[Sca-cooks] Kumiss stuff for Lilinah - warning, long rambling post...

Craig Jones drakey at internode.on.net
Mon Oct 27 04:18:24 PDT 2008

Warning Long Post...

Posted Dec 2003 - I probably know a bit more since then :)

Drake here...

Greetings Brewers,
>I have just arranged for some mares milk to be collected for me from
>uncles horse stud.

I am supremely jealous

>Now before a selection of milk iceblocks turn up at my door I require
>some advice on how to turn it into
>something drinkable.

That's not so easy

>What yeast have people used in the past?
>How long does it brew for?
>How long before you drink it?
>How long before it goes off?
>And anything else you might think is important to know before

I can offer my experiences in the past, taking cows milk and
adjusting protein/fat/sugar levels but I get the feeling from my
readings lately that my previous experiments are complete sh*te and
you probably need to do your own research

According to Joyce Toomre (Koumiss in Mongol Culture: Past and
present), koumiss nowadays is prepared with 2 starter cultures,
Streptococcus lactis and Lactobacillus bulgaricus
 (both cultures
should be available from cheese making supply companies) I suspect
that a yeast should be involved somewhere but the article does not
mention that. The Lactobacillus bulgaricus also produces
acetaldehyde (yum!) which is apparently important for the final

Streptococcus lactis produces quantities of lactic acid, partially
hydrolyses milk proteins, and increases digestibility of milk. It
also produces chemicals (bacteriolysins) that inhibits other harmful

Lactobacillus bulgaricus has been used to culture yoghurt in Eastern
Europe for a very long time and it's no surprise to see it in Kumiss
cultures... It has similar properties to Streptococcus lactis.

Lactobacillus bulgaricus is used in low fat and fat free yogurt,
while Streptococcus lactis is found in cottage cheese, buttermilk.
Sour cream and such... They produce lactase to convert lactose into
galactose and glucose. I assume that they then metabolize the
glucose, produce lactic acid (giving that sour taste) as a waste

Horse milk would work great for kumiss because it is VERY high in
lactose giving lots of available glucose...

If you want to culture these babies up yourself (GOOD Luck - your
PHD's in the post), try

A possible candidate for a micro-organism to produce the alcohol is
Zygosaccharomyces florentinus, often found in Kefir cultures, is a
wild yeast that is big infector of fruit orchards and vineyards. It
has the same effect as a normal yeast (var sugars -> alcohol) but has
a high alcohol tolerance. You could probably substitute a commercial
brewing yeast with high alcohol tolerance (such as champagne yeast)

As Kefir cultures often contain some/all of the following:
Streptococcus lactis, Streptococcus cremoris, Streptococcus
diacelilactis, Leuconostoc cremoris, Lactobacillus plantarum
Lactobacillus casei, Saccharomyces florentinus; it might be a good
start for brewing a batch of Kumiss. Kefir cultures are commonly
available if you know where to look.

Another Kefir page is: http://users.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html
His culture list is EVEN longer but contains Saccharomyces cerevisiae
(and well all know what that is? Right?

I used to believe that just yeast would do it but yeast has a
notorious inability to metabolize lactose. You need some other
culture or an intermediate culture that changes the sugars from
lactose to another sugar (probably Glucose).

Reading again from this article (it's the 1st one in the Bib below)
it mentions 2-2.5% protein, 1-2% fat, 3.5-4.8% milk sugar, 06-1.2%
lactic acid and 1.0-3.0% alcohol.

To summarise: Kumiss requires yeast to produce the alcohol and some
beneficial bacteria to convert the lactose into glucose for the yeast.

To do a quick redaction, I'd:

* Add Culture (Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Streptococcus lactis,
Saccharomyces cerevisiae) to room tempature Mare's Milk.
* Ferment. If you didn't have a proper goatskin bag use a cask wine
bladder with a rubber bung/airlock fitted. Shake/beat regularly.
* Serve with appropriate food (ask Drake for recipes)

Note: Choose guests (victims) carefully. Try those who aren't
squeemish about their food and drink...

Note, most of this info on cultures has come from about a hours
websurfing at midnight, so dont take it as gospel...

Does the brain hurt yet? Mine does... Ok. Now onto easier stuff?

There are variants made from donkey, cow (Kefir), and camel (shubat)
milk. A distilled version called arkhi was known but not before the
13-14th century at the very earliest.

The best descriptions of Kumiss in period we have are of the journals
to China by Friar William of Rubruck (before Marco Polo too). His
complete journal is available on the web (URL available on request).
A section that refers to Kumiss is:

"they stretch above the ground a long rope between two stakes stuck
in the soil; and ... tether to the rope the foals of the mares they
intend to milk. Then the mares stand beside their foals and let
themselves be milked peacefully. In the event of any of them proving
intractable, one man takes the foal and puts it underneath her to let
it suck a little, and then withdraws it while the milker takes its
place. So having collected a great quantity of milk, which when fresh
is as sweet as cow's milk, they pour it into a large skin or bag
[bucellum], and set about churning it with a club which is made for
this purpose, as thick at the lower end as a man's head and hollowed
out. As they stir it rapidly, it begins to bubble like new wine and
to turn sour or ferment, and they keep churning it until they extract
the butter."

Here's more:

Selections from the Tarikh-i-Rashidi by Mirza Muhammad Haidar, Dughlat

V. [On the medicinal powers of kumys (fermented mare's milk).]

At this time a certain Ahmad Mirza, one of the Timuri Mirzas of the
line of Mirza Shah Rukh, having fled [from his own country] had come
[to Moghuhstan]. He had [with him] a sister, for whom Amir Sayyid Ali
conceived a great affection; so much so that Amir Khudaidad and
others begged her to become Amir Sayyid Ali's wife. She, however,
refused, saying: "I cannot stay in Moghulistan, but if he will
accompany me to my own country, it can be arranged." She then
immediately set out for her own country, accompanied by Amir Sayyid
Ali. When she arrived at Andijan) Mirza Ulugh Beg dispatched a man to
kill Ahmad Mirza, and himself married his sister, at the same time
throwing Amir Sayyid Ali into prison at Samarkand, where he remained
one year. Here he fell sick of dysentery, and when on the point of
dying, Amir Ulugh Beg sent for the doctors, whose remedies, however,
were all without effect. One day somebody brought some kumiz. The
Mirza implored the doctors, saying: "As the medicines have done me no
good, I should much like to try a little kumiz, for which I have a
great craving." They at last agreed [to grant his request] as a
desperate experiment, saying: "It will very likely give him
strength." They then gave him as much kumiz as he wanted, and from
that moment he began to show signs of recovery. On the following day
they gave him some more, and he became perfectly well.

[Sayyid Ali eventually made his way back home, where he became
involved in the ultimately successful rebellion by which Vais Khan,
with Timurid support, seized the throne.] [Ü ]

There is evidence (I have to look more for the references) for a
great silver drinking fountain in Ogedei Khan's (Genghis' 3rd son who
succeeded him) palace at Karakorum:

In the southern section of the main hall was a silver tree-fountain,
crowned with a silver figure of a man blowing a trumpet. At festival
times, a beautiful sound would be heard as four kinds of delicious
drink poured from four dragons' heads facing in four directions from
the trunk of the tree, and flowed down into silver vessels placed
there to receive them.

It dispensed at various times: Rice or Millet Beer, Boal (a kind of
mead), Kumiss, Qaracosmos (another kind of kumiss), terracina (rice
wine) and wine. What's interesting is that Ogedei Khan died from
alcoholism. The fountain was built by an goldsmith, William of Paris.

Just found the original here in William Rubruck's Journal:

[The Khan's palace at Karakorum]
Mangu had at Caracarum a great palace, situated next to the city
walls, enclosed within a high wall like those which enclose monks'
priories among us. Here is a great palace, where he has his drinkings
twice a year: once about Easter, when he passes there, and once in
summer, when he goes back (westward). And the latter is the greater
(feast), for then come to his court all the nobles, even though
distant two months journey; and then he makes them largess of robes
and presents, and shows his great glory. There are there many
buildings as long as barns, in which are stored his provisions and
his treasures. In the entry of this great palace, it being unseemly
to bring in there skins of milk and other drinks, master William the
Parisian had made for him a great silver tree, and at its roots are
four lions of silver, each with a conduit through it, and all
belching forth white milk of mares. And four conduits are led inside
the tree to its tops, which are bent downward, and on each of these
is also a gilded serpent, whose tail twines round the tree. And from
one of these pipes flows wine, from another cara cosmos, or clarified
mare's milk, from another bal, a drink made with honey, and from
another rice mead, which is called terracina; and for each liquor
there is a special silver bowl at the foot of the tree to receive it.
Between these four conduits in the top, he made an angel holding a
trumpet, and underneath the tree he made a vault in which a man can
be hid. And pipes go up through the heart of the tree to the angel.
In the first place he made bellows, but they did not give enough
wind. Outside the palace is a cellar in which the liquors are stored,
and there are servants all ready to pour them out when they hear the
angel trumpeting. And there are branches of silver on the tree, and
leaves and fruit. When then drink is wanted, the head butler cries to
the angel to blow his trumpet. Then he who is concealed in the vault,
hearing this blows with all his might in the pipe leading to the
angel, and the angel places the trumpet to his mouth, and blows the
trumpet right loudly. Then the servants who are in the cellar,
hearing this, pour the different liquors into the proper conduits,
and the conduits lead them down into the bowls prepared for that, and
then the butlers draw it and carry it to the palace to the men and

Ok. Now for some references:

The first reference I'd recommend is:

(1994) Milk and Milk Products from Medieval to Modern Times -
Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Ethnological Food
Research - Edited by Patricia Lysaught. It contains an
article: "Koumiss in Mongol Culture: Past and present" by Joyce S.

There is also a GREAT website which contains many period texts of
travellers to Mongolia and are available here:


Great stuff here on central Asian milk stuff:

The main Mongolian Cookbook (Yin Shan Cheng Yao) is actually
completely devoid of references to milk products. Theories here is
that they were 'too mundane' to be mentioned, considered to have no
medicinal qualities at that time/place and thus omitted (unlikely) or
that milk products weren't available in that time/place
(1456/Capital) and were omitted. Perhaps it was because the author
was Chinese. The recipes themselves record the intrusion of alien
(and some believe unsophisticated) Mongol cookery based on mutton
into Chinese cuisine. It was written by Hu Szu-Hui, who probably
came from a bilingual Chinese-Turkic family in northwest China and
who served as imperial dietary physician to several short-lived
descendents of Qubilai Qan in the early 1300s.

I know it probably doesn't help but I'd thought I'd let you know that
I'm even more in the dark about Kumiss than I used to be!

Sorry for the huge ramble, I hope some have found it vaguely
interesting... Should I write this into an article for the next BVI



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