If you ask me what Kumis is, then in a simple way I can answer: "Kumis is healing sour mare's milk useful for human health". Kumis is ancient Turkic word, which means fermented drink made from mare’s milk by special acidification. The most important thing in Kumis is that it is made from mare's milk. Kazakhs have never done Kumis from cow’s milk or milk of any other domestic animal. The key issue in Kumis is that it is made only from mare’s milk. Kumis’s second important feature is that it is fermented milk drink produced by artificial fermentation. Kazakhs also are drinking fresh, not fermented mare’s milk, so called Saumal, but its drinking culture is different.
What is Kumis?
Kumis and horses are inseparable issues. One can’t be considered without other. Kazakhs are one of the few nomadic people in the history who were closely connected to the universe of horses. Our ancestors were born, lived and died on horseback. Somewhere here in the steppes of Central Asia early humans domesticated horse. Horse for our ancestors was entire universe, almost everything: a true friend, home, transport, food, clothing, drink. Therefore Kumis as a food appeared naturally in the process of mutual co-existence of human and horse.
Some people in Europe and overseas have wrong stereotypes about this ancient beverage. They can’t understand how it is possible to drink horse milk. It seems to them that it is too wild and crazy. Such people wrinkle and wonder when they try taste of Kumis. This is due to elementary ignorance of Kumis’s nature and its method of production. Turkic people for many thousand years are drinking this healthful beverage and see only good for their health. In general taste of mare’s milk and Kumis is a matter of culture and habit. It's just a different taste, different from the usual taste. It's like if you compare two tastes, for example, apple and pear. For those who prefer apples, it is silly to deny pears. Each fruit in its own way is good and useful for human’s health. And it is really unwise to argue about taste. Modern humans invented a lot of drinks. They are drinking them during all their lives, starting from alcohol, which they drink for many centuries, ending by the drugs, which they produce from chemicals. Even traditional cow's milk is no longer completely natural. Now it's just concentrate powder mixed with the water. Real natural cow's milk today is quite expensive and you can’t buy it in the shop. But mare's milk is an organic and natural product. Fortunately Kazakhs do not produce dry concentrate from Kumis and drink it only natural and fresh. And there is no developed industrial production of Kumis yet in Kazakhstan, even now in the 21st century. And this is very well. Because any industrial production, especially in the pursuit of profit kills any good deed.
Another prejudice is the fact itself of drinking mare's milk. Many people can’t even think of it. How can we drink horse milk? Horse is human's best friend- these people are saying – you can only ride and admire them. But this is a stereotype of modern human of the city. Horse for human is the same domestic animal as, for example, cow or sheep. And horse brings to human its own use, including food dairy products. This is an objective fact which is confirmed by the practice of millennia. Modern humans eat various exotic foods: shark fins, sea oysters, insects, snakes, frogs and other creatures. And Kumis produced from mare's milk is not the most exotic and most surprising if we compare it with the above. For Turkic people horse always has been sacred animal. Horse is as a symbol of freedom and purity. Horse needs vast spaces, clean air and clean water. A horse can’t be associated with something dirty. Therefore Kumis is a pure product of pure animal.
History of Kumis
It is now difficult to answer the question: “When did first people begin to produce Kumis?” Probably this happened when horse was domesticated by human. And it was many thousand years ago. Some Turkic people, such as Kazakhs, have ancient traditions of producing Kumis. Someone from the historians said that the Turks for a long time were hiding the recipe of this drink. But in my opinion this is not true. Turks as a free people have always believed that horse was given to human by God. Therefore Kumis as a divine drink should be available to any person.
How to produce Kumis
Modern Kazakhs make Kumis in the same ancient traditional way that was used by their ancestors. Nothing fundamentally new has been invented. As we milked mare thousand years ago, nowadays we milk it the same way by skilful women's hands. Kazakhs may be because they are wise or lazy do not milk the mares by automatic milking machines. And this is very correct. Kumis milked by hands is the most natural and the most delicious. Still as in ancient time we use special natural ferment to manufacture Kumis. Also we use special wooden utensils where women acidify fresh mare's milk by hands and make it final. In general manufacturing process is very simple and not so difficult. In former times when Kazakhs were nomadic we used special leather bags for storage Kumis called Saba. These leather bags because of its organic origin helped natural fermentation of milk to achieve appropriate stage. Therefore there was no need to spend time and labor force to produce Kumis. It was very simple and quick. Such bag filled with fresh mare's milk, tied to horse or placed on cart and you could have almost final product after few hours of ridding the horse. Of course, this is more literary exaggeration but not far from truth. In any time we use special dishes designed only for drinking Kumis. Also we add in Kumis a variety of vegetal or animal additives which give a special taste or flavor. In old times Kumis was the main drink for Kazakhs. It was used in any time of the year and in any quantity before meals, during meals, after meals and instead of meals. Until recent times Kazakhs have never known a tea, coffee or juices. Therefore Kumis was always with nomadic people as the main drink and even food. Kazakhs as nomads also haven’t eaten bread, fresh fruits and vegetables as they eat nowadays. This was unacceptable for the nomads. We ate mainly meat of domestic animals raised in a natural environment and drank Kumis in large quantities. Nobody counted calories and cholesterol and did not watch weight. Kumis helps better digestion of meat in stomach, so people were healthier physically. Moreover people’s lives were much longer in terms of time, because they lived with active and busy life in the nature together with domestic animals. Therefore our ancestors were much physically stronger and more energetic than we are.
Kumis is healthy
Kazakhs told that Kumis as a food was a source of energy and during disease was a medicine. Really during whole season it was the only and irreplaceable drink for nomads. If we talk about its healing qualities we can talk a lot. In fact all the healing qualities of Kumis and in general of mare's milk are not completely and fully studied by the science. And this is actually understandable. Modern science has never seriously studied this unique phenomenon. Only nomadic people who raised the horses knew all its unique qualities. Nobody except the nomads themselves needed this knowledge. So, in the future we can expect a lot of discoveries and surprises about mare's milk and Kumis.
It’s generally known that Kumis contains vitamins B1, B2, B12, Pantothenic and Folic acid, biotin, vitamin C. Kumis always has being used by nomads in treatment of tuberculosis, anemia, diseases of stomach. Eventually, the list of diseases which Kumis cured was expanded. Kumis also was used as a medicine in treatment of scurvy, gastritis, pancreatic diseases, cardiovascular diseases, typhoid and neurasthenia. And it is only those diseases that were cured by Russian and European physicians last century. And how many other diseases are cured by Kumis nobody really knows. It is known that such famous Russian writers as Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy were treated with Kumis in 19 century. Some people nowadays are saying that Kumis cures hepatitis B.
Besides well-known qualities of Kumis modern Kazakhs are actively using in various diseases fresh, not sour mare's milk. Such fresh mare's milk Kazakhs are calling Saumal. The healing qualities of Saumal in treatment of diseases even exceed Kumis itself. I would like to underline that Saumal is useful in treatment of the diseases as a cure. Whereas Kumis is mainly used as a health drink. So Saumal is used in pulmonary diseases, diseases of the heart, liver, stomach and kidney. Saumal breaks up the stones in kidney, pancreas. Today many people use Saumal as a good cleaning agent from parasites, worms in any organs. Witnesses are saying that regular use of Saumal cleanse the blood. It is really many mysteries and puzzles are behind such a simple thing as a mare's milk. In South Kazakhstan in Shymkent city currently some kind of industry of recovery and treatment with Saumal and Kumis is formed. In the city and rural areas more and more small private special Saumal and Kumis drinking places are opened, where you can just have a drink Kumis or have a course of treatment and recovery with Saumal.
It is generally known about positive impact of Kumis and Saumal on women's health, especially in nutrition of hair. Kazakh women still are famous for beautiful hair. Just recently according to Kazakh traditions young girls had magnificent braids often came down to feet. Kazakh families in their majority had many children. Normal Kazakh family had at least 5-6 children. Never in the history in Kazakh families men and women had the problems with the birth of children. It was because of balanced food and, of course, Kumis.
Kazakhs have always lived in the nature, in the steppes, mountains and deserts. Therefore they have never had problems with breeding the horses. Their lives have always been connected with the horses. But in recent years due to urbanization less Kazakhs are living in the countryside. They are changing their way of life and therefore are cut off from nature and the horse. Among those who are still staying and living in rural areas not all of them are growing the horses. And this is really a serious problem. I personally think that Kazakh man without horse is not a real Kazakh man. Anyway a lot of people still are breeding the horses in the countryside in Kazakh villages. And still the most delicious Kumis is produced in Kazakh villages, in the steppes or in the mountains. But there are unexpected and pleasant exceptions. In Shymkent city just near the center I know several private small households where people breed the mares and produce Kumis. Next to that households there are not so big empty spaces where you can at the spring season even feed a small herd of horses. It's amazing. I did drink Kumis there several times. If you do not believe, come and see yourself. It is still possible. Of course these urban horses are fed with the hay brought from the countryside. But the fact that you can grow and produce fresh Kumis in modern city is really incredible. This case could be a good example of how the cities could look like in the future. The cities of future where wildlife and domestic animals can exist together with urban technologies.
That's the story of horse and Kumis. Story which is connected with the history of Kazakh people. I am sure that the ancient healing and treatment traditions of Kumis will not be lost as long as the horses exist in the world.
Travel in Kazakhstan with English speaking guide - Dildabek Bekman
Visit www.kundala.kz and choose a tour around Kazakhstan.