Whole Food Adventures: Kvass

Kvass is a lacto-fermented beverage invented by the Russians. It’s a simple mixture of whey (rich in lactic-acid producing bacteria), water, sugar, and, traditionally, bread. Usually a hearty bread like Rye. The word Kvass, is derived from a Russian word for ‘leaven’, which is a clear throwback to the use of bread in the production of the drink, and it does have a very mild alcohol content. So mild that it’s considered fine for consumption by children. It’s probably on par with Kombucha.

However, you don’t have to use bread. Any flavorful starchy vegetable should be able to do the trick. Nourishing Traditions, the book which prompted this series of posts, suggests making the drink with beets. The natural sugar content of beets should be similar to that of most breads, and they’re a good sourch of Vitamic A, C, and B-Complex. Plus, you get the flavor added from the beets themselves.

So, whether you want a beet- or a bread-flavored drink, Kvass is an easy way to get into Home Fermentation. Just cube the base that you’re building your drink from, filling a jar about 1/3 full of bread or other vegetables, fill the container with water, and maybe a half-cup per quart of whey. Leave on the counter for a few days, and then transfer to the fridge. Easy.

Want more flavor? It’s traditional to add a wide variety of herbs and spices at the beginning of the fermentation process. I think that a few sprigs of mint in with a batch of beets should be really tasty, and might well be our next attempt at Kvass.

Kvass is largely an Eastern European drink, and I do like the story of Kvass in Latvia during the 1990s. Through the early 1990s, you could buy Kvass off street vendors all through the country, but after the Soviet Union fell, Health Laws were passed which made the street vending illegal. Coca-Cola swooped in, and quickly dominated the market. In 1998, commercial Kvass bottlers opened up, and managed to take Coke from 65% to 44% market share in less than two years. Coke’s response? Got into the Kvass bottling business. Admittedly, at lot of commercial Kvass is apparently made with mostly sugar and water, and likely loses a lot of the health benefits of home-made Kvass, but it’s still likely to be healthier than Cola.