Probiotic foods are all the rage these days in the health food world, and kombucha tea is perhaps the darling of them all. But probiotic drinks—which contain live bacteria that boost the microflora in your gut—actually date back nearly 10,000 years and are enjoyed all over the world. Here are some traditional drinks you might not have heard of until now.
Kvass (or kvas) is a 1,000-year-old Russian specialty that resembles a low-alcohol beer (most fermented drinks have an alcohol content somewhere around 1 percent). The traditional production method involves soaking rye bread in water with yeast and other flavoring ingredients (like raisins, mint, and citrus peels) and letting the whole mixture ferment for a few days. It has a yeasty, sour-sweet taste, and many people make it with beets, apples, and added sugar for a sweeter flavor. True kvass typically can’t be found in stores because its shelf life is only about five to eight days, and a lot of the bottled stuff is usually pasteurized, which eliminates the probiotic content. However, some restaurants and microbreweries are starting to make it, and some sell it online and will have it cold-shipped to you.
Kompot is another fermented drink with roots in Russia and Eastern Europe. According to The Kitchn, kompot has been around since at least the 15th century and was preserved so people could enjoy the flavor of fresh fruit year-round. It only requires three basic ingredients: fruit, water, and sugar. It’s easy to make, and you can get creative with different fruit combos. Consider kompot as kvass’ fruitier, slightly classier cousin—almost like a fizzy, very sweet fruit punch. It’s typically brewed and then stored in airtight jars for several months to cure. For a quicker version, you can also ferment it in a few days using raw honey.
The term rejuvelac was coined during the 1960s or 1970s by Lithuanian natural health guru Ann Wigmore. (Her recipe closely mimics that of the traditional Romanian sour drink called borş.) It’s fermented using any type of sprouted grain. A favorite in vegan kitchens, rejuvelac has a clean, lemony taste. It’s simple to make, too: Wait for your grains to sprout, add water, and let them sit for a couple of days. You can even use it as a starter for vegan cheeses and yogurt.
Pu-erh is an ancient tea from the Yunnan province in western China that’s made from fermented green or black tea leaves. (With kombucha, the tea is fermented after brewing.) After the leaves are dried, they’re compressed into a cake and stored in high humidity for an extended period of time to ferment. Aficionados say pu-erh’s taste is unlike that of any other tea, with deep earthy and woody flavors. The drink, consumed throughout the day and as a post-meal digestive, has only recently made its way to the U.S. and can be hard to find, so if you’re interested in trying it, ordering online is your best bet.
Lacto-fermentation (an anaerobic process that converts sugar into lactic acid) is one of the oldest and easiest methods for preserving foods. Lacto-fermented soda is a healthier take on sugary, artificially flavored pop. You can find dozens of recipes online for making your homemade versions of ginger ale, root beer, and sarsaparilla, as well as just about any fruit combination you can think of. These healthy sodas are typically fermented using whey, a byproduct of cultured dairy (like yogurt), in airtight containers. Give it a shot yourself with this full tutorial from Fearless Eating.
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