kvass recipe history culture origin

Kvass - refreshing, frothy, and bready - comes in various flavors and types.

Kvass! The Other Fermented Russian Drink

Published: August 5, 2018

Kvass (Квас) is sometimes referred to as “bread drink” or even “bread cider” in English. We recommend just sticking with the word “kvass,” though. Brewed from black or rye bread, the drink may come with a range of consistencies similar to those found in beer and a distinctly “bready” taste.

The first recorded mention of kvass in ancient Rus dates to 989 and is recorded in the Primary Chronicles, Russia’s oldest known written text. Here it is recorded that, when Kievan Prince Vladimir converted his subjects to Christianity he commanded that, in celebration, «раздать народу пищу, мед и квас» (food, honey, and kvass be distributed to the people).

Kvass is considered a national drink on par with vodka throughout much of the former Soviet Union.

Why It’s Called “Kvass”

(Почему так называется?)

The word “kvass” is from ancient Russian, meaning “sour.”

While the noun is now generally used only for the name of the drink, adjectival forms taken from the verb “кваситься” (to ferment) can still be regularly encountered in modern Russian. “Простокваша” (prostokvasha), for instance, is a sour milk drink whose name translates to “simply-soured.” Russians also eat a form of sauerkraut called “квашеная капуста” (sour cabbage).

Kvass is primarily drunk in summer and is revered for its “способность освежить в жаркий день” (ability to refresh on a hot day). While kvass is available in stores all year round, sales during winter months are negligible while in summer, kvass sales rise to over 30% of Russia’s non-alcoholic beverage market.

The Soviets produced kvass on an industrial level. A street vendor would sell it from an “огромная металлическая бочка” (giant metal keg) by the mugful, wiping out the mug after each shot. These vendors can still be seen throughout Russia and some Central Asian states, although they are usually now equipped with “одноразовые пластиковые стаканчики” (disposable plastic cups).

kvass recipe history culture origin
In Soviet times, kvass was delivered straight from the factory and sold directly from utilitarian trucks such as this. These iconic yellow barrels can still be seen sometimes, although are now rare. This one was spotted by an SRAS student in Khabarovsk, Russia.

Despite its availability on Soviet streets, kvass was long known best as a “напиток, изготовленный в домашних условиях” (homemade drink). Soviet wives and grandmothers often “гордились своими собственными “секретными рецептами” (prided themselves on their own “secret recipes”).

It has always been known as a “people’s drink:” cheap, relatively easy to make, and popular. This is shown in the saying «Щи с мясом, а нет — так хлеб с квасом» meaning that even something as delicious (and luxurious a few centuries ago) as cabbage soup with meat is nothing compared to the basic pleasures of bread and kvass.

The status of квас as a national staple is further emphasized by «Кабы хлеб да квас, так и все у нас» (If there is bread, there is квас, all we need is with us.)

Kvass has a high caloric value, contains significant quantities of “витамины B1 и Е, также как и аминокислоты и микроэлементы” (vitamins B1 and E, as well as amino acids and micronutrients trace elements). It is known to “придает энергии и регулирует обменные процессы организма” (energize and regulate the body’s metabolic processes). It prevents the reproduction of harmful microbes, and positively influences the cardiovascular system.

Although it still holds a traditional place in Russian life, kvass is now most often purchased bottled in stores. Due largely to its primary product, квас, the Russian brewer Ochakavo holds third place in Russian beverage sales by value, after Coca-Cola and Pepsi (both of which also sell kvass in Russia).

kvass recipe history culture origin
The market for commercially produced kvass in Russia large, growing, and competitive. Two major brands are Ochakovo and Nikola (both pictured here, among others).

While most Russians consider kvass distinctly Russian, “появление кваса уходит своими корнями в глубокую древность” (kvass can trace its roots to ancient history). The ancient Egyptians, besides brewing beer, also brewed квас and types of fruity kvass are mentioned in the historical records of ancient Babylon.

The word “kwas” is also found in a number of other Slavic languages – in Polish, where it means “sourness,” in Czech and others.

When to Drink Kvass

(Как правильно пить квас?)

Kvass is most often “употребляется при комнатной температуре или слегка охлажденным” (served at room temperature or slightly chilled). It is never served with ice. Kvass is most often drunk in the summer – but can be found year-round.

How to Make Kvass

(Как правильно готовить квас?)

Квас содержит небольшое количество алкоголя” (Kvass contains small amounts of alcohol), as does any drink involving the use of yeast. Root beer, also traditionally a brewed drink, also contains traces of alcohol, although, like kvass, rarely more than 0.5% to 1.5%. It is not recommended for children under the age of three to drink kvass (or traditional root beer).

Закваска” (Kvass fermentation starter) is sold in Russia, which contains yeast and malt, but both ingredients can be easily obtained in America in local brew shops or even online.

kvass recipe history culture origin
American students on an SRAS-supported faculty led tour enjoying Teremok-brand kvass sold from an outdoor cart.

Пивные дрожжи или дрожжи для шампанского” (Brewer’s or Champagne yeast) is recommended to use, as it will dissolve easily and fully, creating a smother drink.

The water used to make kvass is usually boiled and then the sugar added to create a syrup. The kvass can be flavored at this time by boiling the water with “мята, семена тмина, лимон, мед, ягоды, изюм или другие сухофрукты” (mint, caraway seeds, lemon, honey, berries, raisins or other dried fruit). While boiling is recommended, make sure that the water has cooled before adding the yeast. “Дрожжи испортятся, если их добавить в кипящую воду” (Adding yeast to boiling water will kill it) and the kvass will not ferment or carbonate properly.

When filling the bottles, make sure not to overfill them. Leave some space at the top for the gas to collect “чтобы бутылка не взорвалась” (so that the bottle doesn’t explode). Always store the bottles upright – as the pressure builds, “бутылки могут протечь” (the bottles can leak) if they are not upright.

Kvass Recipes

(Давай Приготовим!)

See below for a free recipe for various versions of Russian kvass. See also the free videos online. If you are interested in cooking from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and other places in Eurasia, make sure to see our full, free Eurasian Cookbook online! You might also be interested in the following specialized cookbooks we’ve enjoyed:

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Квас «Русский» (красный) Russian Red Kvass
Ингредиенты
  • 1 кг сухарей чёрного хлеба
  • 200 г сахара
  • 50 г дрожжей
  • 50 г изюма
  • 6 литров воды
  • Марля
  • Большие ёмкости

Приготовление

  1. Высушите хлеб, порежьте на куски и поместите в духовку, нагретую до 170ºC примерно на полчаса. Эти куски должны зажариться до хрустящего состояния, но не сгореть.
  2. Поместите куски в большую ºмкость и залейте их 5 литрами кипящей воды. Замачивайте 6-8 часов и затем перелейте жидкость в отдельный контейнер, процедив через марлю.
  3. Вскипятите другую воду и добавьте туда сахар и изюм. Охладите до температуры немного выше комнатной и добавьте дрожжи. Добавьте всё это в первую жидкость.
  4. Затем разлейте по бутылкам и оставьте в тёплом месте на 24 часа, и затем переставьте в холод и держите там 72 часа. Теперь можно пить!
Ingredients
  • 1 kg dried black bread pieces
  • 200 g sugar
  • 50 g yeast
  • 50 g raisins
  • 6 liters water
  • Cheese cloth
  • Large jars

Preparation

  1. To dry the bread, cut it into strips and place in an oven heated to 350ºF for about a half hour. The pieces should be crispy but not burnt.
  2. Place the pieces in a large jar and pour 5 liters of boiling water over them. Let soak for 6-8 hours and strain out the liquid into a separate container through cheese cloth.
  3. Boil the other liter of water and add the sugar and raisins. Stir well. Let cool to just above room temperature and add the yeast. Add this to the strained liquid from before.
  4. Now pour into bottles and leave in a warm place for 24 hours, and then move to a cold place for 72 hours. Now drink it!

 

Белый квас White Kvass
Ингредиенты
  • 1/2 кг ржаного солода
  • 1/2 кг ячменного солода
  • 1/2 кг пшеничной муки
  • 1/4 ржаной муки
  • 1/2 кг гречневой муки
  • 4 литра воды
  • 1/2 столовых ложек дрожжей
  • Тмин, изюм, мята (по вкусу)
  • Марля
  • Большие ёмкости

Приготовление

  1. Ячменный и ржаной солод залейте половиной литра тёплой воды. Добавьте пшеничную и гречневую муку и, непрерывно помешивая, влейте 2,5 литра кипящей воды. Оставьте это “варево” на малом огне в течение шести часов, потом вскипятите в остающемся литре воды тмин, изюм и мяту и добавьте кипящую воду в эту смесь. Хорошо размешайте, чтобы не осталось комков.
  2. После того, как смесь нагреется, добавьте дрожжи, растворённые в небольшом количестве тёплой воды, и поставьте смесь в холодное место на два дня. Потом процедите жидкость через два слоя марли, разлейте в бутылки, и держите их в холодном месте еще два дня перед употреблением.
Ingredients
  • 1/2 kg rye malt
  • 1/2 kg barley malt
  • 1/2 kg wheat flour
  • 1/4 kg rye flour
  • 1/2 kg buckwheat flour
  • 4 liters water
  • 1/2 Table spoon yeast
  • Caraway seeds (to taste)
  • Raisins (to taste)
  • Mint (to taste)
  • Cheese cloth
  • Large jars

Preparation

  1. Mix barley and rye malt with warm a half liter of warm water. Add wheat and buckwheat flour and, stirring continuously, pour in 2.5 liters of boiling water. Leave the “brew” over low heat for six hours, now boil the remaining liter of water with the caraway, raisins, and mint and add the boiling water to the mixture. Stir well, making sure no lumps remain.
  2. After the mixture becomes warm, add yeast diluted with a little warm water and chill the mixture for two days. Then strain through two layers of cheesecloth, pour into bottles, and store them in a cold place for another two days before consuming.

Our Favorite Kvass Commercials

A commercial based on Nikola’s former ad campaign calling for Russians to drink kvass because it was “nikola” (not cola). Coke and Pepsi appealed to Russia’s advertisers’ union and had the campaign pulled, saying that it unfairly marketed against their products.

 

This bizzare little commercial is from Ochakovo, a company that makes good kvass and legendarily bad advertisements. Here, a group of tourists gawking at the architectural marvels of Los Angeles has one of their number saved by some guy who happens to have a couple large cans of kvass on him. And then he gets the girl too! Ooh, how refreshing!

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About the author

Josh Wilson

Josh Wilson

Josh has lived in Moscow since 2003, when he first arrived to study Russian at MGU through SRAS. He holds an M.A. in Theatre and a B.A. in History from Idaho State University, where his masters thesis was written on the political economy of Soviet-era censorship organs affecting the stage. At SRAS, Josh assists in program development and leads our Home and Abroad Programs. He is also the editor-in-chief for the SRAS newsletter, the SRAS Family of Sites, and Vestnik: The Journal of Russian and Asian Studies. In addition, he serves as Communications Director to Alinga Consulting Group and has served as a consultant or translator to several businesses and organizations with interests in Russia.

Program attended: All Programs

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Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov has reported on political and social issues for the Russian press as well as American outlets such as Russian Life, Worldpress.org, and Triangle Free Press. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the "real Russia" which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and went on to study TESOL and teach Russian at West Virginia University. He is currently working on an PhD from West Virginia University in Political Science. Andrei contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS site, and is an overall linguistics and research resource.

Program attended: All Programs

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