Fermented birch sap is very undervalued by many people, but not by all. As spring arrives in Easter Europe, the beauty of nature is broken by bottles and buckets of different sizes hanging from branches and tree trunks, mainly in birch and maple trees.
The bottles are slowly filled with the clear, slightly sweet, watery birch or maple sap, a very popular drink in many countries. The juice is wonderful to drink fresh but some like it even better when fermented. Fermented birch juice is tangy and refreshing when served cold.
If the winter is cold, the birch juice gets sweeter. But when the winters are mild, the juice gets less sweet. During a few weeks in spring throngs of fans flock to forests to get their annual share of birch juice. But you can also buy it at the market and in many shops. We usually buy plenty of fresh juice, drink some of it the first few days and prepare fermented birch sap of the rest.
Fermented birch sap surprisingly tasty
If you have never tasted fermented birch juice, you might get a pleasant surprise when tasting it. While fresh birch sap is slightly sweet, fermented sap is crisply dry, tangy and sparkling. Yes, it can be as refreshing as a sparkling wine.
A few years ago a farmer producing birch juice in Latvia appeared at the World Organic Food fair in Germany. He received so many orders that he had to turn away most of them as he was short on birch juice. People were amazed at how fresh and pure the taste is, especially if they have only previously encountered the pasteurized, sweetened versions of birch juice that are popular in some countries.
When my wife and I first tried birch sap, we immediately fell in love with this amazing drink. The fermented birch sap can be stored for a long time in a cool place for a few months, but some say even longer.
Properties of birch sap
Interestingly, fresh birch juice has a similar chemical profile as coconut water.The tree sap contains a number of micronutrients.
- Saponins (powerful phytochemicals said to reduce cholesterol levels, are anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, immunity booster, and reduce bone loss)
- Sugars (xylitol)
- Essential oils
- Amino acids
Birch sap has traditionally been used for its purifying and diuretic properties. The sap is said to promote the elimination of waste from the body as food additives, coloring, uric acid, phosphate and many other substances. Therefore, birch sap has been used for kidney stones. But it’s also used to treat arthritis, inflammatory conditions and to promote clear supple skin.
Birch sap is structured water
Birch sap contains structure water which might explain why it has so many health benefits. Some studies reveal that structured water can cleanse out toxins and waste, regulate weight, strengthened immunity, supply cells with organic acids, stimulate metabolism, rinse salt precipitation from bone joints and perform many other healing functions.
Research into birch sap’s anti-ageing properties at the University of Latvia has prompted some companies to launch a line of products promising a youthful glow. Studies show that birch juice can stimulate the growth of dermal and epidermal cells and help delay cell ageing. However, for a stronger effect in skin care, a more concentrated birch sap is used in studies.
Research shows that birch sap can rejuvenate and protect skin cells from oxidative stress, including ultraviolet rays, environmental pollution and consequences caused by inflammation.
Fermented birch sap may have increased benefits. Fermenting tree sap was originally a simple way to preserve the juice for a longer time. During fermentation, several new compounds are created in the juice boosting its potency. Fermentation also makes it easier for the body to assimilate the many micro-nutrients present in the juice.
How to ferment birch sap
Fresh birch sap contains natural, beneficial microorganisms that will start to grow within 2-5 days at room temperature. This is a natural or wild fermentation of birch sap. The crystal clear fresh sap will turn cloudy after 2-5 days in room temperature; this is normal. The sap will slowly turn slightly tangy within a week. This juice can be enjoyed right away or used as a base to produce a fizzier drink.
Fermented birch sap recipe
There are many recipes on how to produce a fizzier fermented birch sap. Try what works best for you. The added sugar will be consumed by the bacteria and make the juice bubblier.
- Pour fresh (or slightly fermented) birch sap into a clean bottle that can be tightly closed
- 1 teaspoon sugar per quart of juice
- A few raisins (support fermentation)
- 1 clove (prevents mould)
- 1 small black currant branch
- Leave the birch sap to ferment at room temperature; in 5-7 days it should turn slightly tangy.
- Store in a cool place for another 15-20 days, in some cases longer.
Optional: Try a different taste in each bottle, for example peppermint (a clear winner), lemon, juniper berries, ginger. However, the fermented birch juice also has a great natural taste just by its own.
Sparkling birch sap
If you want even more bubbles, like a sparkling wine, then add even more sugar.
- 1 quart fresh (or already slightly fermented) birch sap
- 1-3 teaspoons sugar
- 4-5 raisins
- Citric acid (or a small piece organic lemon)
Preparation: Add sugar, raisins, and a little citric acid to each bottle. Fill the empty wine or champagne bottles with fresh birch sap until the neck, i.e. not completely full. Put the cork on and tighten the cork with a string to hold it in place when the pressure in the bottle increases. After 15-20 days or longer, it should be ready to drink.
Drinking fermented birch sap
Most experts say fresh birch sap can be treated as water and you can, therefore, drink quite a lot. However, to reap many benefits a a few glassed per day is enough. The sugar contents of fresh birch sap is not very high, however, if you’re diabetic and want to drink a lot you might want to take this into consideration.
Both fresh and fermented birch sap are superb drinks. And a bottle of well-fermented birch sap is emptied quickly, especially during warm summer days.