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Wine & Spirits

Fermented Horse Milk Season On in Kyrgyzstan (Photos)

August 14, 2022

SUUSAMYR, Kyrgyzstan — High up in the Tian Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan, the season for making the fermented drink known as kumis is in full swing.

Connoisseurs of kumis, an important part of nomadic tribes’ diets for untold centuries, say the Suusamyr valley is home to the best version of the drink.

In winter, the valley, which is 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) above sea level, is covered in meters-deep snow. When the thaw comes, the abundance of water feeds dense grass and herbs. By the end of summer, the valley is awash in a thick, emerald carpet of juicy blades of grass that horses eagerly devour.

A Kyrgyz woman milks a horse in a mountain pasture in the Suusamyr Valley lies at 2500 meters above sea level in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains 170 kilometres (100 miles) south of the capital Bishkek, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Vladimir Voronin)

The grass and herbs lend a particular flavor to the milk that locals draw from the mares in the fields where they graze. The milk then is left to ferment, or sometimes churned to promote fermentation, until it becomes mildly alcoholic.

Cows’ milk can also be used, but it is regarded as inferior. Mares’ milk has a higher sugar content, making it more amenable to fermentation.

A Kyrgyz woman offers a taste of kumis at a street market in Koy-Tash village, 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of south of the capital Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Vladimir Voronin)

Rustam Tukhvatshin, a Kyrgyz medicines professor, says kumis promotes the growth of blood cells and detoxifies the body, among other benefits. He says he never misses coming to Suusamyr when kumis production is at its height.

Tourists and people from other parts of Kyrgyzstan also are taking notice of the region’s kumis. Large wood-framed tents known as yurts have been set up along the road with tables where kumis is sold. With time to spare, a buyer can relax in the yurts while drinking the highly regarded beverage.

Horses graze in the mountain pasture in the Suusamyr Valley lies at 2500 meters above sea level in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains 170 kilometres (100 miles) south of the capital Bishkek, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Vladimir Voronin)
A Kyrgyz man and his child walk near a temporary tent and kitchen in a mountain pasture in the Suusamyr Valley lies at 2500 meters above sea level in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains 170 kilometres (100 miles) south of the capital Bishkek, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Vladimir Voronin)
A Kyrgyz woman prepares a snack inside a traditional yurt where she lives with members of her family, shepherds herding horses in a mountain pasture in the Suusamyr Valley lies at 2500 meters above sea level in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains 170 kilometres (100 miles) south of the capital Bishkek, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Vladimir Voronin)
A Kyrgyz woman and her dog stand near a traditional yurt where she lives with members of her family, shepherds herding horses in a mountain pasture in the Suusamyr Valley lies at 2500 meters above sea level in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains 170 kilometres (100 miles) south of the capital Bishkek, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Vladimir Voronin)

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