Kumiss, also spelled kumis and koumiss, is fermented mare’s milk. It is a traditional drink in some of the nomadic cultures in Central Asia. It’s probably best known as a drink favored by the Mongols and by some Turkish groups. Many of the nomad groups herded horses in large numbers, and mare’s milk was as natural for them as goat’s milk was in the Mediterranean.
Among the past drinkers of kumiss were Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan. The milk is fermented, but is rather low in alcohol content, somewhere around 1% to 2%. It can be distilled to the more formidable arkhi, which has about 12% alcohol content.
Some of the Mongol khans after Genghis reportedly died of alcoholism, and it is likely that arkhi was involved. Kumiss has been used as a folk medicine as much as it has been used for recreational drinking.
Mare’s milk is not widely available, so today what is labeled kumiss is more likely to be processed and fortified cow’s milk. It seems to have become something of a cultural identifier for people in Mongolia and elsewhere.
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