It’s a weird word, I know. Kvass or as we call it in Lithuanian “gira” (G like good not gin) is natural drink made by fermenting bread, berries, caraway seeds or honey, by adding sugar, yeast or natural ferment.
It’s a very old drink, ancient in a way, which became particularly popular in the XVI century and was consumed by anyone from country folk to dukes. It is said it was it was consumed more frequently than water, though you can’t be sure of it… More than 100 recipes are known of the type of kvass that used to be made, some with fairly exotic names like white violet kvass or black currant leaves kvass. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?
Nowadays, the kvass that is widely known in Lithuania is made from bread. You can buy it in every supermarket and restaurants serving traditional cuisine sometimes brew their own, unique bread kvass.
Now, in case you are having some suspicious thoughts that this drink may not be good for the health, it’s quite the opposite. It is said that kvass is good for digestion, detox and is most efficient drink for refreshing during a hot summer day. It’s also rich with Vitamin B and it is said that drinking it accelerates the healing process.
How does bread kvass taste?
Well, it’s certainly not a usual taste, rather very very unique. My husband says it’s like natural cola, and I think there are very few words that could probably describe it. It does have a shallow sub taste of bread, tones of honey and overall is fresh and rich drink. I’ve grown up drinking the stuff, hence for me it’s as sentimental as is tasty, and something I would definitely recommend trying at least once.
How to make bread kvass?
That is quite simple actually (which was a surprise for me, I have to say). I’ve only started making kvass while preparing for this editorial a few months ago, and now that I’m making it almost every week, I’m trying to remember why I haven’t got around to make it before.
I guess it was always the idea that you have start brewing something using yeast or natural ferment at home, and you’re not quite sure at what point it becomes drinkable or is it possible that is can go wrong…
In the end it appears it’s not that complicated and there aren’t so many ways it can wrong. It simply either starts or fermenting or it does not.
To start you need sourdough rye bread. You can either use dark or simple rye bread that is either fresh or stale. The bread should first be sliced and dried in the oven, till it breaks like a cracker. Drying will start caramelize of the sugars in the bread and add to the taste of kvass.
The pour over boiling water and let it steep for a while. When the bread will absorb the water pour over some more. Let it steep anywhere between 4 hours and overnight.
Then comes the funny part. You have to strain it, stir in sugar, honey and either yeast or ferment. I tried making kvass both with yeast and with sourdough ferment starter made out of water and rye flour (which is how kvass is traditionally made). Which means you have to stir in a tablespoon of this stuff…
Don’t worry, by the end of the fermentation it will settle on the bottom of the pot and the remaining will settle in the bottle (same is with yeast).
So you stir everything well and leave in a warm place to ferment overnight (or over day). If the fermentation has kicked off then there will be foam like in the photo below. This one was done with the ferment, but if you would be using yeast then there would be much more foam.
Anyhow, the foam indicates that it is ready, so strain it again, check if you’re happy with the taste. The fermentation will have “eaten up” some of the sugar, so add more as needed. The divide between plastic bottles (fill only 2/3) and if you want your kvass bubbly then add a raisin to each bottle. Then close it well, place it in the fridge for at least 2-3 days and you’ve made bread kvass. This will keep in a cool place for at least a month.
Note: though bread kvass is not considered as alcoholic drink, using yeast and sugar it can brew to 0.5-1% alcohol content, I haven’t measured mine, but I don’t think it had any in it at the time of drinking.
I have only as yet tried making bread kvass, but I will get down to making some with berries and fruits. After all, I have a soft spot for bubbly drinks, and the idea that you can have one, that is home made and healthy is very appealing to me.
The recipe for natural ferment (sourdough starter) yeast is here.
- 400 grams/ 14 oz black rye bread (sourdough)
- 3 litres water
- 130 grams/ 1⅛ cup white sugar
- 4 tablespoons honey
- 1tablespoon natural ferment or 4.5 grams (1/2 pack) yeast powder
- 1 branch mint (optional)
- few raisins
- Heat the oven to 150C.
- Slice the bread and dry in the oven, till it breaks like a cracker (about 20-30 mins). Drying will start caramelize of the sugars in the bread and add to the taste of kvass.
- The pour over boiling water (just to cover the bread) and let it steep for a while. When the bread will absorb the water pour over some more. Let it steep anywhere between 4 hours and overnight.
- Next strain the liquid and add warm water to come to 3 liters. Stir in sugar, honey and natural ferment. If you are using yeast then you have to activate it before, by mixing with a teaspoon of sugar 6 tablespoons of warm water and keeping in warm place for 10-15 minutes. (if it will start foaming then the yeast is active, if not, get another pack and start over again).
- If using mint, then boil it for 30 seconds, drain, let it cool for a few minutes, then add to the kvass mixture.
- NOTE: it is important that the temperature of liquid before stirring in the yeast or nature ferment is warm (about 37C), but not hot, or you will "kill" the ferment.
- Then place the whole thing in a warm place for 7-12 hours, till the foam starts rising on the top.
- Skim the foam, strain the kvass and pour it into bottles and a raisin to each bottle and seal tight.
- NOTE: when pouring into plastic bottles, do not pour more than ⅔ of the bottle. It is best to even slightly squeeze the sides of the bottle, because when it will continue to ferment in the fridge it will need space to expand. If after a day or two you see that the bottle is too tight, you can open it to let some of the air out, then close it again.
- After 2-3 days in the fridge kvass is ready to drink and will keep well for at least a month. Enjoy!