What is Boza?

C. K. Lanz

Boza is a thick, fermented drink that is popular in many eastern European and Eurasian countries. It can be made with barley, wheat, or millet flour, among other grains, and can taste sour or sweet and slightly acidic. Boza typically contains up to 4-percent alcohol and can easily be brewed at home. The Bulgarian, Albanian, and Turkish types are the most widely available.

Boza is a drink that can be made using fermented wheat, among other grains.
Boza is a drink that can be made using fermented wheat, among other grains.

It is believed that boza was first produced in the 10th century by Turks in central Asia before eventually spreading to the Balkans and Caucasus. The drink was an important export under the Ottomans and was widely consumed until the late 16th century. Sultan Selim II prohibited boza because of fears that it was laced with opium.

Boza is popular in Turkey.
Boza is popular in Turkey.

Later Sultans maintained the ban because the drink was alcoholic. Enforcement appears to have been minimal at best in light of many reports of boza shops throughout the empire. Since the alcohol content is low, it became permissible to drink it in small quantities. Getting drunk from drinking it was not permitted.

A renaissance came about in the 19th century. The Albanian type of the drink became a popular choice at the Ottoman palace because it was not very alcoholic but tasted sweet. Two Haci brothers established a shop in central Istanbul in 1876 that produced a version of the drink with a tart flavor that became widely known and is still popular today.

The Turkish version is made with hulled millet boiled in water and then poured into shallow pans. When the mixture is cool, water and sugar are added. This type is known as vefa boza and is usually consumed during the winter with cinnamon and roasted chickpeas.

In Albania, the drink is made of corn and wheat flour with sugar and water. The taste can be sweet or sour depending on how much sugar is added. Unlike the Turkish type, this version is lighter and is considered to be a summer beverage. As a result, it is often sold in candy and ice cream stores.

Bulgarian boza is heavier, and most people cannot drink large quantities at one time. It is made with roasted millet flour, water, and sugar. In Bulgaria, the drink is typically consumed with banitsa at breakfast. Banitsa is a pastry made of eggs and filo dough. All types of the beverage will spoil if not kept cool.

Scientific studies of the beverage have shed light on its nutritional content. One liter or 33 ounces generally contains vitamins E, B, and A and approximately a thousand calories. It is believed that the drink can stimulate lactation and is recommended to women who have recently given birth.

This malt beverage is common in Poland and Lithuania as well as Turkey, Albania, and Bulgaria. Boza is also consumed in Romania, Ukraine, and Serbia. Additionally, it is typical in Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the Chicago area in the United States.

Boza is popular in Albania.
Boza is popular in Albania.

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