It is a drink of choice in the Rift Valley, and it has become synonymous with Kenya’s athletics.
That is ‘mursik’, a traditional milk delicacy that is an integral part of the Kalenjin culture and heritage.
Believed to be more than 300-years old, mursik is believed to have started as a way of preserving milk during a glut in production.
The drink is made from fermented milk preserved in gourds lined with specially ground fine charcoal from select trees that gives it a unique smoky flavour. To give it a twist, sometimes animal blood is added to it.
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This is the drink that has been popularised by Kenyan athletics heroes, who routinely receive a sip of the traditional drink on return from international duty.
According to Ms Jane Koima, a 70-year-old Uasin Gishu resident, explains that charcoal from certain medicinal trees are sometimes included to fortify the milk.
She says the tree used in preparation of the delicacy cures stomach upsets and neutralises acids formed during fermentation.
“Preparation of ‘mursik’ requires knowledge and skill. Make it too watery and no one will drink it,” she says.
Koima says she learned to make the delicacy from her mother and notes that care is needed because any form of contamination can cause stomach upsets.
To prepare mursik, one needs a gourd — commonly referred to as sotet in Kalenjin — which is first washed using a stick known as ‘sosiot’ (palm tree branch) then left to dry.
“Once dry, charcoal is used to coat the gourd’s inside. This is done using a special stick known as ‘itet’,” she says.
There is a common belief that ‘mursik’ strengthens bones and is the secret behind the endurance and speed of runners from the Rift Valley region.
For best results, the milk is boiled then left to cool before it is poured into a gourd and covered with a tight lid made of sewn cowhide and decorated with cowrie shells and beads. The milk is then left for four to five days to ferment. The sosiot is used to stir the milk to attain an even texture because butter tends to float on top.
Koima, however, notes that the quality and value of this age-old drink is being compromised due to depleted forest cover that has seen the tree, which flavours mursik, steadily face extinction.
Mzee Fredrick Chesang, a Keiyo elder, says mursik is not what it used to be several years ago. He says the drink has now been heavily commercialised which has tampered with its original taste.
“The taste, texture, colour and thickness is not what it was when our mothers would prepare the drink for us,” he says, noting that those who prepare it are after quick money.
Mzee Chesang also notes that the traditional gourd is no longer used and says this completely changes the drink.
“Today, plastic containers are used to ferment ‘mursik’ so when you drink it, there is that peculiar taste and smell of the container used to ferment it,” he says.