rather than a beer. It is not usually found in excess (most shops hold 10–15 bottles maximum) as mare’s or horse's milk is a relatively low-produced dairy source. Even in cultures where kumis is popular, mare’s milk is a very restricted commodity.

The drink itself is white in color with a foamy, sour taste. The foam or fizz comes from the actual fermentation process. The sourness results from the natural sugars in horse's milk (it has a higher sugar content than cow or goat milk) chemically changing into alcohol.

Kumis is stored at around 4–8 degrees Celsius and has a relatively short shelf life.

This was a nice, chilled bottle of kumis that tasted slightly sweet.

This was a nice, chilled bottle of kumis that tasted slightly sweet.

Health Benefits

Drinking kumis has many health benefits, and it has been used to treat a variety of conditions, including anemia and weight loss. Some of the benefits of this delicious Russian drink include:

  • Rich in trace elements
  • High in antibiotics produced by microorganisms during fermentation
  • Contains many vitamins such as A, B1, B2, B13, D, E, and C
  • Rich kumis also contains ethyl alcohol
  • High in lactic acid and carbonic acid
  • Significant nutritional value

The presence of ethyl alcohol, lactic, and carbonic acids helps activate the digestive system, improving the ability to absorb nutrients from food.

Kumis is thought to have a positive effect on many of the body's organs and systems, including:

  • The gastrointestinal tract
  • Metabolism
  • Cardiovascular and nervous systems
  • Kidneys
  • The immune system

Kumis is traditionally drunk 30 minutes before eating so the full healing effects can kick into the body before the consumption and processing of foods begin. Kumis, therefore, is a perfect aperitif to both Russian feasts as well as other world cooking.

Fermentation Process

Traditionally (before modern production methods were in place), kumis was made by fermentation of mare's or horse's milk within a sealed horsehide container. These horse hide containers would range in size from around 15 to 150 liters. This provides plenty of kumis for people and tribal members to drink. It is, of course, also popular with tourists at cultural events and travels.

Some tribes use a sealed goatskin to ferment their kumis. This is a traditional aspect of kumis fermentation and usually occurs outside of Russia. The fire is often made from juniper wood to give a certain flavor to the kumis brew. As it was a favored drink of nomadic tribes, the constant rocking of the container as it traveled by horse aided the fermentation process of this sour yet soothing Russian drink.

It is thought that this drink was produced and favored by Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan during their campaigns. This makes sense as the Hun, as superior horsemen, would have utilized all products of their favored animal.

Russia is the traditional area for producing kumis, which is made from mare's milk.

Russia is the traditional area for producing kumis, which is made from mare's milk.

Fermented Horse Milk as an Export

Kumis has generated European interest partly due to its health benefits. Countries such as Germany, Austria, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Mongolia, and Siberia are producing kumis for their own local populations. As we can imagine, the produced volumes are low, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it promotes quality and reduces the exploitation of horses for their milk.

Kazakh scientists are currently developing methods of pasteurizing kumis and learning how to deep-freeze it. Indeed, a form of kumis “concentrate” is currently under research, which would greatly help the longevity of the famous milk drink, as well as transportation costs and time.

The “powder form” of kumis, however, would see the alcohol content disappear, although all other nutrients and health benefits would remain. The lack of alcohol would be ideal for Islamic countries as an export target for the kumis drink.

Organic Kumis

Perhaps a point has to be made that, ideally, kumis needs to be made from an organic milk source. This sustainability method needs to consider what the horses have been grazing on as well as their exposure to other unwanted chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, etc. Horses raised in a natural/organic way (this has to be the way nomadic tribes in the Central Asian steppes live as a matter of course) will undoubtedly produce the best milk, which will result in high-quality kumis.

Kumis Recipe

Below is a recipe for making kumis. You will need several champagne bottles as well as the ingredients listed below.

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces fresh milk
  • 4 ounces water
  • 10 grams brown sugar
  • 1.5 grams yeast (Brewer's yeast is best, but bread-making yeast will do)
  • 15 grams lactose (Galactose and glucose sugar that comes from milk)

Instructions

  1. Dissolve the lactose powder in the water. Add the mixture to the milk.
  2. Combine the yeast and brown sugar well.
  3. Add a little of the milk mixture to the yeast mixture to make a thin paste. Then add the rest of the milk mixture. Combine well.
  4. Bottle the mixture in the champagne bottles.
  5. Agitate the bottles every day for eight minutes. As a safety precaution, wrap each bottle with a cloth before agitating. The mixture should be sufficiently fermented after three days.

Review of Kumis Recipe

Traditional Bashkir and other Russian nomadic tribes milk, ferment, and produce kumis.

Traditional Bashkir and other Russian nomadic tribes milk, ferment, and produce kumis.

Kumis Is Delicious!

What does fermented mare's milk taste like?

  • Kumis tastes slightly sour or bitter.
  • It is creamy with a slightly thicker consistency than traditional milk.
  • Kumis has a slight fizz due to the fermentation process and gas creation.
  • It is slightly chilled; it's usually stored at a temperature between 4–10 degrees.
  • Some people say it tastes like yogurt mixed with beer, which is an excellent description of kumis!
  • What is the correct spelling of kumis? Some people spell it the Russian way kumic (кумыс), or it can be spelled kumiss or often in English koumiss.

If you can acquire kumis, then I would suggest you give it a try. As a drink, it makes an interesting health supplement and provides a great talking point at dinners. Remember, it is most beneficial to drink kumis 30 minutes before eating.

I’ve tried it on several occasions and find it both refreshing as well as great for my health! Understanding what kumis is and what fermented horse's milk tastes like will inspire you to give it a try. Let me know what you think!

Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2014 johndwilliams

Did you find this useful? If so, leave a comment!

KEMAL KARAYILAN on June 17, 2020:

Thanks for this useful information. Kumis is ancient nutrition and has a lot of health benefits. Probiotics and trace elements will boost your immun system. The major effect is on brain biochemistry and hence there is a positive effect on Human Psychology. Takes stress out. Kumis makes people happy and strong

Assem on May 06, 2017:

It is not Russian drink.

Eqbal on September 26, 2015:

It is the first time that Kumis or Kimiz associated as a Russian Drink. In Cetntral Asia and Mangolia Kumizt is a familiar drink, but Russian, It is kinda Joke. If you read history of Turic nation, You would find that Turic people not only used to drink horse milk, but they also used to make Yogurt and they also eat Horse meat.

johndwilliams (author) from Essex England on April 16, 2015:

That's funny I just brought a bottle in my local supermarket in RUSSIA

Turkic on April 16, 2015:

İTS NOT RUSSİAN DRİNK ! İTS TURKİC DRİNK

johndwilliams (author) from Essex England on November 27, 2014:

Thanks Bob glad you enjoyed!

diogenes from UK and Mexico on November 26, 2014:

Interesting hub article of which I knew nothing...Bob