Kvass is a fermented cereal-based non-alcoholic or low alcoholic (0.5–1.0%[3] or 1–2 proof) beverage with a slightly cloudy appearance, light-dark brown colour and sweet-sour taste.[4] It may be flavoured with fruits such as strawberries or raisins, or with herbs such as mint.[5]

Mint bread kvas.jpg
A mug of kvass
Alternative nameskvas, quass, quasse, quas, quash, kuass
TypeFermented non-alcoholic or low alcoholic drink
Region or stateNortheastern, Central and Eastern Europe, North Caucasus, Xinjiang, Heilongjiang
Associated national cuisineBelarusian, Estonian, Finnish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and Xinjiang cuisine
Serving temperatureCold or room temperature
Main ingredientsRye bread or rye flour and rye malt, as well as water and yeast
Ingredients generally usedFruit, raisins, honey, herbs
VariationsBeetroot kvass[1]
Food energy
(per serving)
Circa 30–100 kcal
Nutritional value
(per serving)
Protein<0.15[2] g
Fat<0.10[2] g
Carbohydrate5.90[2] g


The word kvass is ultimately from Proto-Indo-European base *kwat- ('sour').[6][7][8] In English it was first mentioned in a text around 1553 as quass.[9][10] Nowadays, the name of the drink is almost the same in most languages: in Belarusian: квас, kvas; Russian: квас, kvas; Ukrainian: квас/хлібний квас/сирівець, kvas/khlibny kvas/syrivets; in Polish: kwas chlebowy (lit.'bread kvass', to differentiate it from kwas, 'acid', originally from kwaśny, 'sour'); Latvian: kvass; Romanian: cvas; Hungarian: kvasz; Serbian: квас/kvas; Chinese: 格瓦斯/克瓦斯, géwǎsī/kèwǎsī; Eastern Finnish: vaasa. Non-cognates include Estonian kali, Finnish kalja, Latvian dzersis ('beverage'), Lithuanian gira (lit.'beverage', similar to Latvian dzira), and Swedish bröddricka (lit.'bread drink').


Home fermentation of kvass in glass jars

In the traditional method, either dried rye bread or a combination of rye flour and rye malt is used. The dried rye bread is extracted with hot water and incubated for 12 hours at room temperature, after which bread yeast and sugar is added to the extract and fermented for 12 hours at 20°C. Alternatively, rye flour is boiled, mixed with rye malt, bread yeast, sugar and baker’s yeast and fermented for 12 hours at 20°C.[1]

In the industrial method, rye bread rusks, rye flour or defatted corn flour is mixed with freshly germinated or kilned rye bread malt and hot water. After 3 hours, the mixture is filtered, concentrated, and heated for 30 minutes at around 100–130°C. Afterwards, Lacticaseibacillus casei, Leuconostoc mesenteroides and sugar are added to the concentrated mixture and fermented until the ABV reaches 1.2%, after which the kvass beverage is carbonated and bottled.[1]


A kvass vendor (kvasnik) in Russian Empire in the 18th century

The exact origins of kvass are unclear. It has existed in the northeastern part of Europe, where its emergence has been attributed to grain production that was insufficient for beer to become a daily drink.[11] The first written mention of kvass is found in the Primary Chronicle, describing the celebration of Vladimir the Great's baptism in 996 when kvass along with mead and food was given out to the citizens of Kiev.[12]

In the second half of the 19th century, with military engagement, increasing industrialization and large-scale projects, such as the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway, that created a growing need to supply large numbers of people with foodstuff for extended periods of time, commercial kvass producers began appearing in the Russian Empire. Many of them specialized in the use of different raw ingredients and more than 150 kvass varieties, such as apple, pear, mint, lemon, chicory, raspberry and cherry kvass, are recorded. As commercial kvass producers began selling it on the streets in barrels, domestic kvass-making started to decline.[12]

In the 1890s, the first scientific studies into the production of kvass were conducted in Kyiv, and in the 1960s, the commercial mass production technology of kvass was developed by chemists in Moscow.[12]


A kvass street vendor in Belgorod, Russia, 2013

Although the massive flood of western soft drinks after the fall of the 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 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.[13] 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)

Company Brand name Share [%][14]
Deka [ru] Никола 39
Ochakovo [ru] 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


Kvass trailer in Grodno (2019)

Belarus has several breweries producing kvass: Alivaria Brewery, Babrujski Brovar [be; be-tarask], and Krinitsa [be; be-tarask]. It also has a variety of kvass tasting and entertainment festivals.[15] The largest show takes place in the city of Lida.[16]


Varieties of natural kwas chlebowy

Kvass may have appeared in Poland as early as the 10th century,[17][better source needed] possibly due to trade between the Kingdom of Poland and Kievan Rus'.[citation needed] 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 in the eastern parts of the country. This 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.[18] 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.[18] It was then that the taste of kvass became known among the Polish szlachta, who used it for its supposed healing qualities.[18] After the last Partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, Poland ceased to be an independent state for 123 years. Throughout the 19th century, kvass remained popular among Poles who lived in the Congress Poland of Imperial Russia and in Austrian Galicia, especially the inhabitants of rural areas.[18]

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.[19] Kvass remained particularly popular in eastern Poland,[20] partly due to the plentiful numbers of Belarusian and Ukrainian minorities that lived there.[citation needed] 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 also lost favour upon the introduction of Coca-Cola onto the Polish market.

Although not as popular in Poland nowadays as it is in neighbouring Ukraine, kvass can still be found in some supermarkets and grocery stores 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 specialise 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).[21] However, recipes for a traditional version of kvass exist; some of them originate from eastern Poland.[22][23] 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.[24]


A 19th century engraving by Dessin de d'Henriet depicting kvass vendors in Livonia
A kvass street vendor in Rīga (1977)

Kvass was also called dzersis in Latvian.[25] There were 17 factories in the Governorate of Livonia producing a total of 437,255 gallons of kvass in the year ended 30 June 1912.[26]

After the dissolution 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, and economic disruptions forced many kvass factories to close. The Coca-Cola Company moved in and began to quickly dominate the market for soft drinks. In 1998, the local soft drink industry adapted by starting to sell 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. Coca-Cola responded by purchasing kvass manufacturers as well as producing kvass at their own soft drink plants.[27][28]

On 30 September 2010, the Saeima adopted quality and classification requirements for kvass, which defines it as "a beverage obtained by fermenting a mixture of kvass wort with a yeast of microorganism cultures to which sugar and other food sources and food additives are added or not added after the fermentation" with a maximum ABV of 1.2 percent, and differentiates it from an unfermented non-alcoholic mixture of grain product extract, water, flavourings, preservatives, and other ingredients, which it designate as "kvass (malt) beverage".[29]

In 2014 Latvian kvass producers won seven medals at the Russian Beverage exposition in Moscow with Ilgezeem's Porter Tanheiser kvass winning two gold medals.[30] In 2019, Iļģuciema kvass ranked second in the Most Loved Latvian Beverage Brand Top,[31] and first in the subsequent 2020 top.[32]


In Lithuania, kvass is known as gira and is widely available in bottles and draft. First written records of kvass and kvass recipes in Lithuania appear in the 16th century.[citation needed] 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 from barley or rye malt.


Kvass made from rye flour and rye malt, which in parts of Eastern Finland was heated in the oven, was very common in Finland. It was called kalja or vaasa (in Eastern Finnish). Nowadays, the drink is often known as kotikalja (lit.'home kalja') and is still very common. Kotikalja making kits are sold in most stores and the drink is available in many work canteens, gas stations, and lower-end restaurants.[11]


Kvass was also made in Sweden, where it was known as bröddricka (lit.'bread drink'), although it was very likely limited only to areas of Sweden where rye bread was the standard type of bread as opposed to crispbread, which was more common in Western Sweden and did not stale. Bröddricka was still being made in Öland farms up until 1935.[11]


Kavas served in a restaurant in Ürümqi, Xinjiang.

In mid 19th century, kvass was introduced in Xinjiang, where it became known as kavas and eventually became one of the region's signature drinks.[33] It is usually consumed cold together with barbecue.[34] In 1900, Russian merchant Ivan Churin founded Harbin Churin Food in Heilongjiang, offering kvass and other specialties and by 2009 the company was already producing 5,000 tons of kvass a year.[35]


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. In 2019, Brod Kvas in Somerset became the first domestic kvass producer in the United Kingdom.[36] In recent years, kvass has also become more popular in Serbia.[37]

Chemical compositionEdit

Naturally fermented kvass contains 5.9% carbohydrates, of which 5.7% are sugars (mostly fructose, glucose and maltose), as well as 0.71, 1.28 and 18.14 mg 100 g-1 DW of thiamine, riboflavin and niacin respectively. In addition to that, 19 different aroma volatile compounds have also been identified in naturally fermented kvass, most notably 4-penten-2-ol (10.05×107 PAU), which has a fruity odour, carvone (2.28×107 PAU) originating from caraway fruits used as an ingredient in rye read, and ethyl octanoate (1.03×107 PAU), which has an odour of fruit and fat.[2]

Traditional kvass made from rye wholemeal bread has been found to have on average two times higher dietary fibre content, 60% higher antioxidant activity (due to the addition of caramel and citric acid to the bread) and three times lower reducing sugar content than industrially produced kvass.[38]


Apart from drinking kvass, families (especially the poor ones) used it as the basis of many dishes they consumed.[39] Traditional cold summertime soups of Russian cuisine, such as okroshka,[5] botvinya and tyurya, are based on kvas. A similar tradition is found in Romanian cuisine,[40] where the liquid used for cooking is made by fermenting wheat or barley bran and called borș.

Cultural referencesEdit

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

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

There is a Russian expression "Перебиваться с хлеба на квас" (literally "to clamber from bread to kvass"), which means "to live from hand to mouth" or to "scrape by"[46] referring to the frugal practice amongst the poor peasants of making kvass from stale leftovers of rye bread.[47] Another kvass-related term in Russian is "kvass patriotism [ru]" (квасной патриотизм) dating back to a 1823 letter by the Russian poet Pyotr Vyazemsky where he defines it as "unqualified praise of everything that is your own".[48]

In the Polish language, there is an old folk rhyming song. It shows the history of kvass in the country as having been drunk by generations of Polish reapers as a thirst-quenching beverage used during periods of hard work during the harvest season, long before it became popular as a medicinal drink among the szlachta. The words of the song go as follows:[49]

Original Polish lyrics

Od dawien dawna słynie napój zdrowy:
kwas chlebowy,
pajda chleba za pazuchę,
bukłak kwasu
i chłop gotów w pole.
W gorącą posuchę.

English translation

A healthy drink has long been renowned:
bread kvass,
a chunk of bread below the armpit,
a goatskin of kvass
and the peasant is ready for the fields.
Into a hot drought.

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".[50] 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.[51]

Similar beveragesEdit

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


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  2. ^ a b c d Līdums, Ivo; Kārkliņa, Daina; Ķirse, Asnate; Šabovics, Mārtiņš (April 2017). "Nutritional value, vitamins, sugars and aroma volatiles in naturally fermented and dry kvass" (PDF). Foodbalt. Faculty of Food Technology, Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies: 61–65. doi:10.22616/foodbalt.2017.027. ISSN 2501-0190.
  3. ^ Ian Spencer Hornsey. A history of beer and brewing, p. 8. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2003. "A similar, low alcohol (0.5–1.0%) drink, kvass… may be a 'fossil beer'".
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  9. ^ Kvass in Merriam Webster Dictionary
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  19. ^ Alternatywa dla Coca Coli? Information regarding kvass in Interwar Poland.(in Polish)
  20. ^ Broszura o naturalnym kwasie chlebowym Archived 2014-04-29 at the Wayback Machine Booklet about natural kvass. (in Polish)
  21. ^ Gerima dystrybutor kwasu chlebowego w Polsce Gerima – distributor of kvass in Poland. (in Polish)
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  24. ^ Ich kwas chlebowy podbija rynek News article about Polish manufacturers of kvass made from traditional recipes.(in Polish)
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External linksEdit