Fermentation 101: Beet & Carrot-Ginger Kvass

December 2nd, 2012 § 27 comments

(Fermentation Seminar 1 of 4 in the Sister Love Series)

Carrot-ginger is on the left, beet on the right.

Carrot-ginger is on the left, beet on the right.

Oh, the heady days of summer when my CSA overflows with a bounty of fresh produce! Enter the fall when all I care to eat are the forbidden fruits of the earth: sugar, carbs and more sugar.  Blame me? I AM a mammal you know.

My final CSA from the illustrious Margaret at One Woman Farm was resplendent with some fall favorites: sweet carrots, French breakfast radishes, garlic, cabbage (working on this one) and lots of beets!  Knowing my tendency towards the carb o’er the winter months, it is critically important to create a deeply nourishing and fresh tonic that will carry me through the next few months.  I introduce you to Kvass.

This is the tonic of champions that I hope will begin my sister down the path of gut healing. It’s fermented! It’s a Bloody Mary mix! It’s cheaper than buying a week’s supply of Lactaid! (*cough, cough*)

Kvass taking the center stage in my lineup of fermenting veggies.

The idea behind kvass is to create a lightly fermented beverage that produces beneficial bacteria, increasing the longevity of the drink and providing a probiotic that helps digestion and promotes gut health.  Research shows the fermentation also increases the synthesis of vitamins (especially Vitamins C & B) available to the body for absorption.  This gives me more bang for the buck in addition to the *free* probiotic benefits.

As with anything fermented, the process does produce alcohol but this is typically 1/2 to 1 % at the most.  Kvass is primarily a health tonic and not an alcoholic beverage as these are categorized as being 4% and up.

Historically, kvass was common in the Caucaus Mountains and served as a way to preserve food throughout the winter along the likes of milk kefir, kimchi, and saurkraut. Traditionally, kvass was not only made with beets, but with bread.  Weird, right?  It was a way to make the local water cleaner (cultivating the good bacteria to overpower the bad) and tastier through the addition of lemon and raisins in the fermentation. It is with this spirit that a local pioneer, Dan Wood of  Beaver Falls, PA, brews his concoction.  (If you are intrigued, you can hear more history here in his interview on “Voice of Russia” Radio.)

Before we move on to the “how-to,” here is a bit more history for your reading pleasure.  The following chart should give you a brief overview of fermented drinks before we try our own.

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A Wee Look at the History of Lacto-Fermented Drinks Around the World

Bousa (Egypt): When your water is gross, what do you do? Make an opaque drink made of wheat. Drink it like an Egyptian.
Braga (Europe): Looking for a hearty winter food?  Try fermented gruel or sour porridge like these guys.
Chicha (South America): Note:  This is not the same as chicha in a can.  It is a clear, bubbly beverage made with corn. Balls of cooked corn mush are **chewed** and inoculated with saliva, then added to water to ferment. (Note: I find this idea disgusting!  Ewww.)
Kiesel (Russia/Poland): A grain-based lacto-fermented drink whose roots were mentioned in a 997 AD text.  Not much else is known.
Kombucha or CHAINYI GRIB (Russia and Asia): A yummy sparkly beverage made all the rage by hipsters that  is made from sweetened tea and a “Mother” culture called a scoby.
Kvass (Russia/ Ukraine): A lacto-fermented drink usually made from stale rye bread or beets.  The focus of the seminar.
Mead (Europe): The honeyed beverage that is a source of many a medieval story.  At times it was lacto-fermented/low in alcohol, but not always.  People don’t always think health first, no?
Munkoyo (Africa) A lacto-fermented brew made from millet or sorghum that is less than .5% alcohol.  It is not only consumed by field workers at celebrations but given to babies to protect against infection/diarrhea.
Pulque (Mexico): A lacto-fermented drink made from agave cactus juice.  Tequila is made from the pulp, not the juice, like this drink.
Palm Wine (Africa/Asia): The lacto-fermented sap of the palm tree.  A tropical delight!
Rice Beers (Asia/India): Self explanatory I suppose.  Traditionally lacto-fermented and low alcohol as well.
Tesguino (Mexico): A sprouted corn, low-alcohol brew.

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Above chart adapted from The Art of Russian Cuisine by Anne Volokh, 1983 and cited by Sally Fallon (2000) on www.westonaprice.org. 

Note the emphasis on health and the notion of low alcohol.  This is a HEALTH tonic.  On a further note, these guys were eating locally before it was yuppie cool!  You can even learn a lot about agriculture in each region just seeing what is used to create their regional drink. :-)

Now that you know a bit of what you are getting into, hopefully you are feeling counter-“cultural” today.  Let’s get kvassed!

Kvass mix en bottle.

Homemade Beet Kvass/Carrot-Ginger

makes about a quart

Ingredients:

  • enough beets or carrots to fill up a quart mason jar about 3/4 (add about a two inch knob of peeled, fresh ginger, sliced in 4 pieces for the carrot jar)
  • quart wide-mouth mason jar
  • 1 Tbsp sea salt
  • filtered water

Instructions:

1.  Fill jar with the veggies.

2.  Add the sea salt.

3.  Fill water to the top of the jar right below where the cap lines begin.

4.  Place a cap (I used the Ball wide-mouth plastic jar lids) on and shake a bit to dissolve salt.

5.  Choose your cover.  I turn a Ball plastic cap lid over to keep any vegetables from reaching the air and then place a napkin on top, held tightly with a hair elastic.  The idea is to keep the veggies submerged to prevent mold and covered to prevent buggies/unwanted bacteria.  Eventually, someone will buy me a Pickle-It lid and all will be solved.

6.  Let ferment! Let sit anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.  This REALLY depends on the warmth in your home.  This last one took a week but in the summer took 3 days.

Mason jars w/inverted plastic caps, covered in sprouting lids.

Napkin covering jars and banded together with two hair ties.

Tips and Tricks

***The standard percentage of salt used is typically 1% in commercial applications. I have played around with the ratio and have found that under a Tbsp increases that chances of blue mold in a quart jar under average conditions.  Wheras white scum is fine and can be skimmed off, blue mold is not desired.  It is recommended not to use much less if not using a starter culture or whey.

***Always start eating fermented foods a bit at a time.  I began with a TBSP a day and increased to some kefir and a nice glug of kvass at dinner to help digestion.  Start slow to get your body used to the new bacteria taking over and helping heal!

So exciting!  Let me know how it goes or any expertise you have to share in the comments below. (This post can also be viewed on Food Renegade’s “Fight Back Friday.”)

Love,

S

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§ 27 Responses to Fermentation 101: Beet & Carrot-Ginger Kvass"

  • Hi – thanks for your tips on when it’s ready in the comments. I’ve never fermented anything, so am seeking specific instructions, as I don’t know what it’s supposed to taste or look like. Everything else seems clear here except the caps to your jars. Are these solid plastic lids that you’re inverting so the flat top is just balancing on top of the glass jar, held on with napkins? What are sprouting lids and how are you putting those together? If the flat part is on top of the jar, how does it keep the veggies submerged? Thanks – I’m dying to start fermenting

    • Sheila says:

      These questions are so good since they make me think like a newbie again. Ok, use a wide mouth jar with a small plastic lid inverted inside. It will fit inside perfectly and if you fill the jar almost to the rim it will float and create a sweet, easy seal. Honestly, I love the pickle-it thing now but the purpose of the sprouting lid was just to keep the napkin rigid…just use a napkin and hair tie to keep out buggies. A sprouting lid is just a plastic lid with holes so you can “sprout” seeds through it. Does that help?

  • Anna S. says:

    Hi,

    Do you use all raw vegetables or are some cooked – like the beets for example?
    And when the fermentation is over after a few weeks, can one eat the veggies, too? Have they softened a bit to be less chewey?

    Thanks,
    Anna

    • Sheila says:

      Hi Anna,

      Always use raw as those are the ones that still have the bacteria necessary to culture the vegetables. You can absolutely eat the vegetables and they will be a bit soft. Or, you can go for a second batch of kvass with the beets as I do. Hope this helps.

  • elisa says:

    hi, how do you know when the kvass is ready? also, is there an ideal temperature (like with kefir)? thanks

    • Sheila says:

      Much simpler Elisa, at least I think so. Look for the bubbles. When your drink tastes a bit tangy and bubbles at the top you should be set. You really can’t go wrong here unless it is moldy which is not dangerous per say but just unappealing. More bubbly=more fermented and more sour. How is yours right now?

    • elisa says:

      I haven’t made it yet, but will soon!

    • Sheila says:

      Let me know. I usually just dip a spoon in and taste. It should taste a bit sour and/or effervescent. This=fermented to me. Clearly an inexact science.

    • elisa says:

      Hi again, so I made it but it wound up growing mold after like 5 days or so. A lot of it! What did I do wrong? I have a fido jar with seal which is supposed not let any air in and the temperature probably did not get over 80 degrees. The beets were fully submerged. I’m really confused and frustrated. thanks

    • Sheila says:

      Hey Elisa,
      Let’s start here. Potential prob, not enough salt. How much did you use?
      Or, your kvass might have peaked early with the heat. When did the mold begin?

      Or…this is totally normal. If your mold looked more like scum, you can scoop it off and continue. This has happened to me with regular jars and apparently can happen even in a semi-anaerobic environment. http://www.pickl-it.com/faq/576/there-s-frothy-foam-on-my-beet-juice-kvass-is-it-spoiled/ Did it look like scum?

    • elisa says:

      For some reason it won’t let me reply to what you wrote, so I’m replying here. I think I did use a tablespoon of salt, but it is a 1.5 quart jar and I didn’t fill it all the way up with veggies because I didn’t have enough to fill it.
      I don’t know exactly when the mold started because I didn’t look at it for a few days. It definitely was blue mold though. I am confused though because I’ve seen people say that you have to ferment veggies, including beet kvass for at least a month to get the full benefit, and also that you shouldn’t open the jar until the ferment is done. So if the warmth is making it ferment faster then I would never know it unless I opened it and tasted, correct? I appreciate your quick responses.

    • Sheila says:

      Fermentation is one if those things that truly is an imperfect science. People have been doing it for thousands of years in less-than-perfect environments. You kind of have to play around with it in your environment. I remember being totally freaked out at first and then got to see Sandor Katz (fermie guru) speak. In a nutshell he said to chill…you just need veggies and salt (whey optional). This gave me the confidence to keep trying. A month? It can’t hurt but lactobacillius (the good stuff) is growing much earlier. Theoretically, if you are opening it up you are exposing it to whatever is in the air so this could be a potential mold-introduction issue. It has worked for me to open and taste but I do use a sterile jar and uber-clean utensils. I would try again, filling it up, making sure your veggies are totally full, totally submerged and the jar is clean and keep me posted with day by day pics if you’d like?

      P.S. Some say the blue mold you can scrape off too but it freaks me out too.

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  • Sarah says:

    Thank you for posting this. I am excited about trying this in January when the whole family will need some healing!

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  • admin says:

    It takes time and everyone is different is all I know but I am hoping the few common denominators that worked for me can help you! My stomach issues are a continual cross but with the major ones under control, life is good. I REALLY hope you can benefit from these. I have bought mine from Yeemos on Etsy in the past and have heard good things about “Cultures For Health.” Are they expensive to ship to France? Kefir is my fave!!

  • Debbie says:

    I am going to be following this with great interest! You could have been describing a meal eaten by me… it really isn’t pleasant is it. I have found dietary changes make a huge difference, but unfortunately not enough to quite the medication. My next goal.

    Am desperate to try the keffir water and other keffir based beverages… just having a bit of trouble tracking down the keffir grains in rural france…lol. Not exactly usual fare here…lol Up in Paris next week so hopefully will have better luck there.

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