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Kvass (Квас)
Mint bread kvas.jpg
A mug of kvass
Alternative namesКвас, хлібний квас, kwas chlebowy (bread kvass), kvas, kuvasz, cvas, gira, kali
TypeFermented non-alcoholic drink, sometimes of very low alcohol content - occasionally higher
Place of originKievan Rus
Region or stateCentral and Eastern Europe, Baltic states, North Caucasus, Post-Soviet states, Xinjiang, Heilongjiang
Created byEast Slavs
Serving temperatureCold or room temperature
Main ingredientsRye bread, water, yeast,
sometimes flavoured with fruit, raisins, honey
VariationsFlavoured with fruit
Food energy
(per serving)
30-100(ish) kcal

Kvass (see List of names below) is a traditional fermented Slavic beverage commonly made from rye bread,[1] which is known in many Central and Eastern European and Asian[2][3] countries as "black bread". The colour of the bread used contributes to the colour of the resulting drink. Kvass is classified as a "non-alcoholic" drink by Ukrainian, Russian, Lithuanian, Polish, Hungarian, and Romanian standards, as the alcohol content from fermentation is typically low (0.5–1.0% or 1–2 proof).[4][5] It may be flavoured with fruits such as strawberries or raisins, or with herbs such as mint.[6]

Kvass is especially popular in the successor states of the East Slavic Old Rus, today's Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.[7] In Russia, the drink is more popular than Coca-Cola.[8] It is also known in Poland, in the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, in the South Slavic countries of Serbia and Montenegro, in Mongolia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Armenia.[9] Kvass is also popular in Harbin and Xinjiang, China,[10] where Russian culture has had an influence.


The word kvass is derived from Old Church Slavonic квасъ from Proto-Slavic *kvasъ ('leaven', 'fermented drink') and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European base *kwat- ('sour').[11][12][13] Today the words used are almost the same: in Belarusian: квас, kvas; Russian: квас, kvas; Ukrainian: квас/хлібний квас/сирівець, kvas/khlibny kvas/syrivets; in Polish: kwas chlebowy ('bread kvass', the adjective being used to differentiate it from kwas, 'acid', originally from kwaśne, 'sour'); Latvian: kvass; Romanian: cvas; Hungarian: kvasz; Serbian: kвас Chinese: 格瓦斯/克瓦斯, géwǎsī/kèwǎsī. Non-cognates include Lithuanian gira ('beverage', similar to Latvian dzira), Estonian kali, and Finnish kalja. Furthermore, Kvas is a surname in Russia.[14]


Vassiliy Kalistov, Street vending of kvass (1862), Chuvash State Art Museum, Russia

Kvass originated in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus at the time of ancient Rus'. It has been a common drink in Russia and other Eastern European countries since at least the Middle Ages. The drink is comparable to some other ancient fermented grain beverages including beer brewed from barley by the ancient Egyptians, the pombe or millet beer of Africa, the so-called rice wines of Asia, the chicha made with corn or cassava by the natives of the Americas.[15] Kvass was invented by the Slavs and became the most popular among East Slavs.[16]

The word "kvass" was first mentioned in the Primary Chronicle, in the description of events of the year 996, following the Christianization of the Kievan Rus'.[17] According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Oxford English Dictionary the first mention of kvass in an English text took place sometime around 1553.[18][19] In times of Old Russia kvass developed into a national drink and was consumed by all classes. The peak of its popularity was the 15th and 16th centuries, where every Russian on average drank 200 to 250 liters of Kvass per year, from the poor to the Tsars. Already back then there existed many different kvass varieties: red, white, sweet, sour, mint, honey, berry and so on, with many different local variations.

In Russia, under Peter the Great, it was the most common non-alcoholic drink in every class of society. William Tooke, describing Russian drinking habits in 1799, stated that "The most common domestic drink is quas, a liquor prepared from pollard, meal, and bread, or from meal and malt, by an acid fermentation. It is cooling and well-tasted."[20]

Okroshka prepared with kvass

Apart from drinking kvass, families (especially the poor ones) used it as the basis of many dishes they consumed.[16] Traditional cold summertime soups of Russian cuisine, such as okroshka,[6] botvinya and tyurya, are based on kvas. A similar tradition is found in Romanian cuisine,[21] where the liquid used for cooking is made by fermenting wheat or barley bran and called borș.

Kvass was reported to be consumed in excess by peasants, low-class citizens, and monks; in fact, it is sometimes said that it was usual for them to drink more kvass than water. In the 19th century, the kvass industry was created and less natural versions of the drink became increasingly widespread.[16] On the other hand, the popularity of kvass and the market competition led to the emergence of many varieties, which included herbs, fruits and berries. At that time kvass vendors called kvasnik (pl. kvasniki) were on the streets in almost every city. They often specialized in particular kinds of kvass: strawberry kvass, apple kvass, etc.[22][23]

Nowadays, kvass production is a multimillion-dollar industry, though it has been struggling ever since the introduction of Western soft drinks in Eastern European countries. Kvass was once sold during the summer only, but is now produced, packaged, and sold year-round.[24]


Kvass being fermented in a jar

Kvass is made by the natural fermentation of bread, such as wheat, rye, or barley, and sometimes flavoured using fruit, berries, raisins, or birch sap collected in the early spring. Modern homemade kvass most often uses black or regular rye bread, usually dried (called plural suhari), baked into croutons, or fried, with the addition of sugar or fruit (e.g. apples or raisins), and with a yeast culture and zakvaska ("kvass fermentation starter").

Traditional kvass was generally manufactured by mixing several kinds of malt (rye malt was preferred, but barley and wheat malts were also used, giving a somewhat different taste to the resulting drink) with flour and/or breadcrumbs and diluting them with boiling water to a paste-like consistency. This dough was then subjected to the moderate (and diminished) heat for several hours, for example by putting the vessel into a cooling Russian stove, or covering it with a blanket, so that malt enzymes could work on the starches in the flour and breadcrumbs. After the heat treatment, the malted mash was further diluted with the warm water, the yeast and flavorings added, and the resulting wort was fermented several days in a warm place, after which it was lautered, with the liquid portion — the finished kvass — packaged and sold, and lees used as a concentrate/fermentation starter for the next batches, which simply used some lees, additional flour and more water, without adding more yeast or the time-consuming mashing process. Because wort is never boiled, it contains not only yeasts, but also a large amount of other microorganisms, including those responsible for the lactic fermentation, which is the chief difference distinguishing kvass from the traditional beer.

Commercial kvass, especially less expensive varieties, is occasionally made like many other soft drinks, using sugar, carbonated water, malt extract, and flavourings. Better brands, often made by beer rather than soft drink manufacturers, usually use a variation of the traditional process to brew their products. Kvass is commonly served unfiltered, with the yeast still in it, which adds to its unique flavour as well as its high vitamin B content.

Modern Russia[edit]

A kvass street vendor in Belgorod, Russia, 2013

Although the massive flood of western soft drinks after fall of USSR such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi substantially shrank the market share of kvass in Russia, in recent years it has regained its original popularity, often marketed as a national soft drink or "patriotic" alternative to cola. For example, the Russian company Nikola (by coincidence its name sounds like "not-cola" in Russian) has promoted its brand of kvass with an advertising campaign emphasizing "anti cola-nisation." Moscow-based Business Analytica reported in 2008 that bottled kvass sales had tripled since 2005 and estimated that per-capita consumption of kvass in Russia would reach three liters in 2008. Between 2005 and 2007, cola's share of the Moscow soft drink market fell from 37% to 32%. Meanwhile, kvass' share more than doubled over the same time period, reaching 16% in 2007. In response, Coca-Cola launched its own brand of kvass in May 2008. This is the first time a foreign company has made an appreciable entrance into the Russian kvass market. Pepsi has also signed an agreement with a Russian kvass manufacturer to act as a distribution agent. The development of new technologies for storage and distribution, and heavy advertising, have contributed to this surge in popularity; three new major brands have been introduced since 2004.[24] Kvass is produced in Russia in different flavors, matched to the taste of the different regions of Russia that prefer sweet kvass or the more sour variety. There are existing various versions of kvass, like for example red bilberry and cranberry.

Market shares (2014)[edit]

Company (brand) Share [%][25]
Deka/NiCola ("Никола") 39
Ochakovskiy ("Очаковский") 18.9
PepsiCo («Русский дар») 11.6
Carlsberg Group («Хлебный край») 5.5
Coca-Cola, Inc. («Кружка и бочка») 2.1
Other 22.9


Varieties of natural Polish kvass

Kvass may have appeared in Poland as early as the 10th century mainly due to the trade between the Kingdom of Poland and Kievan Rus'.[26] The production of kvass went on for several hundred years, as recipes were passed down from parent to offspring. This continued in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. It was at first commonly drunk among peasants who worked on the fields and eventually spread to the szlachta (Polish nobility). One example of this is kwas chlebowy sapieżyński kodeński, an old type of Polish kvass that is still sold as a contemporary brand.[27] Its origins can be traced back to the 1500s, when Jan Sapieha – a magnate of the House of Sapieha – was granted land by the Polish king. On those lands he founded the town of Kodeń. He then bought the mills and 24 villages of the surrounding areas from their previous landowners.[27] It was then that the taste of kvass became known among the Polish szlachta, who used it for its supposed healing qualities.[27] After the last Partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, Poland ceased to be an independent state. Throughout the 19th century, kvass remained popular among Poles who lived in the Russian Empire, especially the inhabitants of rural areas.[27]

Production of the beverage in Poland on an industrial scale can be traced back to the more recent interwar period, when the Polish state regained independence as the Second Polish Republic. In interwar Poland, kvass was brewed and sold in mass numbers by magnates of the Polish drinks market like the Varsovian brewery Haberbusch i Schiele or the Karpiński company.[28] Kvass was exceptionally popular in Eastern Poland,[29] partly due to the plentiful numbers of Belarusian and Ukrainian minorities that lived there. However, with the collapse of many prewar businesses and much of the Polish industry during World War II, kvass lost popularity following the aftermath of the war. It was reintroduced industrially after the formation of the Polish People's Republic as a satellite state of the USSR, though much like in other Slavic and Baltic countries it lost favour upon the introduction of Coca-Cola onto the Eastern European market and once again during the economic crisis of the 1980s in Poland. The collapse of the Soviet Union between 1989–1991 was followed by the arrival of other Western soft-drinks in former Eastern Bloc countries.

Although not as popular in Poland nowadays as it is in Russia or Ukraine, kvass can still be found in many supermarkets and grocery shops throughout the nation where it is known in Polish as kwas chlebowy ([kvas xlɛbɔvɨ]). Commercial bottled versions of the drink are the most common variant, as there are companies that specialize in manufacturing a more modern version of the drink (some variants are manufactured in Poland whilst others are imported from its neighbouring countries, Lithuania and Ukraine being the most popular source).[30] However, recipes for a traditional version of kvass exist; some of them originate from Eastern Poland.[31][32] Although commercial kvass is much easier to find in Polish shops, Polish manufacturers of more natural and healthier variants of kvass have become increasingly popular both within and outside of the country's borders.[33] Street vendors selling fresh kvass also appear from time to time, especially during summer in cities like Zakopane, where tourists sometimes crowd the streets seeking refreshment on a hot day.


A kvass street vendor in Rīga (1977)

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the street vendors disappeared from the streets of Latvia due to new health laws that banned its sale on the street. Economic disruptions forced many kvass factories to close. The Coca-Cola Company moved in and quickly dominated the market for soft drinks. In 1998 the local soft drink industry adapted by selling bottled kvass and launching aggressive marketing campaigns. This surge in sales was stimulated by the fact that kvass sold for about half the price of Coca-Cola. In just three years, kvass constituted as much as 30% of the soft drink market in Latvia, while the market share of Coca-Cola fell from 65% to 44%. The Coca-Cola company had losses in Latvia of about $1 million in 1999 and 2000. The situation was similar in the other Baltic countries and Russia. Coca-Cola responded by buying kvass manufacturers as well as making kvass at their own soft drink plants.[34][35][36][37]


Kvass brands in Russia and Ukraine; and gira counterpart in Lithuania

In Lithuania, kvass is known as gira and is widely available in bottles and draft. Many restaurants in Vilnius make their own gira, which they sell on the premises. Strictly speaking, gira can be made from anything fermentable — such as caraway tea, beetroot juice, or berries — but it is made mainly from black bread or barley/rye malt.


In recent years, kvass also became more popular in Serbia.[38]


In the United Kingdom, kvass is practically unknown, as there are no cultural ties to it within the nation's history and there are no renowned kvass breweries in the country. However, with the influx of immigrants following the 2004 enlargement of the European Union, a number of stores selling cuisine and beverages from Eastern Europe cropped up throughout the UK, many of them stocking kvass on their shelves.[39]


As its primary ingredient is rye, kvass is a good source of vitamin B-1 and B-6, magnesium, phosphorus, amino acids, and pantothenate. It is also rich in lactic acid and simple sugars, which contributes to its taste, provides ample calories to fuel physical activity, and may improve digestion, as with other lacto-fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut.[40]

Cultural references[edit]

The name of Kvasir, a wise being in Norse mythology, is possibly related to kvass.[41][42][43][44][45]

The Russian expression "Перебиваться с хлеба на квас" (literally "to clamber from bread to kvass") means to barely make ends meet, remotely similar to (and may be translated as) the expression "to be on the breadline".[46] To better understand the Russian phrase one has to know that in poor families kvass was made from stale leftovers of rye bread.[47]

In Tolstoy's War and Peace, French soldiers are aware of kvass on entering Moscow, enjoying it but referring to it as "pig's lemonade".[48]

In Sholem Aleichem's Motl, Peysi the Cantor's Son, diluted kvass is the focus of one of Motl's older brother's get-rich-quick schemes.

Similar beverages[edit]

Other beverages from around the world that are traditionally low-alcohol and lacto-fermented include:


  1. ^ Julia Volhina (3 December 2011). "Kvass (Russian Fermented Rye Bread Drink)". EnjoyYourCooking.
  2. ^ Bradley., Mayhew, (2001). Mongolia (3rd ed.). Footscray, Vic.: Lonely Planet. p. 165. ISBN 1864500646. OCLC 48591433.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  3. ^ "Asian American: Chinese Thirst for Kvass Draws Wahaha into Russian Niche Goldsea". goldsea.com. Retrieved 2019-02-27.
  4. ^ ГОСТ Р 52409-2005. Продукция безалкогольного и слабоалкогольного производства Archived 2011-08-23 at the Wayback Machine ("GOST Р 52409-2005. Production of non-alcoholic and mildly alcoholic products") (in Russian)
  5. ^ Ian Spencer Hornsey. A history of beer and brewing, page 8. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2003. "A similar, low alcohol (0.5–1.0%) drink, kvass … may be a 'fossil beer'".
  6. ^ a b Katz, Sandor (2003). Wild Fermentation. White River Junction, VA: Chelsea Green Publishing Company. p. 121. ISBN 1-931498-23-7.
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  10. ^ 哈尔滨特色饮料“格瓦斯”竞相亮相哈洽会
  11. ^ "Palaeolexicon - The Proto-Indo-European word *kwat-". www.palaeolexicon.com. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  12. ^ Max Vasmer. Russisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. Winter, Heidelberg, 1953–1958 (in German). Russian translation by Oleg Trubachyov: Этимологический словарь русского языка. Progress, Moscow, 1964–1973. квас
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  14. ^ "Kvas - Names Encyclopedia". www.namespedia.com. Retrieved 2018-09-24.
  15. ^ Anthropology, By Edward B. Taylor, page 268.
  16. ^ a b c Kwas chlebowy – Tradycja, pochodzenie oraz historia produktu: Kvass – Tradition, origin and history of the product. (in Polish)
  17. ^ The Russian Primary Chronicle, Laurentian Text Archived October 16, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, p.121. Translated and edited by Samuel Hazzard Cross and Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor. Cambridge, MA: The Medieval Academy of America, 1953.
  18. ^ Kvass in Merriam Webster Dictionary
  19. ^ Kvass in Oxford English Dictionary. c 1553 Chancelour Bk. Emp. Russia in Hakluyt Voy. (1886) III. 51 Their drinke is like our peny Ale, and is called Quass.
  20. ^ Tooke, William (1799), View of the Russian empire during the reign of Catharine the Second, and to the close of the present century, Volume 1, Piccadilly: T.N. Longman and O. Rees, Pater-Noster-Row, and J. Debrett, p. 362
  21. ^ Lucy,, Mallows,. Transylvania : the Bradt travel guide. Brummell, Paul,, Brummell, Adriana Mitsue Ivama, (Third ed.). UK. ISBN 9781784770532. OCLC 1016263119.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  22. ^ Что пили на Руси. Arguments and Facts (in Russian) (42). 2001.
  23. ^ Квасные посиделки. Arguments and Facts (in Russian) (29). 2008.
  24. ^ a b Russia's patriotic kvas drinkers say no to cola-nisation. The New Zealand Herald. BUSINESS; General. July 12, 2008.
  25. ^ "Россия. Квас "Никола" стал маркой № 1 в продажах кваса по результатам летнего сезона". Пивное дело.
  26. ^ Kwas chlebowy – przepis Kafeteria - kwas chlebowy. (in Polish)
  27. ^ a b c d Kwas chlebowy sapieżyński kodeński – Tradycja, pochodzenie oraz historia produktu: Kwas chlebowy sapieżyński kodeński – Tradition, origin and history of the product. (in Polish)
  28. ^ Alternatywa dla Coca Coli? Information regarding kvass in Interwar Poland.(in Polish)
  29. ^ Broszura o naturalnym kwasie chlebowym Booklet about natural kvass. (in Polish)
  30. ^ Gerima dystrybutor kwasu chlebowego w Polsce Gerima – distributor of kvass in Poland. (in Polish)
  31. ^ Kwas chlebowy sapieżyński kodeński Information about traditional Polish kvass. (in Polish)
  32. ^ Przepis na domowy kwas chlebowy Recipe for home-made kvass. (in Polish)
  33. ^ Ich kwas chlebowy podbija rynek News article about Polish manufacturers of kvass made from traditional recipes.(in Polish)
  34. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 4, 2006. Retrieved September 27, 2006.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  35. ^ "Legacy Mailer Back-Link Redirector Including News Item Anchor". www.latvians.com. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  36. ^ "Coca-Cola HBC – Products and Marketing". Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  37. ^ "Coca-Cola ups stake in Estonia". June 1, 2001.
  38. ^ Bills, John William. "Here's What to Drink if You're Going to Serbia". Culture Trip. Retrieved 2019-07-06.
  39. ^ Polski sklep w Newcastle News article about a Polish shop in the North East of England.(in Polish)
  40. ^ Burov, M. Целебные свойства кваса [On the medicinal properties of kvass]. ISBN 5222074161.
  41. ^ Александр Николаевич Афанасьев (1865–1869). Поэтические воззрения славян на природу. Директ-медиа (2014) том. 1, стр. 260. ISBN 978-5-4458-9827-6 (Alexander Afanasyev. The Poetic Outlook of Slavs about Nature, 1865–1869; reprinted 2014, p. 260; in Russian)
  42. ^ Karl Joseph Simrock. Handbuch der deutschen Mythologie mit Einschluss der nordischen, 1st edition (1855), p. 272 or 2nd edition (1864), p. 244. Bonn, Marcus.
  43. ^ Jooseppi Julius Mikkola. Bidrag till belysning af slaviska lånord i nordiska språk. Arkiv för nordisk filologi, vol. 19 (1903), p. 331.
  44. ^ Georges Dumézil (1974). Gods of the Ancient Northmen, p. 21. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-03507-2
  45. ^ Jan de Vries (2000). Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, p. 336. 4th edition, Leiden (in German)
  46. ^ "перебиваться с хлеба на квас - IdiomCenter.com". idiomcenter.com.
  47. ^ Svyatoslav Loginov, "We Used to Bake Blini..." ("Бывало пекли блины...") (in Russian)
  48. ^ War and Peace. Leo Tolstoy. Book 10, chapter 29, Pennsylvania State University translation.

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