WHAT began as a passion for fermenting food has grown into a full-time business for Jane Jenkinson.
The mother-of-three from Cardiff has spent the past few years gradually building Wholefood Family, which specialises in producing pickled vegetables, kimchi and sauerkraut, as well as a fermented drink known as beetroot kvass.
The kvass has become her most in-demand product, with the beverage sold at 13 stores in Newcastle and the Hunter, as well as Scoop Wholefoods shops in Sydney, Canberra and Orange. It can also be ordered online.
Not familiar with it?
The lightly sparkling fermented drink - which is rich in sodium, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, folate and vitamins A, B, C and K - can be taken daily as a 50ml shot and offers a long list of health benefits, from boosting the immune system to improving gut health and increasing energy levels.
Used for centuries in Eastern Europe as a health tonic, the popularity of Wholefood Family’s beetroot kvass has grown so much that in June Jenkinson moved production into a purpose-built facility - known as a kvassaria - in Broadmeadow where she works seven days a week to keep up supply. She previously spent two years making commercial quantities of it at a brewery.
It is sold in bottles or poured fresh from the tap at stores such as Scoop Wholefoods at The Junction and put into a take-home bottle - for example a 500ml bottle should last one week if a 50ml shot is taken each day (the bottle can be kept in the fridge for up to two weeks).
Best served chilled, the slightly fizzy drink gives a big hit of sour beetroot taste and earthiness followed by a refreshing tingle.
It takes a little getting used to, but Jenkinson recommends sticking with it.
“I think what happens is the body goes ‘Oh my god, I need that’ before your mouth recognises it as as familiar or pleasant flavour,” she says.
“It makes you want it and slowly the communication lines happen between your body because it recognises that it is feeling amazing.
“At the end of the first week, pause for a bit and see what happens to your energy levels and how you feel when you wake up, then come back after that for another bottle and see how you feel.
“When you’re on it, you don’t realise how good you feel until you stop and restart. You realise that’s what was missing.”
She first discovered beetroot kvass a decade ago when one of her sons seemed “a bit off”.
He had trouble sleeping and experienced emotional highs and lows, so she and her husband decided to have a gut microbiome test done on their son which confirmed that he had a major lack of good bacteria.
“We had to really throw ourselves into what had gone wrong and how to fix it,” Jenkinson says.
“I’m a nurse by trade and my husband is a scientist, so research and looking into stuff like that came quite easily to us.
“We read and read and read about gut health and fermentation but, 10 years ago, there wasn’t the information there is now.
“Kvass kept popping up in the books we read in the terms of it being a really easy form of probiotics.”
The first time they attempted making it was a disaster.
“It was the thickest, goopiest and most disgusting thing ever. We were laughing ‘I don’t think this is right’ but we kept playing,” Jenkinson says.
“All the other ferments were working - we had kefir, kombucha, sauerkrauts and all these different things, but kvass just wasn’t working for us.
“It honestly took two years to make a good kvass. It was just a persistence though, because the more we read about it, I thought it sounded amazing and we really wanted it to be part of our lives.”
Jenkinson began teaching fermenting workshops, which eventually paved the way for her product lines after the participants in her classes began asking to buy her food.
“I remember I came to one of my workshops and I was like ‘Guys, I’ve finally got kvass!’,” Jenkinson recalls.
“It was this big celebration and they were like ‘We’re not even going to try making it - we want to buy yours’ and it just all took off.
“Everyone was behind us and it grew from there. The grit and determination of getting that done means this is what we do now.”
As well as an online store, Wholefood Family has a weekly stall at Newcastle City Farmers Market where she sells the beetroot kvass, sauerkraut, kimchi, seasonal pickles and “gut shots”.
They have recently released a sparkling kvass in a 250ml bottle which can be enjoyed as a whole drink, like kombucha.
“It’s a really unique drink and it’s great to be able to make something that makes people feel nice,” Jenkinson says.
“I feel like it’s a little happy juice!”