Kvass | A Ukrainian drink that leads to funny situations

Origins of Kvass

Kvass is a medieval drink which means ‘leaven’.  It is basically non-alcoholic drink fermented from rye and mixed with herbs or fruits like mint and strawberry.  If you have never tasted it your missing something.  It is popular in Ukraine and Russia and goes back 5,000 years plus. It is also known as a monk’s drink. In Ukraine and Russian in the 17th and 18th and 19th century it was the most popular drink in town.    It taste great cold in the summer. Below is me next to a Ukrainian Kvass truck when I was in Crimea.  I drank Kvas morning, noon and night.

Kvass truck and me in Crimea.

A funny Kvass story

Last summer I was sitting in a field behind my flat in Kraków with my Kaisa. I was eating salami and drinking Kvass and reading a book.  At that point two Polish police officers proceeded to write me out a ticket for drinking in a public place.  Of course I tried to explain to them it was Kvas and for some reason they did not know what I was talking about.  Kasia explained to me that it was  is really a Ukrainian Russian drink and not popular in Poland.  When I gave them a whiff of the  bottle, they said aha and made some comment about me being an American health food guy and walked off.

Second Kvas story

I had secured a great supplier of Kvass at one of the local shops and was walking down the street with my stash.  I had so many bottles that one of the bottles broke though the cheap plastic bag I was carrying them in. My kvass broke open and sprayed a girl walking by all dressed up for her Saturday night date.  It was almost as if my kvass followed her as she tried to get out-of-the-way.  The end result is she was covered with my foamy kvass spray.  I tried to apologized but she said ‘great, now my boyfriend will think I was drinking’  – I said ‘its kvass!’

Keep reading about this fermented beverage

Kvass comes from a Slavic word meaning to leaven or to rise (Old Slavic квасъ, kvasŭ_. It was mentioned in the Primary Chronicles in Kievan Rus written in the year 1113. Of course it goes back further but it is mentioned here as that is when the written language was codified. When the Slavs were living in the forest they were drinking this ‘liquid bread’.

I have drunk some variation of this beverage in South America, the States, Poland and Russia but nothing is as good as some good old fashion Ukrainian Kvass. Admittedly the ancient Egyptians were creating this stuff or something like it, yet the signature today is distinctly Slavic.

I would go back to Crimea just to taste some, that is how good it is. I basically lived off the stuff there and lost a lot of weight. If you look at the photos my wife and I at the upper right corner of this site you will see our photo after a week on Kvass.

I am not saying it is the next Dr. Oz breakthrough and I doubt I think it has some calories but I did lose weight when drinking it.

Vendors are better than shops, but they are only in Eastern Europe
Also you want to buy it from the street vendors. I have not tasted anything as good as this in the shop.The ones sold in plastic bottles and sweetened are the worst while the natural ones and in glass bottles are the best, preferably with less sugar, check the carbohydrate content per serving. Soft drink beverage makers (cough, cough Coca-Cola) bought micro manufacturers of this and I think they sweetened and spoiled the formula.

Where to buy Kvass in the USA
You can go to any Russian or Eastern European store, every major city has them, and you can buy the good stuff there. Ask me if you need guidance on this.  For example in Boston there is Bazaar or Berezka in Brookline and Brighten (take the green line on the T), or any Wholefoods has something similar a little more pricy and herby. I like them both. In your local grocer in the ethnic food section, such as Spanish they have something similar. Or you can make it at home.

Making Kvass
It was popular with peasants, monks and even people of the upper class. If Kvass was that ubiquitous then you know the receipt is not that difficult.

You can ferment it with yeast from rye, wheat or barley you can though in some fruits and birch juice or herbs. In Ukraine they make it from beets also for digestive problems, its good for the liver and kidneys.

You can buy variations in the USA but it is not the same as in Eastern Europe.

Beet Kvass is made by:
Slicing up three large organic beets and adding salt (one and a half tablespoons) and water.  Leaving it at room temperature for two days.  The glass container could be a two liters for example. Some people add a half cup of whey I do not.

This is lacto fermentation or lactic acid fermentation, similar to sauerkraut. Leuconostoc is the main bacteria at work here.  It feeds on the natural sugars and creates an acidic environment destroying the other harmful bacterias.

An Asian drink similar is Kombucha, it is mushrooms and tea. It tends to be high-priced in the USA and I prefer Kvass. Kombucha is way over price and more a premium good hyped by health claims. Maybe it is good put it on par with green tea. Better is consume some beet Kvass as explained above for the pleasure of it, than some promoted health benefit at a price.

Buy organic and you will taste a world of difference in the beets. You can even try golden beets.

How to impress your date with fermented grains
Do not take her to a fancy restaurant, do something different (Sushi is no longer different) buy her some Kvass and see her reaction. Do not expect her to get tipsy on it as it is considered non-alcoholic with less than 1%, yet on a few I think I felt something, maybe it was my imagination. Therefore I would not recommend it for kids or people who are pregnant. However, for a date, yes, it is a novelty, that will open them up to different cultures.

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