Recently, there has been a surge in interest in “ancient grains,” or Old World grains that have been staples for millennia. Amaranth, farro, buckwheat, quinoa and millet now can be found in everything from salads and cupcakes to breads and soups.
But ancient grains aren’t exclusively for cooking. During a recent trip to Istanbul, Turkey, I discovered that millet can be fermented into a thick, pudding-like beverage that’s sweet, tart and nutty, all at the same time. Called boza, this popular beverage dates back to the fourth century B.C. and is rich in vitamins A, B, C and E, calcium and iron. Other countries in Central Asia and the Balkans enjoy similar fermented drinks, but they vary by the type of grain used, such as corn, rye, buckwheat and barley.
Boza has a bit of an irreputable past; it was banned in the 17th century by Sultan Mehmed IV because of its (1 percent) alcohol content. Thankfully, boza has endured, and I got to enjoy a generous serving at the historic Vefa Bozacici in Istanbul.
Established in 1876 by Albanian immigrants, the storefront is humble and seemingly unchanged since Atatürk, the founder of modernday Turkey, walked through its well-worn doors to linger over a freshly-ladled glass of boza topped with cinnamon and toasted chickpeas.
Some say boza is an acquired taste, but I love it. And while making it is a time-consuming process, the result is well worth the effort. Thick and rich, boza is best enjoyed with a spoon to scoop up every last, delicious bit.