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Probiotics are so hot right now. They’re great for your gut, and as increasingly more people seek out gut-healthy foods and drinks, more probiotic-packed items are showing up in the grocery store. If you’re trying to incorporate more of these trendy probiotic foods and beverages into your daily diet, then you’ve likely tried kombucha, the fermented beverage made with tea, sugar and a culture of yeast and bacteria. But while kombucha was all the rage a few years ago, now there’s an even trendier bev: kvass.
Have you tried kvass? Here’s what you need to know about kvass before deciding if it’s worth the investment for you.
What is kvass?
Kvass, pronounced kah-voss, is a fermented beverage originally from Eastern Europe that has found its place in Western culture thanks to the increasing demand for functional foods and beverages that offer the potential for immune-enhancing benefits.
Of particular interest are new to market brands, like Biotic, that use sliced carrots and beets to feed the fermentation of their kvass. While kombucha is fermented using a blend of yeast and bacteria, leaving the final product with approximately 0.5% or more of alcohol by volume and a fair amount of sugar, kvass uses a blend of lactic acid producing bacteria (lactobacillus and bifidobacterium), leaving the end product alcohol- and sugar-free.
According to Ryan Johnston, Biotic Brands CEO, “The blend of microorganisms that we use is much more akin to what you’d find in a well-made sauerkraut. The flavor they produce through fermentation is crisp and clean and doesn’t have the strong vinegar-bite that turns a lot of people off of kombucha. After fermentation we flavor our kvasses (except for beet) with nutrient rich cold-pressed juices which impart lively flavors just before bottling.”
How Biotic’s kvass came to market
Each and every functional beverage on the market today has its own “coming to market” story. Some are based on profound science, some are based on passion and some are a bit of both. Biotic is one of those blends.
According to Johnston, fermentation has long been a passion of both his and his brother Adam (who he runs Biotic with). They both started brewing their own kombucha in college as they learned more about health. However, when they got to the step in the kombucha process where refined sugar is poured into what is supposed to be a “healthy drink,” curiosity struck and they began to explore new recipes using sugar found in fruits and vegetables growing in their garden. This led them to explore beet kvass.
Biotic started off making only beet kvass. Then, the company became the first commercial producer to innovate the use of carrots plus cold-pressed juices to deliver a wider range of refreshing flavors. And unlike traditional kvass, Biotic’s beverages are sparkling, providing an unexpected yet fun twist to traditional probiotic beverages. Johnston says, “We call this ‘West Coast kvass’ because it’s a reflection of the ingredients and healthy lifestyle of our region.”
A closer look at the science behind kvass
While there are few clinical trials studying the inclusion of newer kvass brands and their effect on the microbiome, many manufacturers of functional foods and beverages that contain probiotics lean on the research that demonstrates the overall benefits of probiotics in a healthy, balanced diet.
For instance, a 2021 study from Stanford University found that fermented foods may increase gut diversity and lower inflammation in participants who consumed them in their diets. This parallels prior 2016 research that found fermented foods that contain live and active cultures have the potential to exhibit health-promoting and medicinal qualities, such as improved immune system function and mood as well as better gut health in specific individuals.
WIth that said, research continues to take a closer look at the safety of probiotics and newer “functional fruit beverages” that are coming to market to offer those who prefer a dairy-free probiotic source greater options. A recent 2020 review offers important insight for consumers, reminding the public that there is no one-size-fits-all approach in recommending probiotics, especially in the form of newer functional fruit beverages.
While it’s unlikely functional probiotic beverages will cause harm in average healthy individuals (meaning those without coexisting conditions or medication use), there is still a gray area that requires further research.
A dietitian’s perspective
According to Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LDN, owner of Nutrition Now, she doesn’t proactively recommend probiotic drinks to clients, however she doesn’t have a problem with people drinking them if they enjoy them.
Manaker shares, “Probiotics can offer some unique and important health benefits if they are taken in the appropriate dose and consistently. Drinking a once-in-a-while probiotic drink may not pose the same beneficial effects that one would see when they are taking a high-quality probiotic supplement every single day or including fermented foods in their diet regularly.”
However one chooses to consume their probiotics, Manaker reminds us not to forget about the food for the probiotics, prebiotics, or the indigestible fiber that probiotic bacteria use as fuel. Focusing on including a balanced diet that regularly includes prebiotics from whole grains, fruits and vegetables alongside probiotics is what will have the most substantial effect on your gut health.
Including kvass in your diet has the potential to offer health benefits similar to those of other fermented foods. But more research is needed. If you can swing it in your budget, enjoy the taste, and include it in a balanced diet filled with other health promoting foods, like fruits and vegetables, then feel free to give a kvass like Biotic Bubbly a try.
If you’re intrigued by kvass, kombucha or getting your probiotics through foods, keep reading: