Tuesday, November 25, 2014

We’ve Got the Beet (Beet Kvass, That is)!

My Dear Readers, I have been really into fermentation lately.  I have been fermenting my own sauerkraut for several years now, and I have been brewing my own kombucha on an almost constant basis for over a year.  I have even dabbled in making kimchi once, but lately, I have been very busy experimenting with several fermentation projects that I had never tried before.  These new delights include gluten-free sourdough bread, water kefir, making my own mead, and also beet kvass, which I will discuss shortly.

Why I am a Huge Advocate for Fermented Foods
I originally started making my own fermented foods and beverages when I was focused on learning all that I could to recover my own health for a number of years.  While the cause of my ill health turned out to have multiple factors, one major aspect of my struggles was an extreme gut flora imbalance.  For a very long time, I focused primarily on “fighting the bad” microbes.  While this approach would usually help temporarily, if I transgressed in the diet that I was eating in any way, it would throw my whole body off for at least a week and I felt absolutely horrible.  This approach was extremely frustrating to say the least, and I wondered if I would ever be free from such a horrible condition.

Thankfully, I began to learn about eating traditional foods, and began to incorporate the dietary wisdom of our ancestors.  While I was already aware of the importance that probiotic cultures play in our health, I learned that traditional cultured foods were pretty much absent from our modern diets and that I could start making them myself.  In our era of extreme cleanliness and sanitation, we had forgotten about the importance of including cultured foods and beverages for our health and longevity as generations before us had done as a daily dietary practice.  This loss of the regular consumption of cultured foods in our diets, in addition to the overuse and abuse of antibiotics in our food and medical system has lead to a complete disruption of our biology for many of us and the normal 10:1 ratio of microbial cells to our own human cells in our bodies.  This especially impacts our immune systems negatively. 

What are all of the implications of decimating our natural and healthy microbial balance?    We don’t yet know all of the consequences, but it appears that we are starting to get a clue, given the increase in many immune system and digestive health conditions that are developing among the general population, including allergies and asthma.  These conditions may have a number of contributing factors, but we simply cannot ignore that the balance (or lack thereof) of the flora in our bodies play a huge role in our health.

It is most certainly true that being sanitary plays an important role in many aspects of our lives.  Who would want to undergo surgery or a dental procedure without sterile equipment, for instance?  However, the point here is that we have gone to an extreme in our culture and believe that simply everything must be sparkling clean.   

Needless to say, my personal health was not fairing too well several years ago, given the imbalance that I had in my gut.  Once I started making my own sauerkraut, which was the first ferment that I ever made, my digestive health and immune system health began to improve dramatically.  I had tried taking probiotics before, even fairly expensive ones, but even they fell short of the benefits that fermented foods gave me. 

Making my own cultured foods was not only cheaper than buying a probiotic supplement, but it was also really fun to make such creations.  Each new time that I make a new ferment, it is like a fun science experiment to me, and these foods are literally alive, with real living organisms in them.  By their very nature, they help to bring you to a much healthier place of balance, and infuse your body with life-giving nourishment.  All that you are essentially doing is creating the ideal environment where your organism “friends” will thrive.  In doing so, you will probably begin to thrive more too. 

I know that incorporating homemade probiotic foods and beverages into my diet has been an absolutely critical part of my journey back toward health and vibrancy.   If you have been struggling with any health issue, especially anything related to your immune system, I would encourage you to give some of these foods and beverages a try and see how they might help you.  If your body is really out of balance, start with just a little bit at a time and slowly work up to greater and greater amounts that you can tolerate.  Since I have milk allergies, it was really nice to discover that there are many options for cultured foods that don’t involve milk products.  The world of fermentation is so much bigger than yogurt and milk-based kefir, and many of these foods are extremely easy to make yourself at home. 

Try a variety of them until you find at least one that you like.  Once your body gets used to more of a healthy balance, you may find that you can tolerate and may even learn to enjoy a variety of other ferments.

The resources that have been the most helpful to me are the books Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, and The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz.  All three of these books are excellent additions to any homesteader’s home reference library.

Beet Kvass, Then…
My favorite ferment so far is still kombucha (although I really did enjoy the homemade mead that I recently made, with help from my husband and brother-in-law), but I am really enjoying the new flavors, variety, and health benefits of other ferments as I make them. 

Beet kvass is special in and of itself.  It is a powerful medicinal and detoxifying tonic for the body.  According to Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions, “This drink is valuable for its medicinal qualities and as a digestive aid.  Beets are just loaded with nutrients.  One 4-ounce glass, morning and night, is an excellent blood tonic, cleanses the liver and is a good treatment for kidney stones and other ailments.  Beet kvass may also be used in place of vinegar in salad dressings and as an addition to soups.”  Intriguing, is it not?

After making beet kvass for the first time a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that it has a strong flavor, although I don’t consider it to be unpleasant.  It could take you a few servings to get used to the flavor.   It’s not bad, just different.  And very, very healthy.  Your body will thank you for it.     

And, believe me when I say that a little goes a long way.  One four-ounce serving is really all that you will need at a time. 

Like most ferments, beet kvass is fairly easy to make.  All that you really need is 2-3 beets, some good quality sea salt, and some water.  It is also helpful to have a starter such as whey (not the whey protein powders from a health food store, but the natural live culture that is created during the culturing of dairy products), or you can use some of the juice from a previous batch of cultured vegetables that you have on hand.  Fortunately, I had some sauerkraut already sitting in my fridge, so I was able to squeeze enough juice from it to use as my beet kvass starter culture.

Beet Kvass
Makes one quart of beet kvass

*3 medium or two large organic beets.  Peel and coarsely chop these up.  Do not shred them, as so many small pieces will push fermentation to occur too quickly and will tend to produce alcohol instead of the healthy lactic acid that you want.

*¼ cup whey or ¼ cup of the juice from homemade lacto-fermented sauerkraut or other cultured vegetables.  This will serve as the “starter” for your beet kvass.
*1 tablespoon of sea salt.  This should be a good quality sea salt with plenty of minerals.  This should not be “iodized” sea salt, as this may negatively affect your culture.   Like many other areas of food preparation, quality really counts here.  Celtic sea salt is excellent, as is “Real Salt,” which I use for a lot of my own food preparation.  I would imagine that Himalayan sea salt would also be excellent.  The point here is to use good salt!  Trust me: do not go cheap on this!

Place your beets, whey or sauerkraut juice, and salt into a quart size glass jar.  Add enough water to fill up the jar, stir well, and cover securely with a lid. 

Let your jar sit at room temperature for approximately two days.  After the two days, taste the kvass to determine if it is to the point of your preferred level of sourness.   When the kvass is finished, it should have a very deep, dark red color.  In warmer weather, the fermentation will progress more rapidly, so be sure to check up on it regularly, at least once a day in this case to ensure that too much pressure doesn’t build up within your jar.

When your kvass has fermented to your point of preference, strain off the beets, and transfer to your refrigerator.  For subsequent batches, you can use ¼ cup of your existing kvass as your starter culture. 

I hope that you will try and enjoy some beet kvass.  It may just be the healthy tonic that your body needs after all of the rich and heavy holiday foods that you’ll probably be consuming over the next month or so!

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving this week!  For everyone everywhere, let us all have gratitude for the blessings in our lives.  Let us also pray for those in need around the world too, especially our brothers and sisters struggling through the Ebola epidemic in Africa right now.  They need our thoughts, prayers, and support!

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