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The Six Healthiest Staple Foods in Russian Cuisine

Russia is well known for its long, cold winters, and its cuisine seems to follow suit: hearty, stick-to-your-ribs types of foods that are also rich in nutrients and intense flavors -- just what you need to make it through that kind of weather.

Soups (hot and cold), stews, meat pies and pickled vegetables are common, as are rye bread, fish dishes, berries and honey, and sour cream as a condiment. Russian cuisine is packed with healthy staples, and here we've highlighted six of them, along with two tasty recipes to try out at the end.

Fish1. Fish

Fish, whether salted, marinated, pickled or smoked, is a popular part of Russian cuisine, partly because it was the only meat allowed on fasting days under the Russian Orthodox Church. Sturgeon, trout and herring are some of the favorites, as are caviar and fish soups.

Health Benefits: Fish is an excellent source of protein, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, which have been found to promote heart health, support neurological development, reduce tissue inflammation, and help with the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, depression and irritable bowel syndrome.

However, fish must be from a clean source to be considered healthy, as pollutants such as mercury that exist in some fish may cause health problems.

Kefir2. Kefir

Kefir is a tart, yogurt-like beverage made from fermented milk that is popular in Russia at breakfast as well as an after-dinner snack. It has been a staple beverage in Russia since ancient times, and is just beginning to become popular among health-conscious U.S. consumers.

Health Benefits: Kefir is full of beneficial bacteria (probiotics), which produce beneficial enzymes, aid digestion and promote healthy flora in the digestive tract. This nourishing drink is considered by many to boost the immune system, help fight disease and improve overall health (it is even customary for patients in Russian hospitals to receive kefir).

It's simple to make kefir at home using milk and this kefir starter from Body Ecology. For those who are sensitive to dairy, and therefore cannot tolerate regular milk-based kefir, you can make similarly nutritious coconut kefir using this recipe.

Mushrooms3. Mushrooms

Mushrooms have always been available in abundance in Russia, and have become one of the most loved staples of the region. They're eaten boiled, fried, stewed and pickled, in soups, salads, meat pies, appetizers, sauces, main dishes and sometimes as a substitute for meat.

Health Benefits: Mushrooms are excellent sources of protein, fiber, vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium and minerals. They also have medicinal properties that have been found to:

  • Promote heart health
  • Lower the risk of cancer
  • Help balance blood sugar levels
  • Reduce high cholesterol
  • Fight off viruses, bacteria and fungi
  • Boost immune function
  • Combat allergies

Cabbage4. Cabbage

Pickled cabbage, or sauerkraut, has long been a staple of Russian cuisine, originally because it could keep for over a year, carrying people from one harvest to the next. Cabbage is also eaten stewed, stuffed, and in soups, or as a popular side dish cooked with tomato, onion, salt and pepper.

Health Benefits: Cabbage belongs to the healthy cruciferous family of vegetables. It's known to fight cancer and treat peptic ulcers, and it's a rich source of vitamin C, fiber, manganese, vitamin B6 and folate. When cabbage is fermented into sauerkraut, it has the added benefit of good bacteria that aid digestion. Note that the typical sauerkraut you find in stores is NOT fermented -- for an excellent variation on fermented cabbage see this delicious recipe.

Kvass5. Kvass

Kvass is a popular fermented beverage made from dark sourdough rye bread that's widely available and even sold from street vendors. The beverage has a beer-like taste, but is non-alcoholic (though it turns alcoholic if it's left to ferment long enough), and has been enjoyed in Russia for at least 1,000 years. Kvass is also added to chopped meat and vegetables to make a cold soup.

Health Benefits: Because Kvass is fermented, it contains beneficial bacteria that are regarded as a digestive aid. It is also rich in B vitamins, thought to relieve intestinal problems and hangovers.

Beets6. Beets

Beets (along with cabbage and potatoes) grow very well in Russia and have long been a staple food in the region's cuisine. The most famous use for beets is borscht, a beet soup, but they're also popular boiled, pickled, in salads and as side dishes.

Health Benefits: Beets contain beneficial compounds that fight cancer and heart disease, and they are an excellent source of folate, manganese, potassium, fiber, vitamin C, and iron. Beets are also considered to help purify the blood and the liver.

Two Tasty Russian Recipes

Don't miss these authentic Russian recipes that are sure to add some exciting flavors to your diet.

Sauerkraut & Meat Soup (Plain Shchi)


1 1/4 pounds beef
1/2 pounds ham
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups sauerkraut
1/2 cup sour cream
1 carrot
1 bunch parsley
2 onions
2 potatoes
3 bay leaves,
4 cloves garlic
1 tbsp dill
8 black peppercorns


  1. Cover the beef and ham with boiling water
  2. Add an onion, potatoes and a part of herbs (whole)
  3. Boil for 1 1/2 hours until the meat is half-ready
  4. Add the sauerkraut and other chopped onion, and the rest of the herbs, cut in strips
  5. Continue to boil for 1 hour


Mushrooms in Sour Cream


1 1/2 pounds white mushrooms
2 tbsp butter
2 onions
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1 tbsp flour
1 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper


  1. Wash mushrooms in cold water, cut into thin pieces, slicing the mushroom along its length to preserve its form.
  2. Place butter in covered pan, add the mushrooms, add some finely chopped onions that have been separately cooked, a little salt and pepper, and cook the mushrooms until they are medium soft, at which point reduce the heat to a very low level.
  3. Add beef stock, mixed with flour over very low heat until the consistency of gravy has been reached, to mushrooms and then add sour cream and mix.
  4. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes.


Recommended Reading

The 6 Healthiest Staple Foods in Greek Cuisine

The 6 Healthiest Staple Foods in Italian Cuisine


The Weston A. Price Foundation

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