Fermented foods were staples in our diet for millennia and with the creation of supermarket and convenience, traditions have been lost and no longer past on from mothers to daughters. At the same time, we have seen a growing number of the population succumbing to a plethora of diseases. During the last decade, there has been much money to be made in the natural health sector and suddenly, shops shelves are inundated with dozen of brands selling all types of kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kvass. Although, the latter still needs to catch up with its cousins. This is because kvass has an acquired taste, a bit like beer, but most of the time it is made with rye brad and is thus not suitable for people with gluten intolerance. Many a time, commercial kvass is made with wheat flour rather than grain.
Many people referred to kvass as the Russian cola as they are both similar in appearance. I would also suggest Guinness as it is closer to beer than to a liquid-sugar soda.
Kvass was for Russians what bone broths is to us today and it was used as a base to cold soups or drunk on its own or with bread, like would peasants do for centuries.
Kvass, in fact, kvas means leaven. Kvas was first mentioned in Old Russian Chronicles in the year 989 but its true origin still remains unknown. What we know is that kvass was an alternative to stagnant water and offered a safe drinking alternative (which, at the time was consumed way more than water), and that Prince Vladimir, best known for establishing Christianity may have said ‘Give food, honey and kvass to people’ after they would be baptised (source: Primary Chronicle). Kvass was made pretty much in every households; however, monks of the time would, as they were doing it the world around, keep records of everything and write the recipes. While kvass means "leaven", monks of the time referred to it as ‘zhivoi’, which literally means ‘live’, Like kumbucha or any concoction bubbling at the top, perhaps also moving the liquid, it would be indeed appropriate to say that it could be sea where the big bang occurred.
The process is very similar to beer making, and this is why its colour has changed over the centuries to match the colour of that of beer. Kvass has a very low alcohol content though (0.05-1.44%) and is not considered an alcoholic drink. The main ingredient of the original recipe is rye bread.
In the same way brewer's yeast is rich in B vitamins so is kvass.
Kvass is more than fermented rye concoctions. It can be made with beetroot, and potentially anything sweet and/or fermentable. It can be made at home without any effort at all. Perhaps, that's why companies proposing kvass are very few because they know how easy it is make it and that once the word is spread, there won't be much money to be made anymore. In Russia and ex-soviet countries though the market is still big business.
Kvass can also be a storing process, an easy lacto-fermentation process to preserve vegetables for longer.
It makes vegetables easier to digest, because bacteria have digested the sugars that we often cannot digest (e.g. raffinose, found in broccoli, sorbitol found in apples, pears, and stone fruits) and produced lactic acid instead.
Most importantly, because the sugar-content is much reduced it can also reduce the GI/GL of a vegetable, otherwise rich in sugar (e.g. beets, etc.).
Kvass is not a heating process, therefore, vegetables retain all of their nutrients. Partly-digested, the nutrients they contain are now readily accessible and the ratio of absorption is thus increased. Most importantly though, the vegetables are now considered probiotics and may provide a better suited method of bringing friendly colonies of bacteria in the gut. In 1913, Russian bacteriologists proved that kvass is a germicide by demonstrating that typhus bacteria die in the drink.
In the recipes below you will found Beet kvass, by kvass is actually the brine from the fermented beets, not the vegetable itself. Although, you can eat the beetroot, and you should.
Beet kvass (for 1 litre jar)
4 beetroots (diced into small chunks)
2 garlic cloves
1 inch piece of ginger (more or less, depending on your taste)
Yes, this is all you need.
You can also use carrots (diced), cucumber (sliced), broccoli or cauliflower floret, and add a touch of fresh herbs. You can experiment with any flavour to make your own.
1. Fill the jar with the prepared vegetables, for this recipe the beets. Do not peel the beetroot. you just need to wash them properly and brush them if necessary with a vegetable brush to remove the soil that may be trapped at the root of the leaves.
2. Add a sprig of rosemary or a bit of dill and the garlic clove, partially cut to open the flavour.
3. Add water, enough to cover the vegetables. Keep, at least 2.5 cm from the top of the jar. More is also fine.
4. Using a measuring jug, empty the water you have just poured into the jar, making sure to keep the vegetables within the jar.
5. Now add 2% of salt. For example, if the water is 500 ml, you should add 10 g of salt (or 2 g per each 100 ml). You can use a spoon to help the salt dissolve in the water. Although, you can speed up the process by warming the water slightly or use hot water from the kettle, but you need to make sure the water is pure and that the pan or kettle is completely clean. You also need to wait for the liquid to have fully cooled before mixing it back up with the vegetables.
6. Fill the jar with salty liquid. Close the lid and store the jar in a dark place, at room temperature for 2 days to a week. You know it is ready when foam appears at the top of the liquid. Ideal temperature is between 18-23˚c, any lower, the fermentation process may take much longer, up to 2-3 weeks.
Do not open the jar if the kvass is not ready, you may open the gate for bad bacteria to enter the liquid spoil the process. Once you have opened the lid, the jar must be placed in the fridge (below 3˚c).
7. Once the kvass is ready, you can drink the liquid (kvass) or keep it refrigerated for several months. Store the vegetables separately, in air-tight container and keep them for a week, sometimes more (must be below 3˚c).
But you can also keep the jar as it is and use the vegetables whenever you want to add flavour to a salad or a dish, or even as a snack. I have been able to keep mine for over a year (may be two 🤭) and it was absolutely safe, delicious and crunchy. Although, this depends on your fridge, temperature variations (how many times your fridge is opened, and for how long, each day), and how clean the utensils you have used in the process. To help, you can use clean wooden chopsticks and replace the lid on the jar, wiped clean, to minimise the risk of transfer of bacteria into the liquid or killing the lacto-bacteria by using metal utensils.
Personally, I loved eating the beetroot pieces with a toothpick with lightly roasted pistachios and a sprinkle of cumin and fresh parsley. An absolute cocktail party treat, especially if friends have arrived at your door unannounced.
I have also tried with feta and pistou, Together with peppery rocket leaves and watercress, it was an inspiration worth a picnic.
You can drink a shot of the beet kvass in the morning, it is a wonderful tonic, especially with the ginger.
Tip: To speed up the process, you can also thinly slice the beets.
Tip: You can also mix vegetables together and add many different herbs. Remember that you will drink the liquid so it must be pleasant.
Original Rye Kvass (for 1 litre jar)
While many bloggers and recipe sharers ask for ale yeast, this is truly not necessary and they ask for this special ingredient as a shortcut for a beer-like beverage and more-or-less the result is more a beer than true kvass.
2 litres pure, clean water (boiled is fine too)
200 g sugar
100 g rye bread
To prepare the bread, the best is to use stale rye sourdough. If you are not making it yourself you can buy it from a baker but make sure to ask about the ingredients. The least the ingredients, the better the kvass. Some iodised-salts, also often bleached, can interfere with the fermentation process.
If you want to bypass the time the bread takes to dry you can dry it in your oven. Just be aware that the more you dry or colour the bread, the stronger the colour of the final liquid. For example, burning the bread would result in a kvass looking much like Guiness and somewhat a bitter taste.
1. Dry the bread or use stale rye sourdough/bread
2. Dissolve the sugar into the water. If you have boiled your water, as it cool you can add the sugar and stir from time to time to help it dissolve.
3. Using a 2 litre jars, place the chunks of bread inside the jar and fill with the sweet water until fully covered. Make sure to keep a 2.5 cm gap from the top. The water should be around 40-45˚c to kickstart the fermentation process. Be careful not to use hot water as it will sanitise the recipient and prevent the fermentation to occur.
4. Place the lid and make sure it is tightly in place and position the jar in a dark corner or a kitchen cupboard. Room temperature is ideal but sometimes, in the winter months, the fermentation may take longer. If you do not have a lid with an automatic air-evac system, you need to "burp" the jar daily, to let the pressure escape.If warm, you may have to do it twice a day.Bubbles should start to appear and build up within 2-3 days. You may even see the bread moving around and the volume of bread considerably shrinking.
5. After 3 to 7 days, you can taste the liquid. It should taste tart but yet be pleasant to you, not too sour not too sweet. If it is to your taste you may strain the bread using a plastic spoon or cheesecloth over a glass/ceramic/plastic bowl.
6. In the same way you can add a second carbonation to water kefir, you can do so using raisins, the traditional ingredient. The sweetness from the raisins is enough to kickstart another round of fermentation and make the liquid more fizzy (remember kvass is also called Russian cola). If you are going to add this process, you need to make sure you are using glass bottle suitable for fermentation, otherwise they may explode and become a true health hazard (square bottles are a no-no because they are not strong enough nor made to resist the pressure).
Leave the bottle to ferment for another 2 days at room temperature, then refrigerate.
7. Kvass is best enjoyed ice-cold, a bit like beer. Perhaps, you could make kvass your new official football drink and enjoy a delicious, nutritious, alcohol-free and may I say good-for-you beverage.
But like beer moderation is key. if you are new to drinking fermented drinks, you need to build up to a full glass or more by starting with no more than 100 ml per day.
You may experience bloating and or digestive discomfort. If so reduce your intake and gradually build up to the suited intake.
Do not discard the bread, you can mix it into a salad or make tasty croutons; however, if you are making kefir or kumbucha, you know you need a stater to mae the recipe again. The chunks of bread are now your starter and so you can use them to make your next batch of kvass. the fermentation will, therefore, be much faster the next time around and more tasty, Use this starter for 3 to 4 times or possibly more.
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Olivier is a Michelin trained chef, a registered Naturopath and Nutritional Therapist, embracing fully his passion for good food and healthy eating.