Koumiss is known to nomadic peoples of the steppe region of Eurasia since ancient times. The first mention of koumiss can be found in the works of ancient Greek historian and traveler Herodotus, who lived in the V century BC. He wrote that the favorite drink of the nomad Scythians was mare's milk, prepared by a special method. The famous medieval traveler Marco Polo (1254–1324) called koumiss the favorite drink of the Tatars and compared it with white wine.
In Slavic sources, the mention of koumiss appeared in the XII century (in the Ipatiev Chronicle for 1182, which indicates that Prince Igor Seversky managed to escape from the Polovtsian captivity, taking advantage of the fact that the guards were intoxicated with “milky wine” - koumiss was called that way in those times.
In Yakutia, koumiss is a traditional fermented milk drink, made from mare's milk. Its recipe is almost the same for all nations. In Yakutia, koumiss is considered not only a favorite drink because of its specific properties, but also as a drink that has an important ritual significance in the national culture.
Previously, the wealth of the Yakuts resulted from herds of horses, and therefore mare milk and meat constituted the food. Milk was used mainly for making koumiss. It becomes not only daily food, but also a traditional guest treat. Now in the republic, guests are greeted not only with bread and salt, as is customary for Russians, but also necessarily koumiss in choron (a traditional cup for drinking koumiss). As a well-known ethnographer Andrei Savvin wrote, when drinking koumiss, a person quickly gained weight, increasing physical strength and improving metabolism.
According to folk lore, the first to make koumiss and organize Ysyakh (National Yakut festival) was one of the forefathers of the Sakha people - Elley Bootur. Elley poured koumiss into choron, put pieces of butter there, standing on the white litter of horse leather and turned his face to the east, raised the bowl, blessing the supreme deities, and thanked everyone. Later, and even now, koumiss is an integral part of this holiday, Ysyakh is also often called the Festival of White Abundance.
At Ysyakh, it is customary to pronounce algys (blessing, consecration) in honor of the upper deities, the masters of the earth and other spirits. Algyschyt (benefactor) and his assistants during the sacred ceremony splash koumiss with a sacrificial spoon upwards, spooning it out from special cups. In the same manner, they call upon and treat the earth spirits. Each time, addressing the higher forces, the young guys, assistants of Algyschyt, poured koumiss on the fire, splashed up or in different directions, thereby treating them. The fire in this case serves as a means of transmitting the sacrificial treating.
Koumiss and its sacred significance are also often found in the Olonkho (the heroic epic of the Yakut people). ‘Nurgun Botur the Swift’ Olonkho depicts a scene of worshiping a fire with a cup filled with koumiss.
Koumiss in modern life
Koumiss has not lost its significance for Yakuts yet; it is still the main drink, but more in the sacred sense. No major holiday is complete without it, be it a wedding or Ysyakh, where various blessing rites are held with its help. In the utilitarian sense, koumiss is now consumed much less frequently, its production volumes are several times less than in the past. The process of making koumiss is not particularly complex, it’s all about the product from which it is made. Mare's milk in our time is a rarity, it is produced only in large farms engaged in herd horse breeding. But still you can find it on the shelves, and if you really want to, you can cook it yourself. Next, we will share a recipe for homemade koumiss, which can be made from ordinary cow's milk.
Homemade koumiss from cow's milk
Glass of water;
5 g yeast;
1 liter nonfat milk;
3 tablespoons of kefir;
3 teaspoons of sugar.
Boil milk in a container, add sugar and water, cool to room temperature;
Add kefir and leave for 10 hours (you need to keep watch - if it sours before, you can leave it for a shorter time) at room temperature. If the room is warm, it means that it will turn sour faster;
Stir and strain the mass (but you may not do this if the clots do not bother you);
We mix the yeast in a lukewarm water with a 0.5 spoonful of sugar, wait for 5 minutes until it bubbles up, and mix it in to the mass;
Immediately pour into clean bottles (do not fill to the top, because the liquid "plays") and close tightly with stoppers. Let the drink stand for a while (about 1.5 - 2 hours) and put it in the fridge. You can drink when homemade koumiss "calm down";
The more time passes, the stronger the drink will be. In three days there it will be 4 ABV;
Bottles need to be very carefully opened, otherwise they can explode. When you put them in the refrigerator, carefully release the gas from the bottles.