Kumis, Genghis Khan’s Wine
A talk with Leila Lukmanova, Code de Vino’s resident fermented-milk product expert.
Interview by: Olga Erukhova
Kumis is like drinking from a heavenly river…
It breathes new life into the body and can cure ailments.
Fazllah ibn-Ruzbikhan Isfahani
This is the latest interview in our series with Leyla Lukmanova, Turkic-Altaic culture specialist and candidate of agricultural sciences. Only this time we’re here to talk about kumis, a product not so often found on store shelves. We’ll focus mainly on its undoubted benefits for human health, and its various types and uses.
Kumis is a fermented dairy product made from mare’s milk. It was very widely consumed among nomadic peoples, such as the Scythians, Kazakhs, Kirghiz, Bashkirs, Tatars, and Mongols, who considered kumis a significant part of their cultures, and even served it during large feasts and holidays. It was also used widely for its healing properties. Russian pharmacopoeia has included kumis in its official index as a medicinal product for over 200 years under the Latin name Serum Lactis Equini Fermentatum. In the 20th century, there were several specialized clinics in the country that even used kumis for treatment. Now over the last couple decades this tradition has been recently revived.
— Leyla, let’s talk today about the benefits of kumis, and how it can be used medicinally. Many of us would like to know whether the modern technologies used today to produce this traditional drink have any affect on quality.
— Real kumis contains natural wine alcohol and lactic acid, which eliminates the need for chemical preservatives entirely, so you can drink factory-made kumis without worrying if the producer added any harmful components to it. Of course, producers use the modern technology available today, but they also have to comply with strict sanitary norms. Kumis is made using special bacteria and yeast. A fermenting agent consisting of lactobacilli and dairy yeast is added to raw mare’s milk.
According to the manufacturing standards for natural kumis, a mixture of pure cultures of Lactobacillus bulgaricum, Lactobacillus asidophillum and Sacharomyces lactis yeast is added to mare’s milk immediately after milking. Fermentation occurs at 29 (+1)°C for 8–10 hours, with periodic stirring. The first stage of fermentation is completed after 12–15 hours. Once the kumis reaches the desired acidity, it is then cooled down to 4–6°C and left to mature.
As kumis ferments from the proteolytic enzymes of microorganisms, the mare milk proteins break down to form easily digestible nitrogen compounds. The acidity, or strength of kumis depends on its sugar content. Kumis is a ‘living’ beverage, and fermentation brings out its best qualities. When fermentation stops, the microorganisms in kumis die, making it unsuitable for consumption.
There are various ways of producing kumis, and every region has its own school of thought. These unique methods of fermentation are what gives kumis its one-of-a-kind taste. The traditional way of making kumis at home involves pouring fresh mare’s milk into a special sheepskin vessel called a «bourdyuk.» Then the beverage is stirred with a spoon made of juniper wood. Afterwards, the sheepskin is left untouched so the milk can ferment in it for several days. As this occurs, the drink matures and acquires the delicate fragrance of fir-needles and juniper. Of course, it is difficult to accurately reproduce traditional methods at a modern plant, so the resulting product differs from homemade kumis in a noticeable way.
First of all, only a product still in the process of fermentation can be called a ‘living’ kumis. Plus, making it from real mare’s milk is an expensive and complicated process, so finding true kumis is a rarity.
Some producers use low-fat goat or cow milk to make kumis, so it resembles the real thing made from mare’s milk. To make the contents and taste of low-fat cow milk resemble mare’s milk, producers add 20% whey and 2.5% sugar to it. Make sure to take your time reading the label on kumis you buy at the store, and remember that only kumis made with mare’s milk is considered authentic.
— Is cow milk really that different from mare’s milk?
— Well, mare’s milk contains less fat, protein, and minerals than cow milk, but has 10 times more vitamins. It is also a great source of iodine, copper, iron, titanium, potassium, sodium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Sure, it contains less proteins, but they eventually break down into peptones and albumins, so they’re more easily digested.
Mare’s milk has just the right amount of all essential amino acids, which makes it closer to human breast milk than anything else. The ratio of casein and albumin-globulin fraction in mare’s milk is 50.7% and 49.5%, thus making it very rich in albumin. Breast milk contains 75.5% albumin-globulin fraction, while milk from a cow only has 15%. The nutritional value of 1 liter of mare’s milk is 990 kJ, while 1 liter of kumis contains 160 KJ.
Kumis is an excellent source of amino acids, especially lysine, tryptophan, and methionine, which are not produced by the human body. In addition, analyses show the presence of aspartic and glutamic acids, glycine, threonine, alanine, isoleucine, leucine, traces of cysteine, histidine, arginine, proline, valine, and a high concentration of glutamine in kumis as well.
The chemical composition of kumis:
Water — 87.8%
Fat — 1.0–1.9%
Protein — 2.0–2.5%
Lactose — 2.6–4.4%
Minerals — 0.4–0.5%
Lactic acid — 1.1–1.5%
The chemical composition of cow’s milk:
Water — 87.5%
Fat — 3.5%
Protein — 3.2%
Lactose — 4.7–4.9%
Solids — 12.5%
Minerals — 0.8%
— As far as I understand, there are different types of kumis depending on the fermentation method used, right?
— Exactly, there are three main variations of kumis, depending on its strength, or acidity. All three are used in traditional medicine for multiple purposes. Kumis can be either weak, medium or strong.
Weak kumis is a product of one-day fermentation. It contains 1% alcohol, and very little gas. When left to rest, it will separate into two layers: watery on top and denser below. It has sweetish taste that isn’t very sour. Its acidity does not exceed 60–80°T (degrees Turner are used to denote the acidity of dairy products).
Medium kumis is fermented for two days, and has an alcohol content of 1.75%. During the fermentation process, its forms a foam. It does not separate into layers, and has a sour/spicy flavor that causes a slight tingle on the tongue. It has an acidity of 81–105°Т.
The third variation is strong kumis. It is fermented for three days, and has an alcohol content of 3% that sometimes even reaches 4.5%. It is liquid, very sour, and has a lot of gas, with an acidity of 106–120°Т.
More recently, producers have invented non-alcoholic kumis, made specially for children and medical purposes. It is also halal, and approved by the Russian Council of Muftis.
— Some people get worried about the alcohol content of kumis: isn’t it a bit too high?
— It is true that kumis can get a person slightly drunk and agitated. But the opposite situation is common as well, where kumis can calm you down and make you feel sleepy. It all depends on the alcohol content, and in moderation can actually have a therapeutic effect.
— How much kumis can a person consume safely on a daily basis?
— In the past, during the summer heat, Kazakhs could drink up to 10 liters of kumis a day, if it was weak, of course. When it’s hot out, there’s nothing better to quench your thirst. It is important to keep in mind that kumis is great for all types of people to enjoy: old and young, men and women, healthy or sick. Individual allergies are the only factor that might prevent its consumption.
— I think our readers are all interested in knowing, what are the actual benefits of kumis for our health?
— Modern medicine has accumulated a substantial body of knowledge about kumis based on popular observations and scientific research. In 1858, doctor Postnikov founded a kumis clinic in Russia, where writers Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov came for treatment. Since that time, we have learned even more about this drink.
Scientists now know that kumis stimulates the pancreas, compensates insufficient digestive processes, and normalizes the secretory activity of the stomach and other digestive organs. It also regulates the acidity of stomach acid.
Kumis is also beneficial for the human nervous system, as it helps fight neuroses and mental exhaustion. You can drink it during periods of increased mental and physical stress, as it mobilizes all the strengths of the human body and has a beneficial effect on metabolism, helping you maintain good health, peak performance, high confidence and peace of mind.
It also helps treat stomach and duodenum ulcers, as well as dysentery and typhoid fever. Kumis is also unique because it helps destroy harmful E.coli bacteria and other disease-causing organisms. Kumis helps eliminate kidney stones in women, and increases sexual vigor in men.
The regular consumption of kumis improves blood quality by increasing the level of hemoglobin and Arneth count. The total volume of blood increases, as well as red blood cell count.
In fact, it might be easier to just give a general list of the problems kumis helps treat. This includes poor digestion, intestinal infections, metabolism issues (including obesity), heart and blood diseases (anemia), and rickets. People who drink kumis start to breathe slower and more deeply.
Kumis also has a strong diuretic and diaphoretic effect, and lowers cholesterol. Evidence shows that kumis can be beneficial at the early stages of oncological diseases. And last but not least, kumis is the ideal hangover cure.
— How much kumis should a person drink?
— Everything depends on the issue you’re trying to address, your metabolism, age. In this respect, it’s a lot like medicinal mineral water. A lot also depends on the secretory and voiding function of your digestive system.
Specialists say that each individual needs to get their own feel for kumis, test it for themselves. You should introduce it into your everyday diet gradually, starting with 50 ml a day. It’s best to drink warmed kumis, in small sips over 30 minutes, gradually increasing the amount to a dose that works best for you.
People with normal or increased secretory stomach functions and a normal intestinal voiding function should drink medium-strength kumis. Drink it 20–30 minutes before eating, 200–250 ml 2–3 times a day, or 150–200 ml 2–3 times a day immediately before meals.
For people with decreased secretory functions, doctors recommend medium and strong kumis, 250–300 ml, 3–4 times a day, 40–60 minutes before meals. A typical treatment course lasts 25 to 30 days.
Here are some more recommendations for people with stomach ulcers or chronic gastritis. If a person has an increased or normal secretory function, it’s best to drink weak and very weak warm kumis (18–20°C) in large sips, removing the excess foam, 60–90 minutes before meals, about 125–200 ml, 3 times a day. If you have gastritis or an ulcer combined with a decreased secretory function, it’s recommended to drink weak and medium kumis, in small sips, 20–30 minutes before meals, 100–125–250 ml, 3 times a day.
During the post-surgery period (2–3 weeks after a peptic ulcer operation on the stomach or duodenum), people with an increased or normal secretory function can drink weak kumis, 60–90 minutes before meals, in 50–100–150 ml amounts 3–4 times a day. In the event of a decreased secretory function, drink weak and medium kumis 20 minutes before meals, in 50–100–150 ml volumes 3–4 times a day.
This way, the total course includes 16 to 20 liters of kumis over 20–24 days. All doses listed here are recommended for people ages 25 to 60. Older people can drink weak and medium kumis following a more ‘relaxed’ scheme (25–100 ml, one or two times daily). Small children should only drink kumis with 0% alcohol content. Children at the age of 3–4 years can consume 25–50 ml 1–2 times a day; 4 to 7 years old — 50–100 ml, 2–3 times a day; 7 to 14 years old — 100–150 ml, 2–3 times every day. For young people under 25, it is best to drink weak and medium kumis, in amounts of 100–150–200 ml, 2–3 times every day.
Young people can undergo 2 or 3 courses of kumis therapy annually, each lasting about 45 days. As you can see, there’s an individual scheme and dosage for every age and problem. I’d like to draw the attention of our readers to the fact that the figures described here are for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a basis for self-prescribed treatments. In any event, always consult a specialist.
— Where’s the best place to get a specialist’s recommendation?
— Here in the Republic of Bashkortostan, the Scientific and Research Institute for Restorative Medicine and Resort Studies of the Bashkir State Medical University is the authority in this field. The institute conducts research on the basis of spa resorts for adults and children, including the Yumatovo, Glukhivskaya, Shafranovo, and Aksakov Resort. Just like back in the day, you can still come here today to try kumis therapy, improve your health, and just have a good time and relax. For some people, this is an excellent opportunity to visit our republic and learn more about it.
— But can people still drink kumis in moderate amounts all year round, for prophylactic purposes?
— Absolutely! You know, eating healthy doesn’t necessarily mean spending lots of money on exotic foods. And it also doesn’t mean turning into an ascetic. A healthy diet involves living a balanced lifestyle and finding out what’s right for you. That’s why I recommend that every reader of Code de Vino tries kumis at least once, so they can find the type that suits them best. Luckily, there are lots of great products available now on the market. It wouldn’t be strange if kumis even became one of your favorite everyday drinks, an indivisible component of a healthy, happy lifestyle.
Vitamin content of kumis
- Thiamine (B1) — 203.4 mkg/l
- Riboflavin (B2) — 375.0 mkg/l
- Vitamin C — 93.2 mkg/l (3 times more than cow’s milk)
- B12 — 2.1 mkg/l
- Pantothenic acid — 2010.0 mkg/l
- Folic acid — 265.0 mkg/l
- Biotin — 1.2 mkg/l
- Also, vitamins A, E, D, and PP.