It might not be for everyone, but I’ve never met a fermented food or drink that I didn’t like. From relatively common members of the canon, like kimchi and sauerkraut, to the Japanese fermented soybean dish natto and Ethiopia’s spongy injera bread, the way in which fermentation adds a tangy complexity to foods always has me reaching for more. This also applies to beverages, and while I do love a good kombucha (and drink up my fair share of kefir each year), it’s kvass that’s my go-to, inexpensive tonic of choice.
A drink of Eastern European and Russian descent that dates back centuries, kvass is traditionally made using old rye bread, but it’s the beet version that will leave you marveling at how such a simple beverage can contain so many dimensions of flavor. The earthiness of the beets, a light sweetness, a thump of sour from the fermentation and a nose-tickling bubble caused by the (all-natural!) lacto-fermentation process will at first, have you scratching your head, but then pouring yourself another glass.
WATCH: What Is Kombucha?
The kvass creation process is surprisingly simple and can be easily customized for your personal tastes (or willingness to drink something funky and strong). Through a simple combination of beets, salt, water and a little bit of time—typically about a week, or longer if you want a more concentrated drink—an elixir emerges that not only aids digestion with its naturally occurring probiotics but helps to reduce inflammation and, according to some reports, boosts energy. I like to have a shot or two a day from my latest batch, treating it like some people drink apple cider vinegar. (Once prepared, the kvass should last about a month in the refrigerator.)
It’s not just a drink, though: kvass can also be used as a cheap, flavorful ingredient. Use it like a vinegar to make a delicious salad dressing or stir it in with a little bit of Greek yogurt for a good-for-you crudité dip and a double-whammy of probiotics. My next adventure is exploring how it pairs in more fruit-forward combinations: blackberry and beet kvass popsicles, anyone?
If you’re already a kvass-head and interested in wading deeper into the sea of under-the-radar lacto-fermented beverages, I’d suggest picking up a copy of Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Food by Sandor Katz or The Wildcrafting Brewer by Pascal Baudar. But for those just starting out, the recipe below is an easy way to help build kvass confidence while piquing your tangy-meets-earthy taste buds. Trust me, your gut flora will thank you later.
1 ½ cups organic beets, skin-on
2 teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon lemon zest
Filtered water, to cover
1. Rinse organic beets with filtered water, cleaning gently with a soft cloth.
2. Chop beets into roughly 1-inch cubes, leaving the skin on. (That’s where most of the nutrients live!)
3. Place beets in a 1-quart mason jar until the jar is halfway full.
4. Add sea salt and lemon zest, then fill with filtered water, leaving one inch of room at the top between the water and the jar’s brim.
5. Seal with canning lid, and store in a cool, dry place.
6. Once a day for a week, “burp” the mixture by opening the lid in order to release the pressure being built up through the lacto-fermentation process. If there appears to be any yeast on the top, simply skim it off.
7. After 7 days, taste the mixture to see if it is to your desired level of acidity. (It should be more tangy and earthy than salty.)
8. If the kvass is to your liking, strain the liquid into a clean glass jar. Store in refrigerator for up to a month and save the remaining beet chunks as a briny snack.