Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Kvass a Russian beverage which is just eligible for inclusion in this volume both because its alcoholic content is very low and because it appears as an ingredient in a number of dishes, including many of the items in the classic Russian cookery book by Molokhovets. Joyce Toomre (1992), the translator of this work, provides the following excellent description in one of her numerous Translator’s Notes.

Kvass is a lightly fermented sour-sweet beverage that is commonly made of black bread or grain with yeast and somewhat resembles beer in flavor. Both grain kvass and beet kvass are used for soup. Other more delicate varieties of kvass are made from fruits or berries. Kvass, along with mead and beer, has been drunk since Kievan Rus’. Whereas the nobility in earlier times preferred mead, the common people drank kvass. It was the most popular drink in nineteenth-century Russia, consumed by the rich as an occasional refreshment and by the peasantry on a daily basis. Like the gathering of mushrooms and berries, the eating of prjaniki, and the consumption of shchi, the drinking of kvass in late Tsarist Russia had become a culture-laden act that helped to define one’s Russianness. Although kvass was easily made at home, the itinerant kvass peddler was a common figure in the streets and markets. Even today, it is not unusual to see a kvass truck parked at the curb while the driver dispenses drinks to a crowd of customers. Kvass is a relatively healthy drink, having a low alcoholic content (0.7 to 2.2 per cent) and a good proportion of readily assimilable proteins and carbohydrates.