I love beets like I love email spam. Which is to say I don’t. There are some exceptions, though – I adore the salty/crunchy goodness of these rosemary beet chips, and at least a few times a year I crave the unmistakable, earthy tang of this beet kvass recipe.
Ruby red and rich in gut-friendly probiotics, beet kvass has long been revered in Russia as a blood tonic, liver cleanser and digestive aid. It’s usually made from rye, but can also be made from cherries, lemons, and perhaps most nourishing of all – beets.
Kvass is so woven into Russian folklore that it makes an appearance in War and Peace, where “Tolstoy describes how Russian soldiers took a ladle full of kvass before venturing from their barracks onto the Moscow streets during a cholera epidemic.” (1)
Why is kvass so revered? Let’s take a closer look . . .
Benefits of Beet Kvass
Beets are a good source of folate, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, iron, manganese and phytonutrients such as betains, which have been “shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support.” (2)
Research suggests that they:
- have positive effects on blood pressure (3)
- support immune response to common pathogens (4)
- have protective effects on the liver (5)
- improve the ability of your body to replenish oxygen during exercise (6)
There are other benefits, too. One study found that it diminished the effects of radiation exposure in mice. (7)
When fermented, the nutrients in beets become more bioavailable, whereas cooking destroys vitamin C and some of the other beneficial components. (8) And of course fermentation introduces beneficial bacteria, which further improve the nutrient profile by producing B-vitamins. (9)
Now, you may be thinking, “That all sounds great, but . . .”
What does it taste like?
Good question! If you’ve tried kvass before, you may have noticed that it can be very salty – this one isn’t.
Since most of us are pretty new to fermentation, we tend to use a lot of salt to keep unwanted microbes at bay while the beneficial bacteria gets established. This approach can make some ferments very unappetizing, and I avoided kvass for years for this reason.
Fortunately, a book I picked up a couple of years ago, Fermented, uses only 1/2- 1 teaspoon per quart. Seeing a lower salt ratio recommended by a fermentation expert gave me the courage to begin experimenting with lower ratios as well, and my batches have turned out beautifully – tangy and robust without being too salty.
Part of the reason for my success may be that I use a fermenting jar with an airlock, which helps protect the kvass from mold and yeast from the environment. However, I have friends that ferment with tightly closed jars with good results, too.
This version is infused with ginger, which adds a pleasant flavor and also supports digestion. Feel free to experiment with other flavorings like citrus peels, bits of dried pineapple – whatever you like!
Ginger Beet Kvass Recipe
- 1½ quart jar with airlock OR a 1½ quart jar with tight fitting lid
- wooden or plastic spoon
- 2 cups beets (rinsed and roughly chopped - no need to peel)
- 2 tbsp fresh ginger (rinsed and roughly chopped - again, no need to peel. see what I mean about how easy this is?)
- 4 cups filtered or spring water (chlorinated water inhibits fermentation)
- 2 tsp unrefined sea salt
- Thoroughly wash and dry your jar and lid before getting started. If you don't have a jar with an airlock, see the notes section for using a regular jar.
- Place beets, ginger salt and water in jar. Stir with a wooden/plastic spoon until the salt is dissolved.
- Close the jar and attach the airlock. Add water to seal it. (If you’re new to airlocks, I’ve included a tutorial below.)
- Place the jar in a dark area. I usually place mine in a cabinet or wrap it in a towel.
- Allow the kvass to ferment for 3 days – two weeks. If I'm not in a rush I ferment mine for two weeks.
- When the kvass is ready, strain the beets and set them aside. Pour the liquid into a clean jar with a tight fitting lid or swing top bottles and store in the fridge.
How To Set Up An Airlock
When I first starting fermenting, any mention of using an airlock immediately took my mind to space shuttles and astronaut suits. I thought it sounded way too complicated, but it’s actually super simple. Though the mechanisms vary slightly, here’s how I use mine.
Fill your jar with kvass ingredients, then using a twisting motion, push the main airlock piece into the top of the jar . . .
Add in the middle piece . . .
And then pour in enough water to bring the middle piece to the top of the airlock.
You will notice that the middle piece floats like a buoy at this point. I’ll explain more about why that’s important in the next section.
The last step to setting up your airlock is to place the lid on top. When excess pressure comes up through the stem (base) of the airlock, it builds under the buoy, which eventually bobs a little and allows the pressure to release through the lid, which has holes in it. All of this is done while the water seal stays intact, which prevents outside bacteria and yeast from reaching the ferment.
I, uh, lost my lid, so I secure the buoy in place with a rubber band.
Depending on how long you ferment you may need to add additional water to compensate for evaporation, but overall it’s very easy.
Sources for this article:
1. The Weston A. Price Foundation. Kvass and Kombucha: Gifts From Russia. Retrieved from https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/food-features/kvass-and-kombucha-gifts-from-russia/
2. The World’s Healthiest Foods. Beets. Retrieved from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=49
3. Webb, AJ et. al. Acute blood pressure lowering, vasoprotective, and antiplatelet properties of dietary nitrate via bioconversion to nitrite. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18250365
4. Prahoveanu, E. et. al. Prophylactic effect of a Beta vulgaris extract on experimental influenza infection in mice. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3727395
5. Krajka-Kuzniak V et. al. Beetroot juice protects against N-nitrosodiethylamine-induced liver injury in rats. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22465004
6. Breese, BC et. al. Beetroot juice supplementation speeds O2 uptake kinetics and improves exercise tolerance during severe-intensity exercise initiated from an elevated metabolic rate. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24089377
7. Lu, X et. al. Radioprotective activity of betalains from red beets in mice exposed to gamma irradiation. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19446548
8. Hotz, Christine et. al. Traditional Food-Processing and Preparation Practices to Enhance the Bioavailability of Micronutrients in Plant-Based Diets. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/137/4/1097/4664654
9. Liem, IT et. al. Production of vitamin B-12 in tempeh, a fermented soybean food. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC242746/