Kazakhstan: Lathering Up in Horse Milk
Horse-mad Kazakhstan will soon be bathing in mare’s milk if a group of researchers at an Almaty university get their way.Students at the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University have invented a new soap containing one of Kazakhstan’s favorite tipples: fermented mare’s milk. The drink, called kumis in Kazakh, is one of the ingredients in a new line of natural soaps developed at the university, reports Tengri News. “Right now a lot of cosmetics cause allergic reactions,” researcher Lyudmila Ignatova told the agency. “That’s because they contain various chemical components. We tried to find natural components that would benefit the skin of the hands, face and body.”The students aren’t the first in the world to cotton on to the commercial value of kumis cosmetics: One online Canadian company is flogging its soap made from a “secret ingredient [discovered] on Mongolia's wild steppes” – you guessed it, mare’s milk – for over $10 a bar. The Kazakh version is a bargain by comparison, retailing for $2-5 a bar – and the researchers hope to drive prices down by buying ingredients wholesale.The health benefits of kumis, which is far less fatty than cow’s milk, are legendary in Kazakhstan, neighboring Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia (where it is called airag). Fans of the slightly fermented drink say it contains beneficial antioxidants that protect against disease and boost the immune system. Last year scientists in Kazakhstan even promised to develop kumis-based medicines to treat tuberculosis.A picture of the new soap carried by Tengri News showed a bar shaped like a heart – perhaps symbolizing the love Kazakhs harbor for all things equine. Soon, perhaps the whole country will be lathering up in mare’s milk, Cleopatra-style.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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