A traditional tonic in Eastern Europe, beet kvass is tangy fermented beverage that is consumed regularly, in small doses, to promote good health. In recent years, this vibrant red liquid has become increasingly popular in the United States among those seeking for natural remedies and healthy whole foods.
This trend may be attributed to its mention in popular books such as “Nourishing Traditions,” a 2001 guide to traditional foods written by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, both of Washington D.C.
Beet kvass “is valuable for its medicinal qualities and as a digestive aid,” the book states. “One 4-ounce glass, 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.”
Another source, the 2007 book “Grow Your Own Pharmacy” by Linda Gray, asserts that beets — or beetroot — have been used to treat ailments such as fever and constipation since Roman times and is an excellent source of folate, vitamin C and dietary fiber.
“It was regularly consumed by the well-known Russian centenarians,” the book states, referring to Russians who are 100 or more years old.
Making beet kvass is easy and requires few ingredients, according to Mary Margaret Ripley, who in normal times teaches workshops on fermented foods and beverages from her farm in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine. Beet kvass only takes a few days to develop, unlike many fermented drinks, such as wine or beer, which take several weeks to develop.
While kvass is often described as a non-alcoholic beverage, it typically contains between 0.5 and 1 percent alcohol by volume, depending on how long you age it, and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau requires any substance with more than a 0.5 percent to be regulated. In comparison, beer averages at 5 percent ABV.
Ripley has experimented with various beet kvass recipes to develop one that works for her. The ingredients are simple: chopped beets, water, a little salt and whey.
Whey with live cultures (the liquid obtained from straining yogurt with live cultures) serves as a “starter culture,” an ingredient that contains “good” bacteria that will start the fermentation process in the drink. Fermentation is a chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeast or other microorganisms. Some examples of fermented foods are yogurt, kombucha, sourdough, cheese and anything pickled.
“Fermentation can enhance the nutritive value, healthfulness and digestibility of foods,” according to the 2012 book “Real Food Fermentation” by Alex Lewin. “The microbes responsible for fermentation often create enzymes and vitamins, break down difficult-to-digest food components, and make minerals more available for your body to assimilate.”
Some people prefer not to use whey in their beet kvass because whey is a byproduct of dairy. An alternative for starters in beet kvass is sauerkraut juice, pickle juice or a handful of shredded raw cabbage.
“It’s really easy [to make beet kvass],” Ripley said. “You can do it even if you want to remain someone who ‘doesn’t cook.’”