Probiotic-Packed Kanji Is a Winter Blues Cure-All
Loaded with root vegetables, this kombucha-like drink is easy to make and love.
In an alternate universe, I’m walking the beaches of Santa Monica after a yoga class, chugging a glass bottle of lemon-mint earl grey kombucha as the sun sets over the Pacific. In reality, I’m in Mumbai right now, the yoga mat is here, and I’m very invested in making this winter’s first batch of kanji.
A refreshing drink made from fermented root vegetables, kanji is somewhat similar to Eastern European kvass. Both have distinctive sourness and are believed to have probiotic benefits.
Kanji offers all the advantages of “roots, sunshine and spices,” says Raksha Lulla, a clinical and sports nutritionist at The Locavore, a wellness website that encourages ancient Indian ways of eating. In keeping with Ayurvedic traditions, she says, each batch of kanji incorporates the power of the earth and sun to aid digestive health during the winter. She believes it improves bacterial health in your gut, “thereby empowering immunity, cutting any digestive issues like bloating and constipation.”
For many in India, kanji marks the onset of winter. It originated in the north of the country, which has a cooler climate than southern India. The mild winter sunlight gently ferments the vegetables in the kanji.
Vanika Choudhary, a fermentation specialist and chef at Noon restaurant in Mumbai, is a kanji devotee. Raised in Jammu, in India’s Kashmir region, she estimates she was two years old when she first tasted it. “My grandmother would pick the freshest black carrots, indigenous to Kashmir, to make black carrot kanji,” Choudhary says. “She would ferment the kanji in an earthen pot with black salt, dried kashmiri chili, and wild mustard, and keep it in the sun for a week or 10 days.” Today, she serves it to her own three-year-old son, who enjoys its sour tang.
Lulla likens kanji to “the Indian kombucha,” and says that its “anthocyanins work as antioxidants for preventing free radical damage from our stressed out way of living. They work with our body’s defense mechanisms.” Its vitamins and minerals can aid eyesight, heart and skin health, and collagen production, she adds.
Choudhary gives her kanji a kick with wild mustard plus sun-dried Kashmiri chilies from her parents garden in Jammu, while many use mustard only. No matter which level of spice you prefer, save the pickled carrots at the bottom of the jar to eat with millet rotis, green salads, or however you serve pickles so as to not waste anything.
Here’s my no-fail guide to making kanji from scratch. Just like kombucha, be sure your equipment is sterilized and keep the drink covered with a clean cloth. Discard if you see any irregularities or mold.
Yield: 6 cups
• 250 grams (approximately 1 cup) dark-colored carrots, peeled and cut into two-inch segments (or orange carrots plus one medium beet)
• 6 cups water
• 2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
• 2 tablespoons black salt
1. Pound the yellow mustard into a coarse powder and keep aside.
2. Boil water, covered, and then allow it to cool to room temperature. Keep its lid on throughout.
3. Once cooled, transfer water to a clean, wide-mouthed ceramic or glass jar. Add all the other ingredients and stir with a dry spoon to combine.
4. Cover the jar lightly with a muslin cloth and allow it to sit in mild winter sunlight, either outside or indoors at room temperature, for 2-3 days. Stir every morning. Within 48 hours, the drink should turn slightly sour and start to ferment.
5. Transfer jar of fermented kanji to the refrigerator. To serve, pour into a glass, reserving the carrots to eat as pickles with a meal or in a sandwich.