When I first came across beet kvass, even the idea of it had me turning my nose up. It’s taken me a long time to appreciate beetroot – for most of my life I found the flavour of them overwhelmingly earthy and the only way I could enjoy them (the sweet, vinegar-enhanced canned variety, at least) was on hamburgers. I’m sure I’m not alone.
As a nutritionist, I kept stumbling across more and more research that led me to understand what an incredible immune and liver tonic beet kvass had the potential to be, if I could only nail a recipe at home.
My first few attempts were disastrous, but I’ve since managed to perfect a foolproof beginner’s recipe that takes mere minutes to make and you can indulge in the delicious effervescence that is beet kvass for many weeks to come.
It’s has a unique flavour that doesn’t quite translate well into written form. Delicately sour, salty, savoury – but absolutely moreish and in fact, quite addictive. Whenever I have kvass in the house, I find it hard to pace myself and the bottle has often been consumed in entirety in a matter of days – regardless of how big the original supply was.
Why all the fuss about beet kvass?
It might be one of the most nutritious, immune supportive beverages in existence, which is why it’s been renowned in traditional folk medicine across most of Eastern Europe for centuries.
I’ve waxed lyrical about the incredible health benefits of beetroot here on the column before – mainly because I adore the fact that ordinary, inexpensive, accessible foods often turn out to be potent functional foods. Our grandmas inherently knew this stuff.
The bright pigments that give beetroot its unique rich colour are actually powerful phytochemicals that are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory in nature, helping to increase what’s known as ‘phase 2’ detoxification in the liver, which in layman’s terms is often a bit of a bottleneck in the overall process of detoxification.
These therapeutic pigments are extremely water soluble and tend to leach out whenever we cook beetroot – which is precisely what makes this preparation method so fantastic. It’s a simple, easy way to extract the primary benefits of beetroot, without having to endure the task of eating too much beetroot! Now, I’ve made friends with this root vegetable in recent years and delight in consuming it on a near weekly basis, but it’s still nice to have another option on the table. And such a delicious one, at that.
Whenever we ferment anything remotely nutritious, we increase the bioavailability of the nutrients many times over, hence why this drink is such a powerful additional to your Winter health routine. Consider it beetroot juice on steroids.
This is also why it’s possible to obtain the cleansing and immune boosting benefits in just a small glass, daily. And because it has an extensive shelf-life, if you committed to making a large batch, you could almost see yourself through until Springtime!
Where to purchase kvass locally
If making it yourself at home is out of the question, we’re only a stone’s throw away from the first business to bring kvass to the Australian market, Jane Jenkinson of Wholefood Family, up in Newcastle. You can buy her delicious products online for home delivery or at the Newcastle farmers markets on Sundays.
How to make it
To make this recipe foolproof, it’s best to use a ‘starter culture’, which in layman’s terms is really just a slurp of the previous batch of whatever you’re making.
If you’re making kvass for the first time, you can use the juice of any raw fermented vegetables. The store-bought variety is fine as long as it’s raw/unpasteurised (hint: you normally find these in the refrigerated section rather than on the shelf). You can also use kombucha as an alternative or a powdered commercial starter culture.
3 medium unpeeled beetroots, washed and cut into eighths
1 onion, quartered
1 cup of raw cabbage (optional)
¼ cup starter culture
1.5 tbsp salt
2 litres filtered water
1. Place all the vegetables in a large, clean 2-3L glass jar (with a lid) or pickling vessel, then add your choice of starter culture.
2. Dissolve the salt in a small amount of warm water, then mix it back in into the 2L of water. Pour as much as is necessary to fill the jar about an inch from the top.
3. Close the jar and leave it in a warm spot to ferment for 1-2 weeks, or until it has reached a sufficient level of sourness for your taste, then decant the resulting kvass into a new bottle or jar to remain in the fridge – which should last for many weeks – if you don’t get through it sooner! Enjoy it in a small shot glass with meals as a digestive tonic, or mix the kvass into dressings, sauces and dips.
What to do with the leftover vegetables
You can simply top up the vegetables with more water, salt and starter and ferment it a second time, or you can add them to soups and stews – they add a delicious tangy flavour. The veggies are also delicious to enjoy raw in salads, added to lunchboxes or blended into a dip with yoghurt, cream cheese or hummus as a base.
Once you’re across the basic formula, you can play around with different variations on flavour. I prefer the savoury version and love experimenting with adding fresh herbs like dill and coriander and spices like pepper and mustard seeds.
However, you can skip the vegetables entirely (well not the actual beets!) and add oranges with the peel in-tact and spices like clove and cinnamon for a completely different take on it. You can also enjoy this sweeter version of kvass diluted with fruit juice to serve.
Well I hope this inspires you to have a go at making this quick and nourishing immune tonic, or at least seek out a pre-made bottle of sparkling kvass to try first.
Georgia is a clinically trained nutritionist, wholefoods chef, columnist and mum. She’s been featured in Body & Soul and had TV appearances on ABC Breakfast and Studio 10 for her unique approach to food and health. She’s known for reinventing traditional foods for the modern kitchen and was instrumental in a radical new approach to sports nutrition with a program for the NRL Parramatta Eels, kickstarting their ascent on the ladder in recent years. Find out more at stirringchange.com.