Monday, February 14, 2011


I admit it, I was having a really hard time coming up with a suitable song link for this post.  What I really want to talk about today is a trio of probiotic, fermented beverages and I just couldn't find a related song, band, or album to go along with them.  One possible link was The KKK Took My Baby Away by the Ramones, but only because all three of these drinks begin with the letter 'K.'  While I mention that song here, I decided against using it as the reference for this post.  Instead, I decided on Changes by David Bowie.  This is because adding these three drinks to my daily diet definitely (how's that alliteration?) represents a change for me.

So, what are these drinks?

First, I want to talk about kefir.  I am still not quite sure of the proper pronunciation of this word.  I have heard it pronounced as 'key-fur' as well as 'keh-fear.'  Either way, this is great stuff!  Kefir is primarily found as a cultured milk product.  I mentioned my then-new project of making my own kefir in a previous post - Wouldn't It Be Nice - so I won't go into too much detail about that here.  According to, kefir is:
"a cultured, enzyme-rich food filled with friendly micro-organisms that help balance your “inner ecosystem.” More nutritious and therapeutic than yogurt, it supplies complete protein, essential minerals, and valuable B vitamins."
Since I began making my own kefir a couple of months ago, I have been drinking it almost daily - except for the duration of the master cleanse.  At first, I wasn't quite thrilled by the taste but neither did I hate it.  Now, I actually like it.  For that matter, I am also enjoying the taste of plain yogurt now though I really couldn't stand it when I first tried it.  My taste buds have definitely adjusted to a lot of foods that I never used to like.  While I haven't seen any major improvement in my health since I started drinking kefir, I know that I am better off because of it.  As with everything else, healing takes time.  While kefir is available at the grocery stores, I have yet to find any that is made from whole milk and doesn't contain undesirable additives.  Plus, all of the bottled kefir that I have found is pasteurized.

Next comes kombucha.  Kombucha is a fermented tea drink.  It is essentially made by using a kombucha 'mushroom' or 'mother' to ferment any variety of tea.  Because of the fact that it is made from tea, it can come in many flavors.  I have only been able to find one brand of kombucha locally, though I haven't exhausted all possibilities.  Neither Stop & Shop nor Trader Joe's carry it.  I am told that Whole Foods sells it, but I don't get out there very often.  As of now, the only place I have been able to get it is It's Only Natural so I am limited to what they carry.  Today, I picked up some Botanic No. 9 and Gingerade varieties.  I had previously tried the Multigreen flavor but I am not too thrilled with the taste.  It wasn't bad and I would drink it if the others weren't available, but it wouldn't be my first choice.
I am tempted to try to make my own kombucha.  The start-up cost is a bit higher than it was for kefir, but it seems like the ongoing costs would be less.  Rather than using raw milk that I pay $7.50 per gallon to make kefir, I would be using tea and sugar.  One gallon of sweetened tea costs a lot less than $7.50!  In addition to the mother, I would eventually need to buy some larger jars to make the kombucha in.  I currently use the one quart mason jars for kefir and I could start with them, but given the fact that kombucha takes longer to ferment than kefir, I would want to make larger batches.

Finally, kvass is another beverage that has been around for a long time.  There are a couple of different ways to make kvass.  One uses stale rye bread while another uses beets.  Kvass is really new to me.  I read about it in Nourishing Traditions, but have only recently tried it.  It was sitting in the cooler at It's Only Natural right next to the kombucha with a big sign: "If you like kombucha, you will LOVE KVASS!"  Well, I figured that I would give it a shot...  So much for truth in advertising!  While I do like kombucha, I certainly do not love kvass - at least, not the variety that I tried.  The flavor that I purchased was ginger-carrot kvass.  My guess is that instead of using beets to make the kvass, they used ginger and carrots.  It wasn't great but neither was it horrible.  Today on my trip to I.O.N., I decided to give it another shot.  This time I opted for the beet kvass (as I write this, the kvass is sitting in the fridge while I am drinking Gingerade kombucha).
Kvass seems to be a lot easier to make than kombucha - similar to kefir in complexity and time.  It does, however, require whey as the fermentation agent - at least, for the first batch.  Fortunately, whey is easy to acquire - I can separate some raw milk on my own or get some from Deerfield Farm when they make cheese.  While the jury hasn't reached a verdict on kvass - maybe it is just an acquired taste - I am thinking that the relative ease of making it and the ability to customize the taste by using different vegetables will make kvass a staple for me.  We'll see how that goes, though.

Without actually doing the math, it is obvious that making/brewing my own probiotic drinks is a lot more cost effective than buying them retail.  Of the three, kombucha is the most labor intensive having to first brew the tea, add sugar and the mother, and allow to ferment for 7-10 days.  Kefir simply requires the addition of the grains to fresh milk in a loosely covered jar (I use a coffee filter over the mouth of a mason jar secured with the mason jar ring) with an occasional stir during the 24-48 hours of fermentation.  Kvass seems to merely require cutting the vegetables into cubes, adding them to a jar with whey, sea salt, and water, and allowing the fermentation to occur at room temperature for 48 hours.

It will be interesting to see how it works!

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