If you're at the farmer's market and come across an abundance of fresh beets, make this beet kvass recipe. You only need a handful of ingredients and a little effort.
Within a few days, you’ll have a deeply nourishing tonic. The earthy, lightly sour, and faintly sweet flavor is an acquired taste. But you’ll find yourself craving it before long.
What is beet kvass?
Beet kvass is a fermented drink with roots in Eastern Europe. Its flavor tastes similar to beet juice - earthy, sour, and slightly salty. As beet kvass ferments, the beets release their pigments which gives the kvass a vibrant pink-red color.
Why this recipe works
Beet kvass is easy to make, and you only need a few ingredients.
It’s also affordable since beets tend to be a thrifty purchase at the supermarket.
Beet kvass is a powerhouse of antioxidants combined with beneficial bacteria and wild yeast.
You can easily adjust the flavor, adding ginger, dill, or other herbs and spices to make something uniquely your own.
At its most basic, this beet kvass recipe needs only a few ingredients: beets, salt, and water. You can add a starter culture, such as kombucha or sauerkraut juice, as well as spices to the three ingredients.
- Beets are central to this recipe. You can use any kind of beet you like, including red, golden, or candy-striped Chioggia beets.
- Salt gives the kvass a little flavor. For the best flavor, look for minimally processed and additive-free salt such as sea salt.
- Starter culture is traditionally used to make bread kvass, of which beet kvass is a variation. While it’s an optional ingredient, it can speed up fermentation and make a reliable brew.
- Filtered water is optimal for fermentation since it will not contain chlorine.
- Herbs and spices can add interest and flavor to your beet kvass. Ginger, garlic, dill, black pepper, turmeric, and allspice are all popular additions.
How to Make Beet Kvass
- Prepare your beets by scrubbing them well to remove any dirt or debris. Then leave the peel on, dice them, and dump them into a quart-sized jar.
- Prepare a brine by mixing salt, starter culture, and water together. Pour this over the beets.
- Seal the jar tightly. A tight-fitting fermentation lid that allows excess gas created during fermentation to escape without allowing more oxygen in works well. If you don’t have one, a mason jar lid is fine, but remember to burp the jar from time to time.
- Wait about a week. Fermented drinks will ferment faster in a hot kitchen than in a cold one. So you may need to adjust your timing depending on the temperature of your home.
- Strain and serve.
Beet kvass is simple to make at home. And you only need a few ingredients: beets, salt, and water. Using a starter culture can be helpful, too, and results in greater palatability and faster fermentation.
When you make this recipe, there are a few things you want to keep in mind.
- Use an airlock lid or a very tight seal. That prevents oxygen from flowing into your kvass. Accordingly, it lowers the chance of mold contamination.
- Use beets with the peel on, but rinse them well. The beet skin can be a good source of lactic acid-producing bacteria. In other words, those are the bacteria you need for proper fermentation.
- Pay attention to your water. Tap water can contain chlorine or chloramine which are antiseptics intended to keep drinking water safe; however, they can inhibit proper fermentation. So, use filtered water or allow your tap water to sit out so the chlorine will evaporate before using it for fermentation.
- Foam and bubbles are a normal part of fermentation. If you see bubbles forming, that's a great sign that fermentation is underway.
- If your beet kvass becomes viscous, start over. Sometimes beets and other high-sugar vegetables like carrots produce a viscous texture when fermented. That just means your beet kvass fermented a little too long.
- Give your kvass more time in the winter, less in the summer. Fermentation speeds up in warm temperatures and slows down in cold temperatures. So it will need less time in summer, and more in winter.
Ways to Use Beet Kvass
At its heart, beet kvass is a fermented, probiotic tonic. So just pour it over ice and drink about ¼ cup at a time. You can also dilute it with sparkling water if the flavor is too intense or earthy for your liking.
Thanks to both its acidity and brininess, it makes an excellent addition to salad dressings. Next time you make a dressing, use it in place of the vinegar.
For similar reasons, it’s also delicious swirled into soup - especially borscht and root vegetable soup. The acidity of beet kvass helps to balance the soup’s sweet, earthy flavors.
Using a Starter Culture
If you haven’t brewed many fermented drinks, you may be unfamiliar with starter cultures. These are sources of beneficial bacteria and yeast. They help speed up fermentation and create an acidic environment.
Fermented drinks with live cultures, such as kombucha, jun tea, and water kefir, work well as starter cultures for drinks. Beneficial bacteria are well-established in these cultures and will kickstart your kvass.
Natural sources of yeast, such as wild yeast or ginger bug work great for beet kvass.
Juice from fermented vegetables is a source of beneficial bacteria and lactic acid. Juice from homemade sauerkraut can be a particularly nice starter for this beet kvass recipe.
Variations + Substitutions
Try golden beets, orange peel, and ginger. Beets are a natural match for citrus and ginger, and the combination is lovely.
Add garlic and dill. If you’re a fan of sour pickles or pickle juice, you’ll love this combination of garlic, dill, and beets.
Try black pepper, cinnamon sticks, and allspice. They make a nice, spiced brew that’s especially good for winter months.
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What does it taste like?
Beet kvass tastes slightly sweet with earthy undertones, similar to beet juice, only tarter with a salty edge.
What do I do with the leftover beets?
I recommend composting them. However, many people will eat the leftover beets or brew a second batch of kvass from them. Keep in mind that if you re-use the beets, your tonic will be progressively weaker.
What’s this milky film I see on top of the kvass?
If you see a milky or powdery film on top of your kvass, it’s most likely kahm yeast. Kahm yeast is harmless and you can gently skim it off or tilt the jar and pour it off. To prevent it from forming, shake your jar every day.
Do I have to use salt?
No. Traditional Eastern European kvass recipes, including beet kvass, do not call for salt. Rather, they use a hunk of sourdough bread and, often, a starter culture similar sourdough starter to kickstart fermentation. In these recipes, you’ll often see honey or sugar added, too.
By contrast, American versions, such as this beet kvass recipe, often include salt (sometimes quite a lot!).
How much salt should I use?
Since salt is not strictly necessary for making kvass as it is for other fermented vegetables, you have some flexibility. For this recipe, we’ve found success in combining a little salt with plenty of starter culture. One teaspoon salt per quart of water seems to be the sweet spot.
Do I have to use a starter culture?
No, but it’s helpful. Traditionally you make kvass with a starter culture similar to sourdough starter or wild yeast. However, if you don’t use a starter culture, consider increasing the salt to 3 teaspoons (about 20 grams).
Adding a starter helps it ferment faster and more safely, reducing the risk of harmful bacteria or mold.
What do I do if I don’t have fermentation equipment?
If you plan to make fermented vegetables frequently, it’s worth picking up the proper equipment. Jars, seals, airlocks, and weights can make fermenting at home a lot easier with less chance of mold formation.
If you don’t have them, make it in a mason jar or a Fido jar with a tight-fitting lid. Every day, shake the jar to stop mold and yeast. Every 1-2 days, let out extra gas by burping the jar.
Is it good for you?
Both beets and fermented drinks are functional foods, meaning your body gets greater value out of them than nutrition alone. Thanks to the lacto-fermentation process, it’s full of probiotics. Beets themselves are particularly rich in antioxidants. Accordingly the health benefits of beet kvass are excellent, especially for the heart, liver, and digestive system.
How much should I drink every day?
Beet kvass is a tonic, not a prescription. Drink it from time to time in an amount you enjoy. If you're new to fermented foods, the probiotics might make your stomach feel weird.
Start with a few tablespoons mixed into water. Then, work your way up to drinking 4 to 6 ounces at a time.