Kvass Versus Kombucha
Been wondering what the difference is between kombucha and kvass? Often confused, while these two ferments share a lot of similarities they are each unique unto themselves.
Two traditional ferments which can be confusingly similar -are kvass and kombucha! While the two possess common traits, there are also some definite differences between them.
To start off with, kvass originates from Russia and East Europe. Here the masses drank it for thousands of years, mostly as a safer hydrate than water. Kombucha’s history on the other hand lies in the Far East. Monasteries often brewed kombucha, and it was frequently consumed as a source of power and as an aid to good Chi.
While the broad background of these two fermentations and where they come from is different, it is also quite possible that a certain amount of overlapping occurred. One of the sources of confusion is the Russian variation of kombucha, which has been mistaken for kvass.
Besides the historic and cultural origins differences and origins, kombucha and kvass also share a number of other similarities and contrasts.
To start off, let’s have a look at the different ingredients used in our two ferments.
The ingredients used to make kvass can vary greatly. Foods such as bread, fruit and even vegetables can all be used in the brewing of kvass. There are however two very common variations:
As explained by the name, bread is the base ingredient of kvass. While most bread types can make good kvass, sourdough bread is a favorite. The main requirement is that the bread does not contain additives such as preservatives which could challenge the fermentation process.
Again, beet kvass’s name is self explanatory. Yes you guessed it – beetroots are the main ingredient in beet kvass! As you can imagine, there is quite a sharp contrast between kvass made out of beets, and kvass made out of bread. Beet kvass is bright to dark red, while bread kvass is light to dark brown in color.
While kvass can be made out of almost anything – kombucha’s base ingredient is sweetened black tea. Variations to this basic recipe exist, however they are not always ideal for the SCOBY culture. Kombucha’s culture is sensitive to foreign substrates, and its most natural substance to ferment is tea. In either green or black form.
However to give you an idea of some of the experimental variations out there, here is a list of alternative kombuchas:
- Juice kombucha
- Herbal tea kombucha
- Coconut water kombucha
- Caffeine free kombucha
- Coffee kombucha
Even soda can be used as a substrate and converted into kombucha! The idea might go against all organic and healthy sentiments – but it is possible!
Another aspect to look at when comparing kvass and kombucha is with regards to starter cultures.
Both kvass and kombucha are lactic acid bacteria ferments. However, there is simple difference. Kombucha’s microbial balance also includes a fair amount of naturally occurring yeasts, while bacteria dominate the ferment ecology of kvass.
Necessity of Starter Cultures
Kvass does not require a starter culture. The naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria present on the surface of foods is usually adequate for fermentation to take place. However, one can incorporate a source of lactic acid bacteria to kickstart fermentation. For this one can use things like live whey, cultured vegetable brine, kefir whey and sourdough starter.
Once you have made a batch of kvass, you can keep some of the fermented bread, beets or other ingredients used as a starter culture for the next batch.
Kvass might not need a starter culture, but kombucha does. Kombucha’s starter culture is termed a ‘SCOBY’ which stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts. These guys make up a specific mixture and balance of different strains, particular to the making of kombucha.
While you do need a SCOBY for kombucha making, one can develop one from a bottle of live kombucha. Simply allow the kombucha to sit undisturbed until a jelly-like film develops on the surface. This will usually thicken to form a SCOBY from which you can brew kombucha.
The brewing methods used for making kvass and kombucha are very similar.
To make kvass all you need to do is prep your ingredients and combine with water. One can sometimes add sugar or salt added depending on the recipe. The brew then stands at room temperature to ferment for 3 – 14 days.
Very similar to that of kvass, the basic process for making kombucha is as follows. Boil water and make tea, adding in sugar. Then combine the tea with the SCOBY and some mature kombucha. The brew then stands at room temperature for 5 – 30 days, depending on the temperature.
It is tricky to compare the taste of kombucha and kvass when so many kvass variations abound! And for that matter kombucha variations as well. Although kombucha is traditionally always made out of either green or black tea, after the initial fermentation with the SCOBY there are many ways to flavor kombucha. The primary method for this is by way of a second ferment.
However what we can do is compare the flavors of regular kombucha with that of either bread kvass or beet kvass.
Plain kombucha has a sweet/sour taste, with notes of the teas used to make the brew. Mature kombucha is sourer than kombucha which has fermented for less time.
Bread kvass has a flavor profile very similar to that of beer. It does not however contain any relevant amounts of alcohol.
Beet kvass is not beer-like. It has the distinctive flavor of beetroot, combined with the savory and sour taste brought on by fermentation. If salt is used, then this will of course also be present in the flavor profile. Many people describe the taste of beet kvass as ‘earthy’.
Because they are both products of fermentation, the main health benefits of kvass and kombucha are very similar in nature. Fermented food and drink’s main set of health benefits stem from their probiotic capabilities.
Probiotics are responsible for a healthy and efficient digestive system. However through this they are also responsible for a myriad of spin off health benefits. Proper digestion, good nutrient uptake, enhanced nutrient availability and full toxin elimination all play a role in optimizing the body and its systems.
Different probiotic strains have different specific effects on the digestive system. Ferments like yogurt and kombucha will often have slightly different probiotic benefits, due to the presence of differing probiotic strains. The same stands true for kvass and kombucha. In fact, the world of microbiota is so vast and intricate, that two different batches of the same type of ferment will often contain different strains of microbes.
If you are wondering which ferment is better on a probiotic level – then chances are they both contain pretty similar levels of probiotics, with variations in species etc. Kombucha will usually contain more varieties and amounts of yeasts than kvass. If you are looking to provide your body with as a wide set of microbes as possible, then it is a good idea to consume a variety of fermented products. This will assist you to colonize your gut with a complex and diverse set of microbes.
So if in doubt – drink both! ; )
Beet Kvass’s Special Health Benefits
When it comes to kvass, it is relevant to include that beet kvass has some particular health benefits specific to itself which are not present in other types of kvass. This is because beetroots are the base ingredient for beet kvass. Beetroots have become well known in modern times for their health benefits. However even before beetroots were scientifically proven to be a super source of nutrition, people thought of beet kvass as a medicine like tonic rather than a hydrating drink like bread kvass. In fact, before the development of pharmaceutical drugs, most Lithuanian households probably had a bottle of beet kvass in the medicine arsenal.
Beetroots have been reported to be one of the best detoxifiers for the liver. Through this they can strengthen the overall condition of the liver and assist to protect the body from liver disease. It is these functions which makes beet kvass excellent for detoxes and cleanses, as well as hangovers!
As their color suggestively hints, beetroots are very good for the blood. Certain substances in beetroots called betaines are used by the body for the manufacturing of red blood cells. High amounts of red blood cells can result in the blood having more oxygen carrying capacity. This is turn improves all cellular and bodily functions.
Often confused, kvass and kombucha share many similarities. They are both lactic acid based fermentations, the regions from where they come overlap in places, they were both historically considered health drinks and are reviving as such today. Their brewing methods are almost identical with the exception of the need for a SCOBY, and they share a very similar set of health benefits.
On the other hands, kvass and kombucha also differ in some areas. They have totally different ingredients, and their basic tastes are fairly different. Kombucha can take longer to brew and it requires a SCOBY starter culture – whereas kvass can be made without a starter.