Mongolian Butter Oil – Shar Tos

The origin of шар тос [shar tos] go way back. Even till today it is used widely. Instead of vegetable oil, which there was none, nomads used shar tos and sheep tail’s fat to cook with or fry with.

Shar tos comes from cow’s milk. The ladling of boiled milk results in foam to form on the top of the milk. Then the milk is cooled that way. Once it’s cooled the foam part is known as Urum. Usually eaten like butter on bread. When you go on a Mongolian tour and visit a Mongolian nomad family, most likely they will offer you Urum. Looks something like below picture.

Өрөм [Urum]

The Urum is then transferred onto a clean cheese cloth, tied tightly. The water will evaporate eventually leaving just the waterless Urum, which is melted in a pot to bring out the oil known as Shar tos. Herdsmen sometimes used sheep’s intestine linings, gallbladder casings to store the Urum as there was no such thing as cheese cloth.

Replacing today’s conventional vegetable oils for shar tos, any food takes on more flavor. Especially Mongolia’s well known dish Khuushuur – The fried flat dumpling that I’m sure many of you have eaten by now. Khuushur fried in Shar tos has its healing properties too. It relieves of bloating and stress, by holding the semi-hot khuushuur between your palms, absorbing the oil into your skin. Besides just using for frying, there have been many said health benefits of shar tos like how it can help:

  • Decrease blood pressure
  • Helps in weight loss
  • Aids in digestion
  • Decreases cholesterol levels
  • Makes skin more radiant
  • Doesn’t evaporate or separate under high temperature, does not cause free radicals
  • Helps in less painful labour

To receive such benefits, you need to eat a tablespoon of shar tos daily as if you’re taking vitamins. Again much like with other Mongolian cultural foods and remedies, these methods of healing properties have been verified by word-of-mouth, personal experiences of relatives, friends etc., & through rooted nomadic traditions handed down from older generations. There are still arguable elements to these methods, of which I will not go into. I’ll leave that up to the never ending debate between traditions vs science.

Personally I sometimes use Shar tos to make milk tea, it’s definitely true that it adds lots of flavor at least. 🙂

To use Shar tos you don’t have to go through the process listed above…well thank god huh? Phew. Shar tos is readily available in its final state all over grocery stores in Mongolia. Would look something like this.

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