Making Airag is now a WORLD INTANGIBLE HERITAGE
At the 14th Session of UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, that took place on December 11 in Bogota city of Colombia, Mongolian traditional technique of making Airag in Khokhuur and its associated customs has been inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Airag (mare’s fermented milk), is one of the national pride and highly regarded special beverage in Mongolia. The airag-mildly alcoholic white beverage is the unique drink derived from traditional techniques and knowledge that inherited from ancient times to the different ethnic groups of Mongol nation and being used and served as a main and holy drink during various fests and in making offerings and ritual blessings. Mongolians make the Airag in summer and autumn seasons. Airag is being one of the main food products of Mongolians in the summertime, and it is being used as a treatment product. Foaming tasty airag has a unique dietetic value and is an important part of the daily diet of Mongolians. It is a nutritious and easily digestible beverage that contains different proteins, fat, minerals, A, C, and some B vitamins and a sufficient amount of amino acids essential for the human body. In addition, scientific studies reveal that it is very effective for curing various diseases such as tuberculosis, neurosis, anemia, arteriosclerosis and the decrease of gastric acid secretion and etc. Therefore, this medical beverage is today included in the menus of the numerous health resorts of the country. The first Airag treatment hospitals and nursing places were opened in Mongolian in 1946. The basic traditional technique of making mare’s airag consists of milking mares and cooling freshly milked milk, and repeatedly churning milk in a khokhuur with starter left inside to assist its fermentation. The liquid must be churned 5000 and more times to make a good fermented blend of airag. Mare’s milk undergoes fermentation by lactobacilli and lactic acid streptococci, producing ethanol, lactic acids, and carbon dioxide. The airag - mildly alcoholic white beverage emits a delicious smell and its pleasant taste can make your mouth watery. Knowledge and skills of making airag and khokhuur are orally and visually passed down from generation to generation through home-practicing by family members. From a tender age, children witness and learn the processes of caring horses, tethering foals, milking mares, churning airag and making a khokhuur from their elders. For making the khokhuur, first, the cowhide is soaked and hide’s filament is removed, then it is dehydrated in the wind and fumigated. In such a process, the cowhide turns to white flexible leather. The khokhuur is made from this white leather and consists of mouth (orifice) neck, corner, body and cords. The buluur is a long-handled wooden paddle that is used for churning airag in khokhuur and furnished with a bored blade of the board at the end. Khokhuur can hold 40 to 100 liters of airag.
Airag is used and served as a main and holy drink during various feasts and in making offerings and ritual blessings. Mongolians have a strong connection with their horses, and this tradition is observed from the traditional technique of making Airag in khokhuur and its associated customs. Airag is one of the respecting and welcoming expressions to the guests. Therefore, Mongolian people often say as "If there is no horse, it means there is no Airag, and if there is no Airag, it means there is no joy".