What Is Kumis? Fermented Horse or Mare Milk From Russia
What Is Kumis?
Traditional Kumis is basically fermented Mare’s Milk which has a slightly sour taste with a small percentage of alcohol (caused by the lactic acid fermentation). It is a traditional drink which can be purchased in Russia (as well as a mainstay of Central Asia – in particular Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Kazakhstan) and is readily available in most supermarkets in Russia as well as street vendors such as Babushkas.
Additionally tribes throughout Central Asia brew this drink. It is usually considered a type of wine rather than a beer as such. It is not usually found in excess (most shops hold 10-15 bottles maximum) as Mare’s milk or Horse 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 is a result of the natural sugars in horse milk (it has a higher sugar content than cow or goat milk) chemically changing into alcohol and therefore a natural sourness is created.
Kumis is stored at around 4-8 degrees Celsius and has a relatively short shelf life.
Drinking Kumis actually has massive health benefits and it is scientifically proven to alleviate many conditions include amnesia. The benefit of this delicious Russian drink includes:
- Rich in trace elements
- High in antibiotics produced by microorganisms during fermentation
- Kumis 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 help activate the digestive system improving the ability to absorb nutrients from food etc.
The overall health benefits of drinking fresh Kumis include a healing effect as well as assisting the body’s natural defenses for the following systems:
- The activity and functioning of the gastrointestinal tract
- Increasing the body’s metabolism
- Improving the health of the Cardiovascular system
- Repairing and healing the nervous system
- Cleansing of the Kidneys
- Develops and enhances immunity to colds and illnesses as a whole (boosted resistance)
Cleanses the blood producing organs and helps digestion systems produce blood
Kumis is traditionally drank 30 minutes before eating so the full healing effects can kick into the body before the consumption and processing of foods begins. Kumis therefore is a perfect aperitif to both Russian feasts as well as other world cooking.
Traditionally (before modern production methods where in place) Kumis was made by fermentation of Mare’s milk or Horse milk within a sealed horsehide container. These horse hide containers would range in size from around 15 liters to 150 liters! This gives 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 has been commented 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 and livelihood.
Fermented Horse Milk as an Export
Kumis is experiencing a wave of 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 as well as reduces the exploitation of horses for their milk production.
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 presence of no alcohol would be ideal for Islamic countries as an export target for the kumis drink.
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 fermented horse milk drink of Kumis.
Review of Kumis Recipe
- 12 oz. fresh milk
- 4 oz. 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.
- Dissolve the lactose powder in the water. Add the mixture to the milk.
- Combine the yeast and brown sugar well.
- 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.
- Bottle the mixture in Champagne bottles.
- Agitate the bottles every day for 8 minutes. As a safety precaution, wrap each bottle with a cloth before agitating.
What does fermented mare milk taste like?
- Kumis (or fermented horse milk) 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 having faced storage of between 4 – 10 degrees
- Some people say it tastes like yogurt mixed with Beer – which is a very good description of kumis!
- What is the correct spelling of Kumis? Some people spell it the Russian way Kumic (кумыс), or it can be spelt 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 as well as providing 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 is kumis and what fermented horse milk tastes of will inspire you to give it a try. Let me know what you think!
© 2014 johndwilliams