KyrgyzstanKumis – the drink of life for Nomads since ancient times

Kumis drink, fermented mare milk

Kumis… Does this word tell you anything? Perhaps, somewhere in the USA or in Europe nobody has ever heard it. But for the citizens of Central Asia kumis (horse’s milk) is the drink of life.

The way of producing kumis – a great secret of nomadic peoples

Kumis (kumiss, koumiss or kumys) is known since ancient times and it is very popular in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Turkic, Mongolian and Caucasian peoples of Russia: the regions of Altay, Bashkortostan, Buryatia, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Kalmykia, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Tatarstan, Tyva, Chuvashia, Saha (Yakutia). It is famous for its healing and rich nutritional properties. For centuries it has been a real drink of life for the nomads of Central Asia.

The earliest use of kumis was in the Neolithic era (5500 years ago). In the Suusamyr valley (Kyrgyzstan) were found leather bags made out of goat skin with traces of horse’s milk. The way of producing kumis was kept in secret by nomads.

So, this drink is very ancient – this can be also confirmed by the fact that the famous Greek historian Herodotus (484 – 424 B.C.) described that the tribes of Scyths had a favorite drink, prepared by churning horse’s milk in deep wooden pails. According to Herodotus, the Scyths were so afraid of leaking the way their kumis was produced that they blinded all the slaves, who were aware of the secret.

Today the secret is discovered – so why do they produce kumis? 

Only fresh horse’s milk can be used while kumis is produced. The pail for churning the milk is a cylindrical container with a diameter of 20-40 cm and the height of one meter. The container is closed with a lid with a hole in the center. In this hole it is put a pole. In the container where there is a small quantity of kumis (for leaven) fresh milk is poured. After that it is necessary to churn kumis for two days. Sometimes a piece of salty horse’s fat is added to the milk in order to soften the taste and enhance its fatness. Periodically, the container for churning kumis is freed completely, accurately washed, lubricated with butter and it is smoked in the inside.

Kumis can only be “life” and can’t be stored for a long time.

Kumis – the source of precious elements and vitamins for the organism

Kumis contains tiamin, riboflavin, B12, pantothenic acid, folic acid, biotin, vitamin C. That explains why it is used as an effective remedy for increasing immunity, treating chronic diseases, in tuberculosis treatment and prophylactics. Kumis has high anti-microbe properties, worked out by the microorganisms during fermentation and it is capable of stimulating biologic processes in the organism. Thanks to the presence of alcohol (the drink can contain up to 4,5% of alcohol), carbon dioxide and milk, acid kumis improves digestion. The antibiotic properties of the drink increase resistance of the organism to infection. Lactic acid bacteria create a favorable microflora for the bowel and decreases processes of rotting, leading to self-intoxication in the organism.

Kumis – the remedy of tuberculosis prophylactics 

In XIX century in his dissertation the professor N.F. Golubov pointed out that cellular exchange is increased due to the influence of a big quantity of kumis, containing much carbon dioxide, milk acid, alcohol and protein. Kumis has a stimulating effect on digestion, blood and blood circulation. Kumis is rich in antibiotic properties, negatively influencing on the tubercle bacillus. Thus it is an effective remedy in a struggle with the dangerous disease.

It can also diminish stress and cure depression.

Kumis resorts of Central Asia

In Central Asian countries you can find many kumis resorts (in particular, in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan), as in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan horse’s milk is not so widespread and popular. Kumis is the drink of Nomads, – like Kyrgyz and Kazakh peoples (in Turkmenistan camel’s milk is popular). The average cost of staying in such resorts is about 22 US dollars per day in Kyrgyzstan . Exploring the places where you can stay and get kumis treatment in Kyrgyzstan, it can be said that they all offer prices for the rooms which vary from 24 to 29 dollars per day. Some of them include three meals a day, including 5 daily portions of kumis. At the resorts tourists can also order the services of a guide, lease tents and mangals. There are riding tours as well; a small tour around the gorge will cost about 10 dollars. Among the largest kumis resorts of Kyrgyzstan we can find “Baitur” in the picturesque Suusamyr valley (160 km from the capital), “Chon-Terek” in the beautiful gorge Jylamysh (45 km from the capital), “Oruu-Sai” resort in Kashka-Suu village (23,6 km from Bishkek city), “Bala-Chychkan” in the Chychkan gorge in Toktogul district of Jalal-Abad oblast (the region in the South of Kyrgyzstan) and many others.

In fact, in many places in the mountainous area of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan tourists can find small improvised shops where they sell kumis – in cups (the so-called “piala” in Central Asian countries), in bottles and even in pails for big lovers of this healing drink. The average cost for 1 liter of kumis in Kyrgyzstan varies from 1.5 – 2 dollars and 1.8 – 2 dollars in Kazakhstan.

Attention! Tourists should know that…

Despite a completely positive effect of kumis on the organism of people, tourists should be aware of some specific properties of the drink – it possesses an expressed laxative effect. This effect can reveal itself differently in each organism, especially in people who have never drunk kumis before. You should make sure to have a toilet near you (highly in the mountains it is sometimes not very easy to find it quickly).

As the worker of one kumis shop in the small guest house in Ysyk-Ata resort (45.2 km from Bishkek city), a Nurkyz girl says: “Sometimes tourists and foreigners don’t know about the laxative effect of kumis. The effect on people is not the same, but everyone after kumis treatment tells about very good state of health and, mood”.


If you want to know more about Central Asian countries, read our blog! If you are planning to visit Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, browse our database of local tourist service providers and find [verified] guides, drivers, accommodation, activities and tours organized by local professionals! Discover Central Asia with us!


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