To drink beet kvass is to taste the blood of the earth – sweet and salty with a mineral-rich undertone that speaks of the soil itself. Beet kvass is an acquired taste, much like other fermented foods whose characteristic sourness can offend tame palates. In spite of – or perhaps because of – its briny and earthy flavor, we love beet kvass.
Beet kvass is a probiotic tonic made from beets that was popularized by the landmark book on traditional foods, Nourishing Traditions. Kvass is a traditional Russian beverage made from fermenting scraps of wheat or rye bread with water, starter culture and a bit of salt. It’s often flavored by berries, raisins, apples, various spices and beets, though this version is made exclusively from beets and it lacks the characteristic overt saltiness that some people dislike in other beet kvass recipes.
Beet kvass carries with it all the benefits of beets, marrying them with the benefits of fermented foods for a deeply cleansing tonic. Rich in betacyanins – the pigments responsible for beets’ characteristic hue, beets possess strong antioxidant capacity with an ORAC value of 1,776 which may be why beets seem to help mitigate inflammatory states in the body which may contribute to cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.
In making beet kvass, fresh raw beets are peeled, chopped and set in a fermentation crock or jar (you can find them online) and covered with a prepared brine of unrefined sea salt, starter culture and filtered water. From time to time, I season my beet kvass with organic ginger, cloves, allspice, coriander, cardamom or orange peel. The kvass then ferments for about a week before it is decanted and served.
The fermentation process enhances the already strong nutritional profile of raw beets, increasing levels of food enzymes and B vitamins (particularly folate). It also inoculates the beets with beneficial bacteria which support immunity and digestive system health.
Using a Starter Culture
Both bread and beet kvass are traditionally made with a starter culture which helps to promote the proliferation of beneficial bacteria, leading to a successful and safe kvass. This starter culture can be fresh whey drawn from clabbered milk, kefir or yogurt. It can be the brine of previously fermented vegetables like sauerkraut or kimchi. I don’t recommend using kombucha or water kefir as starter cultures as they can produce unnecessarily yeasty (and sometimes slimy) kvass. Use 1/4 cup in the recipe below.
Beyond fresh whey and fermented vegetable brine, I prefer to use a packaged starter culture to make beet kvass and other tonics. Unlike whey, sauerkraut or kimchi juice which may have limited ability to inoculate the kvass depending on their age, a packaged starter culture is very reliable and is flavor neutral. I typically use 1 packet kefir starter culture when I make beet kvass. I also see a benefit in culturing very specific beneficial bacteria, especially as part of an overall healing protocol. Use 1 package starter culture (you can buy it here) in the recipe below.
Using a starter culture also helps to reduce the amount of salt used in this recipe, increasing palatability.
Don’t have time to make your own?
If you’re still uncomfortable with the idea of making your own fermented foods and drinks, or you haven’t the time, you can also purchase organic fermented beet juice (as well as other tonics) online and still reap the same benefits of making your own.
How to Serve Beet Kvass
We drink beet kvass daily – when beets are in season – at the recommendation of a nutritionist we see periodically. She also recommends taking one quart of bone broth every day (which is why perpetual soup is so helpful). I serve 1/4 cup beet kvass over ice and diluted with mineral water before and during meals. Even our little boy loves it.
- starter culture, (see above)
- 2 teaspoons unrefined sea salt
- 3 pounds beets, (peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes)
- Whisk starter culture and sea salt into 1½ quarts filtered water until well-dissolved.
- Place beets into a 1-gallon vegetable fermenter or fermentation crock. Cover with liquid ingredients until the crock is full within one inch of its lip and the beets are completely submerged. Pour in additional filtered water, as necessary.
- Allow the kvass to ferment at room temperature for at least one week before straining and serving.
- Reserve the beets and 1 cup beet kvass to prepare beet kvass up to two more times. Add additional salt and water (you may omit starter for subsequent rounds) to the leftover beets and culture them up to two more times before discarding, or serve them as a sidedish or in salads.