The historic Russian beverage kvass is traditionally made by fermenting rye bread, and often fruit, into an invigorating and effervescent drink. It’s currently marketed in Russia as a patriotic—and more healthful—soft drink alternative.
My version is an ambrosial grain-free nectar that’s oh-so-easy to make. What does it taste like? A tangy blend of sweet and acid with a bright and clean taste. Just as the finest rose perfume extracts rose essence (not the petals), so raspberry kvass, for example, is raspberry essence fermented for a deeper flavor and edge. Compared to a raspberry drink made from crushed fruit or concentrate, kvass is unrivaled.
When you enjoy naturally fermented and unpasteurized foods like kvass or sauerkraut, you can bypass expensive probiotic supplements. Traditionally fermented foods are your best, and most diverse, source of invaluable enzymes and bacteria to support digestion. It’s with good reason that every single culture throughout the world includes a lacto acid fermented food central to their diet. Homemade ferments are delicious and far more pleasurable than is swallowing a pill to boost intestinal flora. And your own apple kvass or kraut is far less expensive than are probiotic supplements.
If you’re new to fermenting foods, this one is a cinch for beginners because you can taste it at any stage to discern its progress. Even with your first batch your tongue will easily discern the difference between a green and a mature ferment.
Are fermented foods safe? They’re actually safer than eating raw fruits and vegetables because the lactic acid bacteria inhibits—even prevents—proliferation of pathogenic organisms.
Rather like kombucha, kvass has a negligible alcoholic content (0.05 to 1.2%) and is a source of invaluable probiotics (lactobacilli) and enzymes with antibiotic and anticarcinogenic properties. To minimize the alcohol even further, reduce the fermentation time.
You need only fruit, unpasteurized honey, and pure water. (If using tap water and/ or pasteurized honey, you need to add a starter such as whey or yeast.) Use a single fruit or a combination of fruits and feel free to experiment with herb flavorings. I don’t bother to core or peel organic fruits like apples or pears. After peeling a pineapple, you can recycle the peel into pineapple kvass. Very soft and sweet fruits (like melon, banana, mango or papaya) more quickly ferment and so allow approximately two days; also they sour more quickly if over-fermented.
If you don’t have fully ripened fruit—particularly stone fruit: peaches, apricots, cherries, plums, or nectarines—on hand, use apples or pears or frozen or preservative-free dried fruit. While some fruits become sweeter after harvest, stone fruits do not, and most of the stone fruits available in supermarkets were harvested before ripening. Kvass made from immature fruit lacks both essence and flavor; it tastes utterly flat and not at all pleasing. (I know from trying both marginally ripe cherries and a peach: the results were drinkable but neither the aroma nor the flavor was worth pursuing.)
Enough ripe fruit to fill a quart jar by one quarter to one third
Pure water to almost fill the jar
1 tablespoon unpasteurized honey
Several thin ginger slices or other seasonings (optional)
For raspberries or other delicate berries, put them in whole. Slice denser fruits like strawberries and apples. Halve grapes, cherries, and dried apricots, figs or prunes. Either split or mash firm-skinned fruits like blueberries and citrus.
Place the fruit, honey and seasonings (optional) in a quart jar. Add enough water to fill all but the top inch of the jar; this critical “head room” safely allows pressure to build. There’s no need to stir in the honey; it will dissolve.
Tightly cover the jar and give it a shake 2 or 3 times a day to prevent undesirable bacteria from forming on the surface. Once it starts bubbling, press on the center of the lid to gage CO2 pressure buildup. When the lid bulges up rather than giving to light pressure, open the lid to release CO2 and then retighten the lid.
In approximately 24 hours, you’ll see bubbles in the mixture. It’s ready after 2 to 3 days or when the mixture is vigorously bubbling and the fruit looks “cooked” rather than raw and has a pleasing flavor. Taste your brew as often as you wish.
Warm weather and high sugar content cause faster fermentation. If the mixture is actively bubbling in just one day, it contained too much sugar (next time use less fruit and/or honey) and will sour and start to become alcoholic rather than develop the healthful and tangy lacto-bacteria.
When it’s ready, strain out and discard the fruit solids ( you could eat them but their essence is gone). Serve kvass as is or keep refrigerated for up to a week.
Option: To increase carbonation, decant the kvass into a wine bottle and cork it or decant it into a recycled plastic soft drink bottle and cap tightly. Leave at room temperature until you can see a rim of bubbles at the top of the wine bottle or until the plastic bottle bulges from CO2 pressure build-up. Refrigerate until use. (Or pour it into bail-top beer bottle available from home-brewing supply stores and online. If using a bail-top bottle, it’s imperative to get full directions regarding safety as over carbonated bottles can explode.)
My grandkids favor any fresh fruit kvass over one with dried fruit or just herbs; whereas my daughter and I equally enjoyed one made with dried apricots and mulled cider spices as well as one made of edible chrysanthemum, lemon balm and ginger. As the chrysanthemum kvass lacked fruit sugar, I doubled the honey.
Do give kvass a try and let us know what your favorite flavors are.
May you be refreshingly nourished.