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Kvass 101 - Taste, Recipe, Buyer's Guide & More

In the world of fermented drinks, kvass is about as popular these days as David Hasselhof! Even the Russians who once jokingly nicknamed it communist Coca Cola have fallen out of love - having cut their annual consumption from 200 liters per person in the 16th century to just 3 liters nowadays. But it seems kvass, like Mr Knightrider himself, is slowly starting to make a comeback with probiotic-hungry homebrewers nationwide. So myself and our research team at Essential Stacks decided to see what all the fuss is about and take you on a journey into the world of kvass. Let’s go!

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    Before we dive in, I want to let you know that I’m going to focus mainly on traditional kvass, which is made using bread. And at the end of this article I’ll briefly touch on the more hipster-friendly and grain-free beet kvass version.

    What is kvass?

    So traditional kvass is simply fermented bread water. Sounds totally delicious, right? But hey...given that beer is basically just fermented cereal water, it is not actually that bad, right.

    What does kvass taste like?

    Coca Cola - believe it or not - actually launched their own Kvass back in 2008, and here’s how they described the taste in their press release…

    “Opening a bottle of Kvass releases a fragrant bouquet reminiscent of freshly baked bread cooling on a windowsill. Malty with a sweet finish and light sparkle, Kvass is truly a thirst quencher like no other”.

    So anyways, I have some freshly brewed Kvass. And since I’m a registered dietitian, and not some sort of Don Draper ad exec employed by Coca Cola, hopefully I can describe the taste to you in a more understandable way.

    So I’ll start by saying I agree with Coca Cola that it is a thirst quencher like no other! But what I mean by that is...it might be an acquired taste. It is somewhat sweet, but also bitter and sour.

    You can taste traces of the rye bread used to make it. And it has some very soft bubbles. I think if my husband Seth tried to homebrew beer, it would probably taste something like this.

    And unsurprisingly, this is why many call it bread beer!

    Now you can of course sweeten your kvass to make it more appetizing. For example, you can use fruits like berries, herbs like mint, spices like cloves, or even sweeteners like honey. But I wanted to keep things simple here since I’m a Bread Beer Purist at heart...Gee, I never thought I’d utter that sentence in my life!

    And just before we move on, kvass can be lighter or darker in color than the one I have - it all just depends on the bread used and how you prepare it.

    How to make kvass (Recipe)

    So the way Kvass is made can be a bit complicated and there’s 100s of different recipes online. But to give you a very rough idea of what’s involved…

    1. First you toast or oven bake dark bread, like rye or pumpernickel - some people even use sourdough for its lighter flavor profile. And don’t worry if your bread is a bit stale...in fact, making use of old bread is probably the exact reason kvass was invented!
    2. Next you cut up the toasted bread into small crouton size pieces and combine this with hot filtered water. And if you want to get fancy, throw a small handful of raisins in.
    3. Later that day or the next morning, you strain away the bread, and add in cane sugar and sourdough starter or dry active yeast... to get things going.
    4. After that, you can bottle and refrigerate it, then just let the fermentation gods continue to do their thing.  Fun fact - this is actually not too dissimilar to how prison wine is made, but that’s a whole other topic which we definitely won’t get into - and you can look that one up for yourselves.
    5. Your kvass should then be ready to drink in 2 to 7 days, which means it is not as fast as making kefir (which is typically 24 hours), but not as slow as making kombucha (which can be more like 7 to 14 days). But truth be told...given the kvass brewing process might leave your kitchen smelling like a 15th century Russian brewhouse, it can feel like an eternity!

    Where does kvass come from?

    Although Russia and Ukraine are the main places people think of, Kvass has been brewed and loved throughout the East, and for many centuries. In fact, the first mention we can find of kvass was in a book published back in 996 AD - so well over a 1000 years ago!

    And to really put this into perspective...vodka, the other beloved drink hailing from the East, was most likely invented in the 14th or 15th century...around 400 years after the first batch of kvass!

    How to enjoy kvass

    With kvass you have a couple of ways to “enjoy” it…

    First up, like with kombucha, kvass can be enjoyed as a cold refreshing drink. Making it ideal for summer afternoons. And so you can kinda think of it like a healthy beer - although not quite as satisfying! If you do go this approach, definitely take my advice from earlier in the article and add in some nice fruits, herbs or spices.

    Now, if you fancy yourself as a bit of a culinary risk taker and want to take your kvass game up a whole ‘nother level, you can make a COLD SOUP using kvass. [sarcasm] And yes, this is as appetizing as it sounds. Basically, you boil up and cool some potatoes and eggs, and then you add them into a bowl of cold kvass, along with some chopped up raw vegetables. Hey, it’s not Michelin star cooking, but it is pretty darn healthy.

    Of course, if you don’t use up all your kvass straight away, it can be stored for about 1-2 weeks in your fridge. Any longer, and it will lose its residual sweetness and likely become very sour and tough to drink.

    Is kvass alcoholic?

    Similar to kombucha, the main thing to watch out for when drinking kvass is the potential alcohol content.

    You see, most homebrewed kvass will probably have 0.5 - 1.5% alcohol. And if it is fermented a little longer than usual or even in a warmer environment, it can exceed this and go all the way up to 2.5% alcohol. Hello light beer!

    Of course, given children throughout Eastern Europe have no problems drinking it, then most of us should also be fine.

    Does kvass contain gluten?

    The other big thing to consider is that kvass - like beer - is made using a grain containing gluten . So if your gut is sensitive to gluten, it might cause trouble.

    With that said, the fermentation process does go some way to breaking down the gluten protein to make the finished drink easier to digest.

    Is kvass healthy?

    Well, there are other issues to consider when deciding whether to drink kvass - such as yeast allergy, histamine intolerance etc. And so if you want to dive deeper into the potential issues, check out our Fermented Foods Compared tool.

    And while the CDC has handed down consumption guidance for kombucha - for which they suggest you limit your serving size to 4 to 12 oz OR 120 to 360 mils a day, no such guidance exists for kvass.

    Fair enough!

    So without any official statement, we believe the best approach is to treat it similarly to kombucha and drink kvass in moderation.

    Bread kvass vs beet kvass - what's the difference?

    First of all, I know I joked about beet kvass being a good hipster alternative earlier in this article. But to be clear, someone named Bill from Portland did not invent this gluten-free kvass alternative!

    Instead, beets - just like bread - have been a staple in the diets of our Kvass-loving friends to the East for centuries.  In fact, in places like Ukraine it was once said to be a staple of their diet and could be found at every dinner table.

    Instead of using bread, beet kvass is made by fermenting chopped up….wait for it...beets - or for our friends across the pond, beetroots.  And as you can imagine, this makes it quite different to traditional bread kvass.

    In terms of taste, it's kind of like drinking watered down beet juice, which is quite sweet and earthy, but then with a bigger sour kick.

    Interestingly, when it comes to making beet kvass, things couldn't be easier. You see, since the beets are themselves high in sugar and naturally contain microorganisms that can spur on fermentation, all you need to do is combine the chopped up beets with filtered water and sea salt. That’s it!

    Of course, if you want to make things easier, you can also add a dedicated starter culture, such as some leftover sauerkraut juice.

    Where to buy kvass (Buyer's Guide)

    In this series on fermented foods, we’ve been ending our articles with a Buyer’s Guide - as we want to share our best tips & tricks to help you buy the best quality fermented foods, so you don’t get shortchanged.

    For kvass, it is a bit tricky, since it is still really hard to find in the USA.

    So our team decided to do a bit of digging to find out where you can actually buy it. So as with all things these days, our Overlord Jeff Bezos stocks it over at his little online shop...Amazon. 

    You can actually find several brands of Kvass in stock at any one time. And best of all, from our analysis of the reviews, the quality appears good in terms of taste, freshness & value for money.

    That said, some reviewers complained it was far more expensive than it should be. Which leads us to the second main option for buying kvass - and that is through speciality food stores. Whether they be Russian, Ukrainian, or even Polish, there’s a good chance they stock kvass, and at a much more reasonable price.

    You can of course find them physically in any city with a decent immigrant population, like Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, as well as online.

    Evidence Based

    An evidence hierarchy is followed to ensure conclusions are formed off of the most up-to-date and well-designed studies available. We aim to reference studies conducted within the past five years when possible.

    • Systematic review or meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
    • Randomized controlled trials
    • Controlled trials without randomization
    • Case-control (retrospective) and cohort (prospective) studies
    • A systematic review of descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method studies
    • A single descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method study
    • Studies without controls, case reports, and case series
    • Animal research
    • In vitro research

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