How to Make Kvass
Kvass is a traditional fermented beverage with Slavic, Baltic and Russian origins. Easy to make and high ranking as far as nutrition is concerned, it poses as yet another potent addition to add to one's health and homebrew arsenal.
Kvass is a fermented beverage originating in the Slavic and Baltic countries. Being simple to make and very nutritious, the brewing of kvass has been steadily gaining popularity in Western Europe and the States as well as many other countries. Look out there kombucha – seems like you got a cousin to share the limelight with!
What is Kvass Made Out of?
Kvass’s main ingredients are commonly either bread or beets combined with water and salt. While these two variations are the most widespread and well known, kvass can also be made out of fruit, berries etc. Herbs and spices are also often added to introduce additional flavors.
Starters for Kvass
Sometimes a ‘starter’ is used to speed up the fermentation process. The role of the starter is to introduce the lactic acid bacteria and yeast species required to carry out the fermentation process. Unlike other fermentations such as kombucha, kefir, ginger beer etc, kvass does not have a starter specific to itself. However you can use liquid from other lactic acid ferments to jump start the fermentation process of kvass.
The most popular one for this is live whey. However there are a few others which will work just fine too.
Good Lactic Acid Starters for Kvass
- Live whey
- Brine from fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut
- Kefir whey (the clear liquid which separates off)
- Some fresh rejuvelac
- Ginger bug
- Water kefir
- Sourdough starter
Note on Sprouts
The reason why sprouts are included in the above list is because while they are not a product of lactic acid fermentation, they too provide a concentrated source of lactic acid bacteria. This is why rejuvelac can be brewing successfully using only sprouted grain as a source of microbes to carry out the fermentation process.
You do Not Always NEED a Starter for Kvass
While a starter can speed up the fermentation process, it is not required for making kvass. The main consideration when deciding whether or not you need a starter is which kvass you are going to be making – bread kvass or beet kvass.
If you are making beet kvass then it is not imperative for you to add in a starter. This is because the lactic acid bacteria which you need for lactic acid ferments are naturally occurring on all plants, fruits and vegetables. Therefore the beetroot will automatically act as a supply of these. However, you can add in a concentration of these from another lactic acid ferment to speed up the kvass. Take note that fresh organic beetroots will have more naturally occurring bacteria on them than unfresh ones which have been exposed to pesticides and other harmful chemicals.
If you are making bread kvass, then it can be a good idea to incorporate a starter culture of some kind. This is because the concentration of lactic acid bacteria on the surface of the bread will not be as high as that of beetroots.
Before we get into kvass let’s take a look at its history and health benefits
History of Kvass
Kvass is an ancient ferment which has been consumed for thousands of years. The earliest known documented recording of kvass is found in an ancient Russian text describing the celebrations surrounding the baptism of Prince Vladimir. This puts proves that Russians were drinking kavass as early as 989 AD. However it is likely that this beverage was made and enjoyed already long before that date, as there are many terms in ancient history which are closely to relate to the name kavass. For example, the Sumerian KAŠ which is found recorded in cuneiform tablets.
In previous times kvass was often consumed as a safer alternative to that of water. Water was often contaminated by disease and other impurities, and fermented drinks were considered to be a wiser choice of hydration. Besides this purpose, kvass was also consumed as a health tonic.
Health Benefits of Kvass
Along with all the other members of the fermented beverages society, kvass boasts some sizably health benefits. As mentioned above, already in ancient times kvass was considered to be a health tonic. It was drunk in order to provide immune protection against viruses and plagues, to strengthen the liver and as a all round general health booster.
According to modern science, these long standing health claims are accurate, as well as a few additional ones.
To start off with, being a product of fermentation kvass contains all of the digestive system health benefits common to probiotics. Probiotics strengthen the immune system, balance the internal flora, oust out pathogens, and facilitate all aspects of digestion. They help the body to excrete toxins and waste, while increasing the body’s ability to take up nutrients. These actions assist to strengthen and support the body on many levels and in all manner of aspects. Just think, it does not matter how many superfoods one eats, if one’s digestive system is not absorbing nutrients efficiently, it cannot extract the key elements which one is looking to obtain.
Vitamin & Mineral Content
Besides containing probiotics, kvass is also pretty packed with vitamins and minerals. The below values are average vitamin and mineral amounts found in a 10 ounce (295 ml) serving of bread kvass.
Vitamins & Minerals In Bread Kvass (10 ounce serving)
- Vitamin B12 12 %
- Selenium 7.4 %
- Manganese 7.2 %
- Thiamine 5.0 %
- Folate 3.6 %
- Vitamin B2 3.5 %
- Niacin 3.2 %
- Iron 2.8 %
- Copper 2.4 %
- Phosphorus 2.3 %
- Magnesium 2.2 %
Of course, there are nutritional differences between kvass made out of bread and out of beets. So below is a list of the vitamins and minerals commonly found in an 8 ounce serving of beet kvass.
Vitamins & Minerals In Beet Kvass (8 ounce serving)
- Vitamin A 0.2 %
- Vitamin B 12 0.4 %
- Vitamin B 6 0.9 %
- Vitamin C1.8 %
- Vitamin E 0.3 %
- Calcium 1.1 %
- Copper 1.1 %
- Folate 5.6 %
- Iron 1.4 %
- Magnesium 1.8 %
- Manganese 11.8 %
- Niacin 0.4 %
- Pantothenic Acid 0.7 %
- Phosphorus 1.2 %
- Riboflavin 1.2 %
- Selenium 0.5 %
- Thiamin 0.6 %
- Zinc 2%
As you can see, the compositions of bread kvass and beet kvass are quite different. Which brings us to the question of ‘which one should I make?’
Bread Kvass versus Beet Kvass
If you were unaware that kvass is commonly made with either bread or beets – then you are most probably wondering which one you should make! So let’s quickly compare the two variations.
Although kvass was made traditionally to be a source of hydration as well as health, today this is not always the case. With the plethora of store bought beverages available it is likely that if you are making kvass, you are interested mainly in its health benefits.
Why Beet Kvass is so Healthy
All types of kvass are health promoting, and in addition to its typical health attributes, kvass also takes on the unique health benefits common to its base ingredients. It is for this reason that beet kvass can be considered as an even more beneficial than bread kvass.
Beetroots contains high amounts of antioxidants and it is for this reason that people have traditionally used beet kvass as a liver cleanser. Beetroots also contain a set of substances called betalains. Belatins assist the body to create red blood cells, and help to alkalize the blood.
Because beetroots add some potent extras to kvass, many people often tend to make this variation. However that is not to say that bread kvass does not contain a hefty amount of health benefits – or that other base ingredients such as berries and spices could not achieve equal or greater levels of health benefits in kvass.
Besides health attributes, taste is of course also important. The more you like your kvass, the more of it you will drink, and the more of its health benefits you will enjoy!
Bread kvass has a taste much like beer. It can be described as full, and carries a grain flavor profile.
Beet kvass has quite a different taste to that of bread kvass. Beetroots have a typical earthy and salt like flavor profile. This comes through into the kvass. The blood boosting effects can almost be detected in the flavor.
Once you have decided upon which kvass to make, it is time to get down to brewing. The setting up of the kvass ferment should not take much longer than half an hour. If you are using a lactic acid starter then you can expect a brew time of about 3 days. If you are not using any starter, then fermentation can be over a week.
Temperature plays a large role in the rate of fermentation. Therefore if it is cold where you are, do not be surprised if the fermentation needs a few extra days. On the other hand, if the temperatures are high, you will most probably find that it will mature early.
Making Beet Kvass
This recipe is to make approximately one gallon of beet kvass. Firstly, assemble your ingredients and utensils.
What You Need:
- 4 – 8 beetroots depending on size
- 1 gallon pure filtered water
- 2 tablespoons sea salt or himalayan salt
- 1 gallon glass jar
- Cloth and rubber band to cover
- Chopping board
- Chopping knife
- Optional: Starter liquid
If you are using starter liquid then go with the salt amount above. If you are not going to be using starter liquid, then double the salt. This measure is to protect the brew against unwanted bacteria in the initial period when the lactic acid bacteria are still getting going and colonizing the ferment. Lactic acid bacteria are salt resistant, while most other unwanted bacteria are not.
Note on Ingredients
Water: Do not use chlorinated water. The antibacterial chemicals in treated water can harm and inhibit the lactic acid bacteria which are crucial for carrying out successful fermentation. Using treated water can cause your kvass to spoil.
Salt: Make sure that the salt which you will use is pure and does not contain flowing agents or iodine.
What to Do:
Wash the beetroots and chop the up into roughly 1/2 inch pieces. If they are non organic then peel them, because root vegetables can store chemicals in their skins. Do not grate the beetroot, as this can cause an overly fast ferment and the production of alcohol.
Place the chopped beets in the bottom of your glass jar along with the salt. If you are incorporating starter, now is the time to add it. Then pour in the water to almost fill the jar.
Cover the opening of the glass jar with your cloth, securing it with the rubber band. Place the jar on your countertop at room temperature out of direct sunlight.
Allow the brew to ferment for about 2 days if using starter liquid, and for more than a week if not using starter liquid. You can taste it along the way to check to see if it is ready or not. You will notice that the level of fermentation will intensify with time and sour notes will develop. How strong you want your kvass is entirely up to you, so keep tabs on the ferment to determine when is the right time to halt fermentation.
When the kvass is done, it is time to bottle and refrigerate, You can simple remove the beet pieces and place the jar in the refrigerator, or you can decant into convenient glass drinking bottles. Fliptop grolsch style bottles are great for this, and work well for other fermented beverages such as kombucha, water kefir, ginger beer etc. However regularly glass bottles with corks or screw on caps are fine too.
Kvass can often taste best after two days settling in the fridge. However try to consume the kvass within a week or two, as it can lose its freshness. If you have not yet consumed many fermented foods, then start off with drinking small amounts each day, and work up to a glass or two per day. The reason for this is that probiotic microbes can cause balancing to occur within the digestive system and this should be done gently.
Making Bread Kvass
The process for making bread kvass is very similar to that of beet kvass. The major difference is obviously the base ingredient, and then because of this the possible need for a form of lactic acid starter. Many recipes for bread kvass call for the addition of yeast in place of starter. However this is not the original method – as instant yeast has only been around for about 60 years. So for the sake of probiotic value, we are going to be going with using a bacterial starter. Because kvass is open fermented, naturally occurring airborne yeasts can join the ferment of their own accord.
What You Need:
- Approximately 1/2 loaf of rye bread (toasted or dried it should fill five cups). Try to use a loaf which does not contain preservatives or chemicals.
- 1 gallon of pure filtered water
- 2 cups of cane sugar
- Optional: 1/2 cup starter liquid
- Optional: Handful raisins
- 1 gallon glass jar
- Cloth covering and rubber band
- Knife & board
What to Do:
The first thing to do when making bread kvass is to toast or dry the bread slices. Toasted bread gives a darker color to the finished kvass, and a stronger flavor. Dried bread results in paler tones and milder flavors. You can toast your bread in the toaster, the oven, or out in the sun for a day. Once you have dried or toasted the bread it is ready for the kvass. Slice or cut it up into cubes.
Bring to the boil 1 gallon of pure filtered water. Add in and dissolve your 2 cups of sugar. Allow this to cool to room temperature.
Place the bread cubes into the 1 gallon glass jar. If you are adding starter liquid, pour this in now. Then pour your room temperature water sugar mix over this to fill the jar. Add in the raisins. Make sure that the cooled water IS at room temperature, because if it is not then the hot water will kill any lactic acid bacteria which are hanging around on the bread pieces and in the starter (if you are adding).
Cover the opening of the jar with your piece of cloth and rubber band.
Place on your countertop out of direct sunlight. Allow to ferment for about 3-7 days. You can check it and taste it regularly to see how the ferment is getting on.
Once it has reached the level of fermentation maturity which you like it is time to stop the ferment. Get out your strainer and remove the bread pieces from the liquid. You can keep these bread pieces and use them as a starter for you next batch. As for the finished kvass you can either pour it back into the gallon glass jar and screw on the lid to refrigerate, or you can decant it into ready to drink bottles such as fliptops.
Adding in Extra Carbonation
If you want to lock in a little extra carbonation into your kvass then there is a quick trick to do exactly this. You can use this technique for both beet kvass or bread kvass. In fact it can be used for most fermented beverages to add in extra fizz, and is often referred to as secondary fermentation.
Stop the Ferment Early
Try and make sure that you stop your fermentation one or two days early.
Bottles it Up!
Decant your almost ready kvass into fliptop bottles. You can also use some other glass container which has a lid that seals, or simply screw on the lid of the glass jar which you are already fermenting in.
Give it Time
Now allow the sealed kvass to further ferment for 1-2 days. If after the second ferment you still do not see bubble action, then let it go for one more. Make sure that you burp the ferment each day to allow carbon dioxide gasses which are building up to release. When you have gotten the carbonation which you are looking for, simply transfer the to refrigerator.
What to Do if Your Brew Smells off
If at any time you get a batch of kvass which comes out smelling bad -throw it out. Off smelling ferments usually mean that unwanted species of microbes have managed to work their way in and throughout the bacterial balance resulting in decay instead of successful fermentation . Do not be discouraged, as it is probably a freak occurrence. Simply sterilise all of your items and start again, making sure that your are not using chlorinated water or spoiled ingredients.
Kvass is a healthful, easy to make and cost effective fermented beverage which you can make easily at home. Whether you are making bread or beet kvass, you will be reaping the health benefits of fermentation while making a great substitute for other sugar laden beverages which you might be trying to cut out of your refrigerator.
If you are a newbie drinker of home ferments, you might find that initially you are not super crazy about the flavor of the fruits of your efforts. Do not be discouraged as sometimes it can take the body some time to adapt to flavors it is unaccustomed to. Many people report becoming hooked on beet kvass, and mildly crave it as the body starts to send signals that it likes working with this new food.