What Is Airag?
What Is Airag?
Specific cocktails or alcoholic beverages may come to mind when considering travel destinations. For example, you might associate California with wine tasting in the scenic Napa Valley or a trip to Milan with sipping a refreshing Aperol spritz. However, most travelers might not be as familiar with the traditional alcoholic drink of Mongolia, airag.
This popular drink, more commonly known as kumis in other parts of Central Asia, is made of fermented mare’s milk. To make traditional airag, people would filter the milk through a cloth and pour it into a large open leather sack, or khukhuur. Alternatively, they might pour the milk into a wooden barrel or — in more modern times — a plastic container.
Once yeast and lactic acid bacteria are added to the mixture, the fermentation process begins. The mixture is then stirred repeatedly with a wooden masher, or buluur, for one to two days to create an even fermentation. People often place the khukhuur at the entrance of their ger, or traditional Mongolian dwelling, to encourage anyone coming or going to stir the mixture.
Airag also has many health benefits. Rich in vitamins and minerals and containing less than 3% alcohol, it is a probiotic rife with healthy bacteria and promotes immune and digestive health. Additionally, the fermentation process converts the lactose in airag, making it safe for lactose intolerant people. It can also work as a meal substitute in the warmer months.
Airag is a drink and a celebration of Mongolia and its surroundings. The horse, an esteemed animal in Mongolian culture, long used for transportation, hunting, herding, and companionship, is also used to produce a delicious, distinctly Mongolian beverage. Furthermore, airag is enjoyed in daily life and during festivals and times of celebration.
While you can purchase bottled airag, the slightly sweet and sour drink is best enjoyed when sipped out of a shared bowl passed from person to person.
To enjoy this fermented beverage on your next trip to Mongolia, visit from June to September — the peak airag season. You may find yourself in a ger sipping from a bowl of airag and participating in an ancient tradition that celebrates warmth, hospitality, Mongolian culture, and a beautiful way of life.
Are you interested in other aspects of Mongolian culture? Consider one of our many cultural tours here!