(Fermentation Seminar 1 of 4 in the Sister Love Series)
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*)
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.
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.
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!
Homemade Beet Kvass/Carrot-Ginger
makes about a quart
- 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
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.
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.”)