Kenya’s Secret Superfood: Mursik

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Mursik(traditional fermented cow's milk) being poured from the gourd(Sotet) to the cup.
Traditionally fermented cow’s milk(Mursik) is poured from the gourd(Sotet) into a cup.

For generations, Kenyans have been consuming Mursik, a traditional drink commonly associated with the Kalenjin Community in the Great Rift Valley. This drink is prepared basically from cows’ milk that has been fermented in a traditional way.

It is not uncommon to spot Kenyan athletes being served with Mursik once they arrive at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport from Athletics events abroad.

However before this special drink is served, there is a long process that goes with it. Women in the villages put in a lot of work to make sure that the Mursik serving tradition goes on and on.

CGTN set out to find out how this drink is prepared. And so we drove almost 400 kilometres from Kenyan capital Nairobi heading to the Rift Valley in Uasingishu County, Chesumei constituency.

Angeline Rugut (R) holding the gourd (Sotet). Looking on is Gladys Jepkosgei.

Angeline Rugut is a farmer, she keeps dairy cows which is her main source of income. She wakes up by 6.00 a.m to start the milking process. She milks just enough for tea and also for preparing Mursik, a valued drink in this part of the country.

Mrs Rugut together with Gladys Jepkosgei and Jacklyne Sang, who belong to Riipgaa Women Group that has ventured into Mursik entrepreneurship.

Gladys Jepkosgei explains to us how this traditional milk fermenting process begins before Mursik is availed on the table ready to drink: “You wake up in the morning and prepare warm water then head to the milking parlour armed with a hand towel, milking jelly and a  jerrycan. You wash the cow’s udder, dry it and start the milking process.

At this point, one already knows how much milk to set aside for preparing tea, for the customers and also for mursik.

The milk is boiled for almost half an hour as part of the Mursik making process.

“After you are done with milking, you then sieve the milk as you pour it to a clean dry sufuria. The milk is then boiled for almost half an hour. It is then left to cool for almost another half an hour. At this moment in time, you then pour the milk in specially made seasoned milk gourds (Sotet) that are pre-treated with smoke and charcoal of certain tree species prior to each use. The milk in the gourds stays for three days to become Mursik (fermented traditional milk).’’

Before we now get this fermented drink, we witnessed first-hand how the gourd is prepared prior to the storage of the milk. A gourd is smeared inside with special charcoal called “osek”. This osek is used as a milk preservative.

The gourd is prepared prior to the storage of the milk.

They also use embers to coat the inside of the cleaned gourd. The smoke from the embers also has a preservative effect which prevents undesired bacterial growth that can spoil the milk, while allowing natural souring. The charcoal smoke also puts a special flavour to the milk.

“Our great grandparents told us that the charcoal that is added to the Mursik to give it a dark colour and flavour is good for the stomach. It cleanses the stomach and that’s why most athletes love taking it. It is also an energy drink,” Jepkosgei submitted.

In the past, fresh blood tapped from a cow’s neck vein was added to fresh milk before fermentation, or to already fermented milk. In modern times this rarely happens.

Mursik can last even for a month in the gourd without spoiling but Jepkosgei says, three days are enough for the family to enjoy the drink normally accompanied by Ugali.

This traditional drink can be served to any person but not children who have not been weaned.

This tradition has been passed from generation to generation among the Kalenjin community in Kenya.

“The young ones learn from their parents how to prepare Mursik mostly through observation. Even when we marry off our girls, we make sure that they go with Sotet to their new homes to continue with the tradition,” Jepkosgei told me.

After the Mursik is cleared from the gourd, the gourd is then cleaned thoroughly by hot water and kept in a cool dry place waiting for the next process of fermentation.

These three women belong to a group of 17 other women who have ventured into the Mursik business.

Jacklyne Sang(L) and Gladys Jepkosgei from Riipgaa Women Group tasting the Mursik.

“The group(Riipgaa) has enabled us to venture into Mursik business, we now make Mursik and sell it to people who are hosting parties. We sell it to the nearest town centres. This has enabled us to sustain ourselves economically as women without necessary depending on our husbands for upkeep,” says Jacklyne Sang.

The group started in 2017 and obtained a certificate from the Ministry of Social Services, now has expanded its portfolio where they bought tents, chairs and dishes that they rent out and get an income.

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