Kumis

Kumis is a fermented beverage made from mare milk in Mongolia and Central Asia.

Lastest Updated January 6, 2024
Verified by A-Z Cuisines Team
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Fact: In 2019, UNESCO recognized the tradition of making kumis in Mongolia (called airag) as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Flag of Kazakhstan#3 in Kazakhstan

Flag of Kyrgyzstan#2 in Kyrgyzstan

Basic Information

Kumis: Basic Information

Pronunciation

/coo-miss/

Alternative Name(s)

Kumiss, koumiss, kumys, airag, tsegee, qymyz, ääryg

Drink Type

Cold non-alcoholic beverages

Mealtime

Anytime

Popular Variations

Kumis made from fortified cow milk
Origin and Region

Kumis: Origin and Region

Origin

Central Asia

Continent’s Region

Central Asia

Country’s Region

Unspecified

Associated Region

Unspecified
Central Asia Map
Ingredients and Preparation

Kumis: Ingredients and Preparation

Main Ingredients

Mare milk or donkey milk

Main Preparing Method

Fermenting

Preparation Process

Fermenting raw milk over hours or days by stirring or churning
A Deep Dive

Kumis: A Deep Dive

Cultural Significance

Traditional beverage unique to Mongolia and Central Asia

Taste

Very sour

Texture

Creamy

Aroma

Mildly alcoholic and pungent

Color

White

Serving Style

Traditionally in a piyāla (a ceramic bowl)

Serving Temperature

Cold or chilled

Accompaniment

Traditional Central Asian dishes

Occasions

On any occasions

Calories

200 calories, according to data of MyFitnessPal for 150 grams of kumis

Popularity

Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia (Buryatia, Tuva, Kalmykia, Altai, Yakutia or Shaka, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan)

Popular Similar Drinks

  • Chal
  • Kefir
  • Ayran
  • Mattha
  • Chaas

Popular Dining Area

Local households, restaurants, supermarkets

Kumis is a classic Turkic and Mongolian beverage made from mare milk or donkey milk. It is popular in several Central Asian steppes, Mongolia, and parts of Russia with Turkic and Mongolian ethnic groups.

Kumis Infographic

In those places, locals consume kumis during many time-honored rituals and festivals.

Kumis is a fermented drink with an alcohol content between 0.7% and 2.5%, which is milder than beer.
Traditionally, locals prepare kumis with milk from horses, whereas fortified cow milk is usually used to make kumis on a large scale.

The fermented mare milk beverage has a pronounced tanginess and a slightly pungent taste, depending on how long the milk is soured.

Some people mix kumis with fresh milk to tone down the flavor. Compared to similar drinks, kumis has a lighter body.

Kumis is an ancient drink, first mentioned in the 5th century. Today, many people in Kazakhstan regard kumis as their national beverage.

A piyāla, a small ceramic bowl for drinking tea or milk in Central Asia, is the traditional serving vessel for kumis.

Interestingly, there is a similar fermented dairy drink in Colombia that is also known as kumis, but this beverage is made from cow milk, milder in taste, and not necessarily related to the Central Asian specialty.

Do you want to know how to make kumis and what distinguishes this drink from yogurt and kefir? Read on and find the answer!

I will also tell you about the pros and cons of kumis, as well as popular questions people frequently ask about the beverage.

Key Points

  • Kumis is a Mongolian and Central Asian drink made from mare milk.
  • Kumis is made by churning milk with yeast or starter culture.
  • Kumis has an iconically tangy and bold taste and a creamy texture.
  • Kumis has a stronger flavor compared to dairy products like yogurt and kefir.

Kumis Images

How Is Kumis Made?

TechniquesCharacteristics
Traditional MethodFiltering unpasteurized mare milk through a cloth into a leather sack (called khokhuur in Mongolia) with yeast or starter culture

Stirring or churning up the milk thousands of times

Historically done by strapping the sack to a saddle to let the motion of horse riding churn up the milk
Modern MethodFermenting the milk in a wooden vat, a barrel, or the controlled environment of an industrial facility

The technique of using khokhuur to make airag (Mongolian kumis) was added to the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2019.

Regardless of the change in technology, the taste and texture of modern kumis are still the same, sharing the same upsides and downsides as traditional kumis.

Kumis Fermented
Traditional kumis fermented in leather sacks.

Pros and Cons of Drinking Kumis

Here are some common advantages and disadvantages of kumis:

Pros

  • Nutritional Value: Kumis is a rich source of proteins, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Probiotic Content: The fermentation process introduces beneficial bacteria (probiotics) into the drink, aiding in digestion and supporting gut health.
  • Unique Flavor:The distinct sourness and light body of kumis are very memorable.
  • Health Benefits: Many believe kumis can promote blood cell growth, encourage gut health, strengthen the immune system, and detoxify the body.
  • Traditional Significance: Kumis is often used in ceremonies and traditional festivals, giving it great cultural and historical significance.

Cons

  • Acquired Taste: People unfamiliar with kumis can find its sourness and effervescence off-putting.
  • Availability: Outside of its home region, kumis can be hard to find.
  • Preservation: Kumis is rather perishable and should be consumed shortly after being made. If stored for later, kumis requires constant refrigeration.
  • Variability: The taste and quality of kumis vary significantly from one product to the next.

After learning about the pros and cons of kumis, you may wonder about the differences between it and other dairy products, like yogurt and kefir. Continue reading, and I will show them to you!

What Are the Differences Between Kumis, Yogurt, and Kefir?

Below is a concise comparison between the main features of kumis, yogurt, and kefir:

You are now fully aware of how distinct kumis is from other dairy products, but check out the FAQs, and you will discover more helpful facts.

Kumis FAQs

Yes, kumis is halal and suitable for Muslim consumption.

Yes, kumis is generally safe for people with lactose intolerance because the fermentation process significantly decreases the lactose content.

However, a small part of lactose might remain in kumis, so you should try only a small amount the first time to be safe.

Many online retailers with delivery services in the USA offer kumis, so you can visit their websites and make an order. However, those products are usually made from cow milk, not mare milk.

Yes, legend has it that Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, was named after the paddle used to churn kumis.

A pregnant woman was looking for her kumis paddle when she gave birth to her son, who would later become a great hero.

Similar Beverages of Kumis

Chal

Chal is a Central Asian beverage made by fermenting camel milk.

Kefir

Kefir is a fermented milk drink created by Turkic groups in the North Caucasus.

Ayran

Ayran is a Turkish cold drink made from yogurt, water, and salt.

Chaas

Chaas is an Indian beverage made from yogurt, cold water, and spices.

Mattha

Mattha is an Indian beverage made from buttermilk or yogurt, sugar, and spices.

Adam Sam

Adam Sam

Senior Food and Drink Editor

Expertise

Food Writer & Recipe Developer, Recipe Tester, Bartender, Cooking-video Maker, Editor In Chief

Education

  • University of Gastronomic Sciences – Pollenzo (Italy) (MA Food Culture, Communication & Marketing)
  • Johnson & Wales University (US) (Baking and Pastry Arts)
  • Professional Bartender at HNAAu School (Vietnam, International Joint Training Program)

Adam Sam, an experienced food writer and recipe developer, is passionate about blending diverse culinary traditions, national dishes, and innovative beverages, showcasing his proficiency in both traditional and modern recipe testing.

As the Editor-in-Chief, he elevates culinary content from street food to fine dining, focusing on Western cuisine and types of drinks at azcuisines.com, and is professional in creating engaging cooking videos that simplify complex dishes and ingredients.

His passion for food is evident in his writing, where he uniquely merges various cultures, traditions, and contemporary trends, skillfully combining classic recipes with modern cooking methods.

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