BOZA, the Ancient Fermented Drink – Despite having spent quite a few holidays in Turkey, and being such a foodie, I’d never heard of boza. It was a post on Instagram by another local foodie contact that led me to contact Gokce Baykal who runs Richmond Boza to find out some more about this ancient, fermented drink – one that’s so popular with the Turkish community.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica: “Boza, a thick, fermented drink made from corn, wheat, millet, or bulgur (depending on location), with a subtle tart, tangy taste, and a very low alcohol content. Most commonly found in Eastern European and Middle Eastern countries like Turkey, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, and Romania, boza is a popular winter drink that resembles eggnog. In Turkey, it is slightly sweetened with sugar and cinnamon and served with crunchy roasted chickpeas. The name is possibly a root word for the English term “booze.”
Boza contains proteins, complex carbohydrates, minerals, and various vitamins – for this reason, is considered a very nutritious drink. It’s also vegan and high in lactic acid, which has positive effects on digestion and intestinal flora. The boza produced locally in Richmond is also gluten-free, as when noticing the taste was as good with corn and rice, they removed wheat from the ingredients. The Turks have been consuming boza for centuries, and this tradition made its way into Ottoman food culture, with shops selling boza all over the city of Istanbul during the Ottoman period. In Turkey today the health benefits of boza are promoted, with pregnant and nursing women, and athletes encouraged to drink boza. People tend to love or hate the taste of boza – I suppose it’s a Turkish equivalent of Marmite!
Gokce and her husband started making boza as a hobby while studying in the United States. They both have PhDs from their studies in New Jersey: Gocke studied Political Science and her husband is a food scientist. The boza was enjoyed by them and their friends, and when they came to live in Richmond some years ago, they continued making it. Again, friends and neighbours enjoyed the boza, and soon they found their hobby expanding and were selling it locally…
Strangely, boza is a winter drink in Turkey – sold from early October until March or April. To me, that seemed rather odd, as it’s cold, refreshingly rich, and sweet. On chatting about this, Gokce mentioned that originally it would, of course, have gone off in the heat of Turkish summers long ago, hence its winter consumption. But the habit remains to this day.
So, what does it taste like? Well, it’s rich, and sweet, with a slightly slimy texture, yet smooth, and with grainy notes. It reminded me of a milkshake made from yoghurt and rice pudding, or eggnog. Did I like it? Yes, strangely enough, I found it very nice, if a tad on the sweet side for my personal taste. I could easily, though, become quite addicted to it!
You can buy Richmond Boza from the Turkish shops in the Richmond area: Richmond Greens on Richmond Hill; La Plata in Mortlake; Bakkal in Putney or online from bestgrocery.co.uk. La Plata Deli also offers it on the menu, so you can even try it before you buy!