Boza: Ancient Fermented Sourdough Drink

Boza is a fermented grain beverage widely popular in Turkey, from where it has spread to the Balkan States, the Levant, and even as far as Egypt. The history of boza, and its production from grains such as millet, barley, and wheat, and its fermentation with various sourdough starters, is fascinating.

Balkan style boza from millet

What is Boza?

Boza is made from extant local grains cooked to a porridge, inoculated with a yeast or sourdough starter, and allowed to ferment for a short time. The porridge can also be made with various botanicals as flavoring agents. 

After fermenting, the solids are strained out and a sweetener such as sugar or honey is added. It will contain about 1% or less alcohol by volume at this point, but also a rich strain of probiotics and vitamins. The consistency can vary from smooth like buttermilk, to a pudding that you eat with a spoon. The flavor is sweet/tart, and filled with umami. 

Boza History

Records of making and consuming grain beverages go back at least 9000 years, with mentions of millet boza specifically, traced as early as the 10th Century CE among the Turkic peoples. Its popularity then spread to the Caucasus and Balkan regions.  

The people of the Ottoman Empire notably became its very fervent fan base. From the 14th to the 16th Centuries boza making was a common trade. By the mid-1500s however, the custom of mixing boza with opium brought on the wrath of the Sultan, who banned its manufacture. With the rise of Islam, and prohibition of alcoholic drinks in the 17th century, boza was again prohibited and all boza shops were closed. This prohibition would be enforced, and then relaxed, several times in Ottoman Empire history. Still, travellers were able to find boza widely drunk, and at one time there were 300 boza shops employing over a thousand people in Constantinople alone.

Boza Ingredients

While boza from the the Balkans is usually made from millet, in modern Turkey bulgur (cracked parboiled wheat) is often used, and recipes can also contain rice. In Egypt, barley is commonly used. Some Balkan recipes call for baked wheat flour instead of bulgur, and sometimes maize (corn) is included.

Boza was traditionally a tart, and sometimes quite alcoholic beverage. After the prohibitive ruling by the Sultan, a sweet and non-alcoholic version was introduced in the 19th century and became much more popular than its sour and alcoholic predecessor. In 1876, brothers Hacı İbrahim and Hacı Sadık established a boza shop in Istanbul’s Vefa district that continues to serve sweet boza to this day. Modern Boza is allowed to ferment very briefly, perhaps 20 hours or so, and is sweetened with raw or turbinado sugar or honey before being refrigerated to inhibit further yeast activity.

Turkish style boza from bulgur with chickpeas


Historically boza was served with grape molasses (Greek: Petimezi) from Kuşadası, powdered cinnamon, cloves, ginger and grated coconut. Modern touches include garnishes such as mint, or pieces of fruit like pomegranate or persimmon. Some modern recipes may add a vanilla bean during the cooking process.

Fermentation Organisms

Traditionally, a sample saved from a previous batch was used to initiate the fermentation process, in a way similar to how sourdough bread is inoculated. Today the beginner can use a commercial sourdough starter, or create their own using a flour and water mixture exposed to the local ambient air.

Lacking these options it is possible to start a boza batch by adding yogurt and baker’s yeast. Alternately, mixtures of baker’s yeast and probiotic lacto/pedio bacteria blends can substitute.

Preparing Boza

Wash and cover the grains with fresh water

Soak the grains several hours or overnight

Drain the soak water from the grains and add more water to cover them

Cook the grains until they are soft adding water as needed

Liquefy the cooked grains in a blender with the some of the cooking water

Strain out the solids with a fine mesh strainer back into the cooking pot

Add the sugar, and more water to the desired finished quantity

Cool the liquid to lukewarm temperature and add the sourdough starter, (or yeast/yogurt) cover with a towel or cloth

Move the container to a warm place (such as an oven with the light on) at 21 – 27 ºC (70 – 80 ºF)

Ferment for 24 to 72 hours, stirring occasionally, and depending on how sour you wish to make it

Strain and transfer the liquid to a plastic jug, add finishing sugar, and refrigerate

Loosen the jug’s cap occasionally to release excess pressure

The boza will continue to ferment slowly and become carbonated and stronger in ABV

Serving Boza

In Turkey, boza is typically served cold in water glasses, perhaps ones with a handle like a mug. For additional flavor, it is often sweetened with sugar or grape molasses, topped with cinnamon and roasted chickpeas. A dessert spoon is sometimes supplied as well, as the boza can be as thick as a pudding, although it is usually about the consitency of milk kiefer.

Egyptian Boza with Date Sugar, Date Syrup and Ajwain Seed

Boza Health and Nutritional Benefits

Researchers that studied boza samples made from maize, wheat, and rice flours determined that on average they consisted of 12.3% total sugar, 1.06% protein, and 0.07% fat. Boza also contains vitamins A, B, and E, in a highly bioavailable form, and it provides the health benefits of a probiotic drink with its variety of lactic acid bacteria cultures.

A myth in the Balkan countries suggests that drinking boza regularly makes women grow bigger breasts! While there is no scientific support to this claim, some women are convinced that it works.

Balkan Boza Recipe 2 litres

250g Millet, 280g Turbinado sugar, 150ml Sourdough starter, 1.5 litres Water

Turkish Boza Recipe 2 litres

200g Bulgur, 55g Brown rice, 200g Raw sugar 150ml Sourdough starter 1.5 litres Water

Egyptian Recipe 2 litres

250g Pot Barley, 200g Date sugar, 150ml Sourdough starter, 1.5 litres Water, 100g Date syrup, Toasted Ajwain seed

Roasted Chickpea Recipe

1 can (398 ml) garbanzo (chickpea) beans, drained, skins removed, dried with paper towel. Coat with 1 Tbs cold-pressed grapeseed oil; roast 30 minutes at 190 ºC (375 ºF)) turning frequently. Toss with zest of 1 lime, 2 tsp white wine vinegar, sea salt to taste. Return to oven 3 minutes; cool. Store in airtight container.

Grape Molasses (Petimezi)

1.35 litres white grape juice reduced by boiling to 250 mililitres

Kola\Coca Soda

In the years after the Civil War in the United States, nostrums and remedies began to appear for sale in the cities and towns throughout the South. One of these was invented by a war veteran who had been injured in battle, and subsequently found himself addicted to morphine, which he had been using to relieve his pain. Marketed as Pemberton’s French Wine Coca, it was touted as a cure for the blues, as well as for morphine addiction. The alcoholic version of the drink was reformulated in response to temperance legislation enacted in the area, and eventually became the world’s top-selling soft drink.

Pemberton's French Wine Coca

Pemberton’s French Wine Coca

This recipe for a drink that contains both coca leaf and kola nut extracts looks particularly pale when compared to commercial cola products. That is because the coloring agent in those versions is caramel. Commercial caramel color is created by heat-treating sugars such as glucose in the presence of acids, alkalies, or salts. It’s there pretty much only for the color. Leave it out and you get a pale golden drink colored, in this case, by the kola nut, coca leaf, and raw cane ingredients. Lime juice and six essential oils complete the formula.

Kola\Coca Soda tastes amazingly like a fresh version of the familiar cola practically everyone knows. It is very aromatic, thanks to the fresh lime juice and combination of fruit and spice oils. If you add a shot or two of dark rum to this beverage you will undoubtedly find yourself soon shouting “¡Cuba Libre!”

Speedwell Skullcap

Speedwell SkullcapPCHere’s a drink named after a Grateful Dead concert that never was. No wait! Hear me out. Altamont Speedway was the site of the death of the 60s hippie era. The Grateful Dead, scheduled to play, got the hell out when things got way out of hand. Speedwell (Veronica officinalis) is an herb that is sometimes considered a weed. Deadheads like herb and weed, right? Speedwell—Speedway, close enough for a Deadhead no doubt.

The Altamont Speedway with 300,000 hippies

The Altamont Speedway with 300,000 hippies

Speedwell is slightly bitter and astringent, with a taste a bit like green tea. Its medicinal use includes relief for coughs, and the plant is rich with vitamins, tannin, and anti-inflammatory compounds.

Skullcap, or Mad-dog Weed (Scutellaria lateriflora) is a perennial mint, purported by early North American settlers to cure rabies, hence its common name. Skullcap’s current use, however, is in the promotion of a sense of well-being, a property any Deadhead can relate to. The active ingredient is the flavone scutellarin, a phenolic compound. The name skullcap refers to the shape of its flowers, which resemble early military head gear. Speaking of head gear, here’s a Grateful Dead skull cap.

Deadhead Skull Cap

Deadhead Skull Cap

Schisandra chinensis (五味子 in Chinese, wǔ wèi zi, literally “five-flavor berry”) is so named because it is simultaneously sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and spicy. A traditional Chinese medicine, it calms the spirit by balancing yin and yang. Western pharmacological studies have shown that it is effective in treating “heavy metal intoxication,” so—‘nuff said.

Grapefruit-like pomelo juice and zest, the main ingredients for the now-defunct liqueur Forbidden Fruit, along with Montmorency cherry extract, angelica and orris roots round out the ensemble. Drink up lovers!

Ginger Peach Peppercorn Pop

Ginger PeachCropPCom
Ginger and peach are two flavors that seem to be just meant to be together. Ginger peach tea is very popular, the flavors mixed with black tea, or without, as a tisane. There’s ginger peach pie, ginger peach hot sauce, ginger peach ice cream, even ginger peach soap!

Aromatic, spicy and pungent ginger has a long history of therapeutic use, especially in the treatment of gastrointestinal maladies. Ginger contains anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols, which may explain why osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis patients experience reductions in pain and improvements in mobility when they consume ginger. Chamomile also has anti-inflammatory effects, while its use as a calmative and anxiety reducer is well known among herbal medicine practitioners.

The peach (Prunus persica) is native to Northwest China, from whence comes the world’s largest crop. In Chinese mythology certain peaches confer immortality on those who consume them. This recipe calls for a commercial 100% peach-pear juice combination. If it is unavailable in your area you could substitute a mix of pureed very ripe peaches with about double the volume of pear or white grape juice.

This pop recipe makes the most of the ginger-peach romance, and kicks up the spiciness with a hint of cayenne and a modicum of green pepper. The amount of cayenne is just enough to suggest a chile pungency in the back of the palate without burning the entire mouth.

The Pepper Harvest in Marco Polo's Day

The Pepper Harvest in Marco Polo’s Day

Green peppercorns are the same unripe drupes from the pepper vine as are black peppercorns, but they are processed differently. Highly prized for their aroma and flavor of lemon grass and bergamot, the organic variety are gently washed after harvest, and then freeze-dried to retain their essential oils and true flavors. They contribute a subtle but deep spicy warmth to the beverage.

White mulberry is apparently the latest dietary sensation, if you are to believe television health-food pundits. White mulberries are indeed rich in antioxidants, protein and fiber. In dried form they have less than half the sugar of raisins, yet are still nicely sweet, with a flavor similar to figs. The fruit is a component of traditional Chinese medicine, where it is used to treat diabetes.

Enjoy this healthy and restorative drink over ice, or chilled and straight. A chunk of candied ginger makes a tasty garnish. Add a bit of your favorite white liquor to make a tasty summer cocktail!

Tamazcal Opotunia

prickly pearPC

The tamazcal (Nahuatl for “house of heat,” or possibly Aztec for “bath house”) is a sauna-like structure invented by the pre-Columbian inhabitants of Central Mexico, and the region south to present-day Costa Rica. These structures are still in use, performing a similar function as that of a sweat lodge or steam room.

Starting around 7000 BCE, complex agrarian cultures began to form in this region, along with the creation of sedentary agricultural villages, and ceremonial centers. Purification rituals were among the curative ceremonies performed by these indigenous people, designed to rejuvenate the body after battle or a ball game.

Tamazcal: Aztec Sauna or Sweat Lodge

Tamazcal: Aztec Sauna or Sweat Lodge

The way in which these therapies cleanse the body is believed to involve “heat shock proteins” (HSPs) that are created in response to environmental stresses, in this case the high temperature and humid environment of the tamazcal. HSPs are involved in binding antigens and presenting them to the body’s immune system. They also provide an essential role in the formation of other proteins, and in the body’s cellular repair system.

Along with the heat therapy provided by the tamazcal, many practitioners suggest imbibing in another source of HSPs: Opotunia-Ficus-Indica, or prickly pear cactus. The fruit is high in antioxidants, particularly betalains (betanin and indicaxanthin), two molecules that give the juice its nearly fluorescent red color. With a flavor reminiscent of watermelon, the juice is rich in Vitamin C, and is one of the first cures for scurvy! The plant also contains at least five other antioxidant flavinoids. The pulp of the fruit contains the carbohydrates glucose, fructose and starch, proteins, and fibers rich in pectin.

Eleuthero root (Eleutherococcus senticocus)is a medicinal plant native to northeast Asia. It is often referred to as Siberian Ginseng, as it is widespread in North Korea and throughout Northeastern Russia. It is not the same as Panax ginseng, the more common Chinese herbal medicine. Eleuthero is considered an anti-oxidant “adaptogen” that reduces the impact of stress, while stimulating the central nervous system.

Rooibos or “red bush” (Aspalathus linearis) is a broom-like legume growing in the fynbos (shrubland) of the Western Cape of South Africa. The leaves of the plant are used to make a bush tea, which has been popular there for generations. Rooibos leaves are oxidized (“fermented” in tea parlance) to create their red color and complex flavor. They are high in Vitamin C and antioxidant flavonoids. Cinnamic acid gives them a honey-like aroma. Rooibos has a bitter/sweet taste that has been described as slightly pungent and “warm.”

These three ingredients combine in Tamazcal Opotunia with citrus juice and zest to create a potent tonic, cleansing indeed but also a refreshingly cool end to a steamy session in a tamazcal, a hammam, or just a hot August night.

Kalalau Punch

Kalalau PunchThe Kalalau Trail winds its way along eighteen kilometers (eleven miles) of the spectacular Nā Pali Coast of the Hawaiʻian island of Kauai. This is one of the most strenuous back packing trips you will ever take. Having said that, it’s quite possible that you will encounter someone along the way hiking stark naked and wearing flip-flops. Odds are good that they will be from Quebec, especially if it’s January.

Switch-backing across deep ravines, the trail is a centimeter of mud on top of solid volcanic rock for the first six miles. Camp beneath wild coffee trees half way and struggle to keep your damp firewood lit. Then things dry out as you enter the more arid region to the south. Under such conditions, trail side camaraderie builds as you repeatedly encounter fellow hikers resting along the way. Finally arriving at Kalalau Beach is an adventure in Paradise.

The trail to Kalalau Beach is one of the world's most strenuous.

The trail to Kalalau Beach is one of the world’s most strenuous.

The recipe for Kalalau Punch was created on such a trek. Kalalau Valley is home to numerous fruit trees, including mango, papaya, avocado and orange. Passion fruit grows in abundance. If your new friends invite you over to their camp for cocktails one evening, grab several oranges, a few passion fruit, some Hawaiian Punch crystals from your stash, that flask of Whaler’s Dark Rum you packed in, and head on over. Perhaps your new pals will have a bit of Pakalolo to share, as the sun sets over the water at 7 PM, the way it does every day of the year.

The effort to obtain it makes Kalalau Punch the ultimate tiki drink. Fortunately, the wide availability of wonderful juice blends mean that you need not risk life and limb to enjoy it. Mahalo and aloha!

FAQ: AKA The Umami Factor Elevator Pitch

Umami Factor_front1w


It’s two things. It’s the title of my new book, and it is the principle for making fermented beverages that provide a complex, mouth-filling, satisfying flavor sensation by balancing multiple aromas with the five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami.


Umami is the taste sensation of savory foods. The word is Japanese for “delicious” taste. It’s provided by receptors in your mouth, throat, esophagus, and even stomach that detect the presence of glutamates, which are derived from amino acids. The umami sensation is pleasant for the same reason that “sweet” is pleasant.

The body is cued to detect vital, high-engergy nutrients: carbohydrates with sweet taste, and proteins with umami taste. Natural, unfiltered fermented beverages are packed with umami-producing compounds from the fruits, grains, and yeast they are made of.


Full-spectrum fermentation describes a process of techniques combined with intricate ingredient formulas that create complex flavor arrangements evoking the response “There’s so much going on there! How did you do that?”

Full-spectrum beverages are complex and improbable, but ultimately well-balanced drinks.


It takes a full-spectrum look at beverages from soft drinks to hard liquor. It thoroughly discusses the components necessary for flavor balancing. It examines related spectra, such as the inebriation spectrum and the commitment spectrum. It has a textbook approach to data, with a multitude of tables for ingredients and supplies. It provides recipes and detailed instructions, but more importantly it is a call to chefdom for aspiring fermentation artists. Tally Ho!

Buy The Umami Factor now for a substantial pre-release discount here.

Kratom Bomb

Kratom BombPWYou don’t light the fuse of this bomb. You suck the explosive contents through dual intake ports. Kratom leaves have a unique dual personality. If they are ingested in small quantities, they are a stimulant. If they are taken in large quantities they are a depressant. Different strains have various combinations of stimulation/sedation properties, making them useful in a wide range of applications from relieving anxiety and stress to reducing the pain of chronic infirmities such as arthritis.

Kratom is the fresh or dried leaves of a tree in the coffee family (Mitragyna speciosa) that grows all over Southeast Asia, most notably in Thailand where it is illegal despite being widespread in the wild. Kratom use is also prohibited in Malaysia. Kratom is legal to possess in almost every other area of the world. The leaves are typically eaten fresh where the plant grows wild. They can also be dried and brewed into tea by simmering them in boiling water. Leaf powder can be consumed in capsule form, or washed down with fruit juice.

Kratom Bomb uses stimulating Maeng Da leaves from Thailand, mixed in equal proportion with the more mellow Kratom from Indonesia. The syrup base for Kratom Bomb starts with coconut water sweetened with coconut and raw cane sugars. Spiciness is provided by adding fresh grated galangal and turmeric roots. Makrut lime leaf adds subtle aroma. Goji berries contribute a fruity background, and lime zest and juice provide a tangy finish. The drink is notably stimulating, and imbibers should indulge cautiously until they have established its specific effects for themselves.

Malta Macho

Malt-flavored soft drinks are popular in Latin America, where they go by the name Malta. The drink originated in Germany, where it was called malzbier. In that early version, the beverage was fermented to less than 2% ABV, then bottled and pasteurized, leaving considerable residual sugar. Modern commercial versions use corn syrup, malt extract and artificial carbonation.

This recipe calls for an all-malt approach with no fermentation, and adds a bit of herb tea to expand the flavor sensation. Easy to make, it is prepared as fully non-alcoholic syrup, and carbonated with club soda. The recipe is inexact with regard to herbs, so experiment with proportions to suit your taste.
The accompanying photo shows a malta made with two grams of whole Fuggle hops for every four liters of beverage. They have not been boiled with the malt, and so the flavor and aroma are prominent, but the bitterness is quite mild. The sweetness is there, but is subtly balanced by the hop addition.

To create a drink with even more complex flavor, with considerably more effort you can try an all-grain version. Mash base and specialty grains as you would for beer, collecting about 1.5 liters of liquid.

Heat water to 70 C, add cracked caramel malts in grain bag, steep 30 minutes and remove. Drain liquid from grains and add water to bring back to 1.2 L. Heat water to 100 C, remove from heat. Stir in malt extract and herbs. Cool one hour. Dispense 150 ml into each of eight 500 ml swing-top bottles.

Freeze syrup in bottles, top up with soda water, store in refrigerator. When the frozen syrup has thawed, gently agitate the bottles to suspend the ingredients. After 24 hours any grain flour or trub will again sink to the bottom, leaving the flavor and color components suspended. The liquid can be decanted off the sediment to serve a more clear drink.

Agua Fresca Flor de Jamaica

JamaicaPWAguas frescas (“fresh waters”) are popular soft drinks sold primarily by street vendors in Latin American countries. They can also be found in taquerias and bodegas (convenience stores) throughout the region, and into North America. They are made with a variety of fruit, sugar, and water. The most common flavors are horchata (almond), tamarind and roselle (hibiscus), which in Spanish is known as Jamaica (pronounced ha-MAY-ka.)

Put allspice, ginger, zest and cinnamon in 2 liters of water; add the sugar and bring just to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat. Add the roselle and allow the mixture to steep covered for 20 minutes. Strain the syrup into a storage jar and add the lime juice. Store this in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. To serve, fill a glass with crushed ice, add the syrup to half fill the glass and top up with club soda.

Agua de Jamaica is the classic version of an agua fresca, and certainly the easiest to make. The roselle is high in Vitamin C, and is tangy yet floral in character, almost like a berry or grape drink. The spices are subtle, and create background complexity. It can be prepared as a still beverage, or, as in this example, topped up with club soda to create a sparking (gaseosa) version. Refrescante y delicioso!