In Central Asia, particularly in the country of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, there is one beverage that is considered so beneficial that there are resorts where you can spend weeks at a time cleansing your body by drinking it. The drink is called kumis and in Central Asia, might as well be the elixir of life. It is found in every yurt camp, is a symbol of hospitality, and is given to any guest that complains of health ailments.
WHAT IS KUMIS?
Kumis is mare’s milk that has been fermented over the course of half a day to several days. Fermented horse’s milk, you say? Before you make a gagging face, realize that this beverage has been a staple of Central Asian nomadic peoples since as far back as 400 BC. In Central Asia, this stuff is not only normal, it is highly valued.
MODERN PROCESS OF MAKING KUMIS
Nomads used to put mare’s milk in leather bags, tie them to the back of their saddle, and let the natural jostling of the ride agitate the milk. Nowadays, nomads in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan usually store horse’s milk in plastic or wooden barrels in their yurts and churn it much as one would churn butter. If you are traveling in Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan, you will notice that each batch of kumis is started by including kumis that has already fermented and adding fresh milk to that. It is then churned for several hours over the course of several days. The freshest kumis contains very little alcohol, perhaps 1 – 1.75% alcohol. Stronger kumis can have an alcohol content of up to 4.5%!
KUMIS TREATMENT RESORTS
Many locals from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan actually visit resorts where they drink nothing but kumis for weeks at a time because the benefits of the drink are widely known. Kumis treatment resorts are always off in the mountains so that kumis treatments are coupled with fresh air and beautiful scenery to add to the experience. A few of the health benefits of kumis are:
- lowered cholesterol
- increased hemoglobin in the blood
- rich in iron (good for anemia)
- increases digestion of protein and fat
- soothes those suffering from tuberculosis, gastric, and duodenal ulcers in the process of decay, and typhoid
- helps those with diseases stemming from the nervous system
Kumis treatment resorts will give vacationers the fresher kumis that contains less alcohol. If you want kumis with high alcohol content, you have got to find a local family or seller that likes to make it strong!
TRYING KUMIS WHEN YOU TRAVEL TO KAZAKHSTAN OR KYRGYZSTAN
Of course kumis resorts are open to anyone that would like to enjoy the benefits of this ancient medicinal beverage. If you would like to stay at a kumis resort even for as short a time as a day, resorts are open from May to September. However, many travelers have limited time for their vacation and often just choose to taste some kumis during their stay. If you think you fall into this category, try drinking at least 1-2 bowls, not just taking a sip. (Kumisis often served in large bowls in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, not glasses.) The taste may be foreign to you, but travelers suffering from stomach problems that have drunk at least a bowl or two rave about how their stomach problems decrease significantly afterwards. Even if you are as healthy as a horse (wink wink), make sure to try some kumis just for the cultural experience. After all, if you are visiting Kazakhstan and/or Kyrgyzstan, you are in the territory of nomads, and there is nothing more central to these nomadic cultures than kumis! You will walk away with a truly authentic experience.
Photos from: mirturbaz.ru, horse-bryansk.ru, khankymyz.kz