These two fermented drinks have distinctly different tastes and preparation methods.
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In the last few years, fermentation has come to the forefront of the food world. You can walk into almost any well-stocked grocery store and grab a jar of kimchi or a bottle of kefir. But if you're new to fermented foods, it can be easy to get confused with some of the options. Two popular drinks, kombucha and kvass, have similar names and appearances, but these beverages each have their own unique traits. Read below to find out the differences:

What is Kombucha?

Kombucha is a popular fermented drink made from the trio of brewed black or green tea, sugar, and a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). It's lightly bubbly and, depending on the length of fermentation, the taste can lean toward either the sweet or tart side. "Fermented long enough, kombucha can lose nearly all its sugar but then ends up closer to vinegar than a probiotic soda," says Danny Berke, author of Insane in the Brine. "And some people are perfectly happy to drink kombucha this way."

You can find bottled kombucha at any major grocery store, available in flavors ranging from sweet and fruity to tart and herbal, but many people also make it at home. The basic recipe is to brew some sweetened tea, add any fruits or flavorings desired, and, once the tea is cool, place it in a clean jar with your SCOBY. After a few days, you'll have an effervescent and tangy drink that can rival any store-bought soda, but with the additional benefit of probiotics. "Like other fermented and probiotic drinks, kombucha contains living microorganisms which may support the digestive tract," says Berke. He also adds that thanks to the tea base, kombucha contains antioxidants and caffeine.

Due to the fermentation process, kombucha is just slightly alcoholic. The alcohol level is often 0.5 percent or less per serving, but it's worth keeping in mind for anyone concerned about alcohol consumption, whether for health or religious reasons.

a jar of kombucha and a glass of kvass
Credit: Kidsada Manchinda / Boris SV / Getty Images

What is Kvass?

The meaning of "kvass" may be different depending on where you're located. "In the United States, kvass has become rather synonymous with lacto-fermented beet juice or beet brine, meaning salt-water fermented beets," Berke explains. The result is an earthy and tangy beverage that's fairly savory because of the salt content. This version of kvass has the benefits of probiotics along with nutrients from the beets that are more easily absorbed due to the fermentation process.

"It should be recognized, however, that true kvass originated in Russia and Slavic countries, and is a low-alcohol grain drink," Berke says. "Like beer, this is a yeast-based fermentation. It can be flavored and colored in various ways, including with beets, and this may be the inspiration behind calling lacto-fermented beet juice kvass." This beer-like kvass is popular in Eastern Europe, often using rye, wheat, or barley breads to start the fermentation process.

What's the Difference Between the Two?

There are some distinct differences between kombucha and kvass (for comparison purposes we'll be referring to beet kvass instead of the bread-based variety). While both are fermented and contain a healthy dose of probiotics, the kombucha relies on the SCOBY to ferment and kvass uses lacto-fermentation by relying solely on the natural sugars present in the beets. "In short, both can support a healthy lifestyle, but have some differences such as the proportion of specific probiotic strains, presence of caffeine, and level of salt and sugar," says Berke. Kombucha is sweeter and ever so slightly alcoholic (often 0.5 percent or less), while kvass is more savory and salty. For those looking to reduce their added sugar or salt intake, these levels can be adjusted in their homemade kombucha or kvass to meet their needs. If you're wanting to add more fermented foods to your diet, either drink would be a fine choice.

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