Throughout the world people have been brewing delicious, highly digestive grain drinks. The B vitamins and yeast in bread naturally ferment to create a fizzy probiotic. Ever since a peasant left a piece of dried rye bread in a jar, added water and waited a few days, there has been kvass. There have been many variations depending upon the local grain and the season.
In Slavic and Baltic countries the beverage is commonly made from rye bread, known in many Central and Eastern European and Asian countries as “black bread.” The color of the bread used contributes to the color and flavor of the resulting drink. Kvass is considered a traditional fermented “non-alcoholic” drink enjoyed by Ukrainian, Belarusian, Russian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Hungarian and Romanian standards because the alcohol content is low enough for children. The great advantage of this easily made health drink is that it increases energy without caffeine and improves digestion by boosting to gut bacteria. The ferment can be flavored with dried fruit, honey, or dried mint leaves.
In Latin America chicha is a fermented (alcoholic) or non-fermented beverage originating from the Andes and Amazonia regions. In pre- and post-Spanish conquest periods, corn beer (chicha de jora) made from a variety of maize has been the most common form of chicha. However, chicha is also made from a variety of other crops and wild plants including, among others, quinoa, kaniwa, peanut, manioc (AKA yucca) palm fruit, and potato. The longer the brew is fermented the higher is the alcohol content.
During the 1980s walking on a street in Lhasa I was surrounded by a gaggle of happy, tipsy matrons who had left their homes to sing Tibetan opera in the street while giggling and swilling chang, their fermented grain drink. Tibetan chang is made of barley, rice or millet. Tibetans drink it at funerals and celebrations, while working and playing, and at all ages. Everybody drinks it during Losar Tibetan New Year (lunar new year)
In Central Tibet, it is drunk especially while doing the harvesting. Farmers can’t usually afford to buy alcohol but they can easily make chang on their own, since they grow their own barley. Tibetans in exile, where barley is not as common, use other grains. In India, it is usually rice or millet. Certain areas of Arunachal Pradesh, which are close to Tibet, also use barley. The recipes are basically the same: ferment a raw organic grain or cooked rice. When using cooked rice, additional dry yeast is added since that speeds the process. After it is left out of the refrigerator it ferments and you add water, wait another 24 hours and drink it fresh within a week.
Kvass is also used in cooking. In Russia Okroshka (окро́шка) is a cold soup that originated at the Volga region. The classic soup is a mix of mostly raw vegetables (often cucumbers, radishes and spring onions), boiled potatoes, eggs, and a cooked meat such as beef, veal, sausages, or ham with kvass made from rye bread. Later versions that first appeared in Soviet times use light or diluted kefir, whey, vinegar, or mineral water instead of kvass.
The ingredients are diced and then mixed with kvass just before eating; like adding milk to cereal. This allows the vegetables to remain crisp. Okroshka is mostly served in summer because the soup combines the refreshing taste of kvass and the lightness of a salad. Salt and sugar can be added according to taste. It is always served cold. Sometimes ice cubes are added to served portions to keep the soup cold in hot weather.
Beet kvass is special. Beets are sweet and highly nutritious. Beet roots are a great source of fiber, folate (vitamin B9), manganese, potassium, iron, and vitamin C. Beet roots and beet juice have been associated with numerous health benefits, including improved blood flow, lower blood pressure, and increased exercise performance. Some researchers have called beets vegetable Viagra. Beets mainly consist of water (87%), carbs (8%), and fiber (2–3%). One cup (136 grams) of boiled beetroot contains fewer than 60 calories, while 3/4 cup (100 grams) of raw beets boasts the following nutrients 43 calories, 88% water, 1.6 grams protein, 9.6 grams carbs, 6.8 grams sugar, 2.8 grams fiber and a trace of fat.
Beets are sweet: what about diabetes?
Beets have a glycemic index (GI) score of 61, which is considered medium. The GI is a measure of how fast blood sugar levels rise after a meal. On the other hand, the glycemic load of beet roots is only 5, which is very low. This means that beetroots should not have a major effect on blood sugar levels because the total carb amount in each serving is low. Carb foods with a high GI more quickly turn into sugar and stress the pancreas, therefore, may be an issue in diabetes. They include whole wheat bread, baked potato, muesli, oatmeal, taco shells, white bread and bagels.
According to Sally Fallon (Nourishing Traditions), half a glass of beet kvass morning and night is an excellent blood tonic, promotes
regularity, aids digestion, alkalizes the blood, cleanses the liver and is a good treatment for kidney stones and other ailments.
This weekend at Academy of Healing Nutrition, Inga Bylinkina, originally from Russia, taught her version of beet kvass as part of her class “Practical Cooking with the Longevity Diet.” It requires no special equipment, yeast or fuss. It is delicious and can be enjoyed fresh daily.
2-4 organic beets
¼ cup whey or juice from sauerkraut
1 tablespoon sea salt or Himalayan salt
filtered or spring water
1/2 gallon glass jar
- Wash the beets and peel them (if not organic) or leave skin on (if organic)
- Chop the beets in to small cubes but don’t grate.
- Place the beets in the bottom of a half gallon jar.
- Add whey or sauerkraut juice and salt
(If you don’t want to use whey or sauerkraut juice, you can double the salt instead, though it may take longer to ferment)
- Fill the jar with filtered water.
- Cover the top with a towel or cheesecloth and leave on the counter at room temperature for 2 days to ferment.
- Store ready kvass in glass bottles in the fridge
- Drink 3-4 ounces each morning and night.