Can wine be made from milk?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Can wine be made from milk?

—Aakash, India

Dear Aakash

Wine is made from fermented grapes (or, more broadly, fermented fruit, if we include beverages known as “fruit wine”). But sure, you can make fermented beverages from milk and—take it from me—you can spend most of an afternoon researching the history and methods for making these beverages online. It’s pretty interesting stuff!

Here are a few highlights. First, fermenting milk is actually pretty complicated. To make wine, the sugar in grapes is converted to alcohol with the help of yeast. Even though milk has sugar content in the form of lactose, lactose is not easily metabolized by yeast. The lactose needs enzymatic action to transform it into simpler sugars that can more easily ferment.

Kumis, from Mongolia, seems to be the most popular fermented milk, made from raw, unpasteurized mare’s milk (trivia alert: mare’s milk has a higher sugar content than cow's milk). The finished product is a carbonated, mildly alcoholic drink that’s apparently an acquired taste.

—Dr. Vinny

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