It’s Time to Try Switchel!
What is Switchel?
Switchel is a simple mix of water, vinegar and ginger that’s sweetened with molasses, maple syrup or honey, switchel has actually been around for a long time.
It was a staple among New England farmers in the 17th century who referred to it as haymaker’s punch since it was served during hay harvest season. It was the drink of choice when you needed something to quench your thirst.
In fact, people often referred to it as “haymaker’s punch” because there were few things more refreshing when you were hard at work tending your fields.
Today, even though this traditional beverage still lives on in a few Amish communities, switchel is something that few people have heard of. Luckily for us, this nearly forgotten beverage is starting to make a comeback!
In fact, it’s been popping up on menus and in grocery stores as a trend among health-conscious folks looking to quench their thirst, replenish electrolytes and keep their guts happy.
History of Switchel
Historians don’t agree on exactly where switchel came from. Some say that the Amish brought it with them when they came to the United States. Others believe that switchel originated in China or the Caribbean.
No matter where its origins lie, however, all switchel recipes have a few common ingredients: water, apple cider vinegar, ginger and a sweetener.
Traditionally, switchel was sweetened with molasses, but throughout history, people have also used maple syrup, honey and brown sugar.
But why the vinegar? Some historians suppose that the vinegar serves as a substitute for alcohol, since vinegar is essentially wine that has gone bad.
It could also be that switchel was a substitute for lemonade, but since the colonial New Englanders that popularized this drink didn’t have lemons, they used vinegar instead, for tartness.
Although we aren’t sure where switchel came from, we do know that colonial farmers believed that drinking hot drinks while working in the Sun was good for you, helping you keep a balanced body temperature in relation to the heat outside.
The problem was that no one actually wanted to drink a hot beverage on a hot day. For that reason, alcohol was a popular beverage because it created a same “heat” sensation as it went down.
Similarly, the ginger in switchel causes a mild feeling of warmth when consumed, and that made this drink popular among farmers tending their fields under the scorching Sun.
This Townsends video demonstrates how to prepare what would have been an 18th Century equivalent of a modern energy drink. Switchel is a revitalizing drink that was served to tuckered field hands and sailors:
Townsends is a channel dedicated to exploring the 18th Century lifestyle.
The flavor of switchel is most similar to kombucha or ginger beer. Tangy and tart with a deep flavor while being super refreshing.
If you like ginger and maple syrup and things that perfectly straddle that sweet-tart-spicy line, you’ll likely enjoy switchel.
And, if you like ginger kombucha, then you’ll probably enjoy switchel. It’s not fizzy like kombucha, but it has that same spicy-tart flavor.
It’s an Anti-Inflammatory
The ginger that makes up a key part of switchel is a natural inflammation reducer. Inflammation, which is at the root of most diseases, causes physical symptoms like skin problems and digestive issues. So keeping inflammation at bay with the ginger found in switchel can have other unexpected, welcome side effects, like clearing up acne.
Additionally, because it reduces inflammation, which also counts pain as a side effect, ginger is also a powerful pain fighter.
In fact, one study found that consuming a small amount of ginger is more effective at reducing pain symptoms and inflammation than painkillers.
In a controlled trial of 247 people with osteoarthritis of the knee, those who took ginger extract had less pain and required less pain medication.
So, next time you feel a headache coming on, skip that painkiller and reach for switchel instead.
Switchel Provides Electrolytes
Electrolytes are nutrients or chemicals in your body that help it perform specific functions, like regulating your heart beat or telling your legs it’s time to get moving.
But after undergoing intense physical exertion (like running a marathon), getting sick, eating a poor diet or even taking certain medications, electrolytes imbalance can occur.
Signs that your electrolytes need some replenishing include constantly feeling thirsty, frequent headaches, fatigue and nausea.
But because of the maple syrup and apple cider vinegar found in switchel, potassium-rich electrolytes, particularly potassium, are replenished, making it an excellent alternative to sugary drinks like Gatorade.
Pour a glass after a tough workout on a hot day to feel refreshed and give help your body restore its electrolyte balance.
It Includes Apple Cider Vinegar
By regularly drinking switchel, you’ll get all the terrific benefits of apple cider vinegar, including healing compounds, like potassium, magnesium and probiotics.
Thanks to the many uses of apple cider vinegar, it’s one of my favorite natural remedies. It balances your body’s pH levels and, as a liver and lymphatic tonic, detoxes your body.
Not bad for one of the most common household items!
It Includes Ginger
This root is packed with health benefits. Ginger is a fantastic digestive aid, soothing upset tummies and easing bloating symptoms.
It also boosts your body’s immune system, helping it fight off disease. Additionally, ginger supplement benefits include breaking down the accumulation of toxins in the body, another way it boosts immunity.
How to Make Switchel
All switchel recipes contain apple cider vinegar and ginger, either fresh or dried.
After that, you’ll have some choices. Use plain water or add some fizz with sparkling water.
And, no matter which sweetener you choose – molasses, maple syrup, honey or brown sugar – you can tweak the amounts depending on whether you like your switchel tangy or mild.
Then there are the extras. Many people love to add a little bit of lemon juice. Other popular flavorings include orange zest, mint and berry flavors.
Basic Switchel Recipe
If you’re ready to try switchel for yourself, you can get started with this basic recipe:
- 1 cup water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons molasses
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Mix all of the ingredients (plus any other flavorings) together and let the switchel steep for at least a couple of hours so that the ginger flavor infuses the beverage.
Then pour it over some ice in a mason jar, add a few lemon slices, and enjoy!
Tips For Enjoying Your Switchel
Switchel can be made ahead of time in large batches, and diluted when ready to serve. It’s great to keep on hand for hot summer days or for mixing into cocktails. Plus, letting it rest in the refrigerator will help the flavors meld together for a wonderful taste.
When making switchel, be sure to not add too much sweetener. You can always choose to add honey or agave when diluting the drink, but it’s harder to save an overly sweet batch.
Try some of these variations in your switchel:
- Use molasses instead of honey or maple syrup
- Add fresh fruits like blueberries
- Try lime juice instead of lemon
- Use fresh herbs like rosemary or thyme
- Swap in cinnamon sticks or star anise for the ginger
Switchel Cocktail Recipe
- 1/2 oz. Gin or vodka
- 1 oz Switchel
- 2 oz sparkling water
- any flavor of bitters- this drink works with all of them
In a cocktail glass muddle Rosemary, add booze, switchel, cinnamon and ice and shake well. Strain over fresh ice and top with sparkling water and your favorite flavor bitters. Enjoy!
Switchel Strawberry Punch
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh strawberries, plus 2 sliced strawberries, for garnish
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 3 tbsp. pure maple syrup
- 1-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- Flat or sparkling water
1. Strip the leaves from 1 thyme sprig. Place the leaves in a pint jar. Add the chopped strawberries, vinegar, maple syrup, ginger, and salt; using a muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon, lightly mash the switchel base. Cover the jar with a lid and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes or up to 2 days.
2. Strain the switchel base into a large liquid measuring cup. Divide among four pretty glasses filled with ice. Top with the water. Garnish with the remaining thyme sprigs and the sliced strawberries.
When Melina Lamer, founder of the Minneapolis-based Superior Switchel, first started making switchel, she didn’t even know it.
“I was brewing ginger tea and blending with apple cider vinegar (per my grandmother’s suggestion to get more apple cider vinegar in my diet).
To make it taste better, I added a little honey,” she says. Years later, Lamer realized her home remedy actually had a name and started selling it at farmers markets.
Today, the recipe she uses is a bit less spicy than her original, and she adds light carbonation to the drink as well.
Ely Key, founder of the Vermont-based Up Mountain Switchel, knew exactly what he was doing when he launched his brand.
“I was thirsty for something delicious that was not available on the shelves and was aware of the anti-inflammatory, alkaline and low-glycemic health properties of ginger root, apple cider vinegar and maple syrup,” he says.
“It was also an opportunity to disrupt the wasteful and sugar-industry-supportive beverage scene and celebrate something cool from American culture.”
He started the brand in his family’s Vermont farmhouse, and used local chefs, farmers and athletes as taste testers until finally tweaking the recipe to perfection: a mix of apple cider vinegar, fresh ginger (not ground) and maple syrup (because, after all, it was Vermont).
Should You Drink Switchel?
“Switchel, unlike kombucha, is not a fermented drink. It’s a drink with a fermented ingredient, i.e. apple cider vinegar,” Lamer explains. “This is beneficial because we have zero chance of containing any alcohol, which many kombucha companies are being sued over.
[It’s] also not a tea-based drink, so there’s zero caffeine, which isn’t even needed because the ingredients are all naturally energizing.” She adds that there are no refined sugars in a properly made switchel. “More sugar goes into making a cup of kombucha than a cup of soda,” Key adds. Instead, the mix is sweetened with honey or maple syrup, “both of which are high in minerals, B vitamins and are low-glycemic,” Lamer says.
“Luckily it also tastes delicious,” Key says. Tart and spicy with just the right amount of sweetness, it’s a lot more satisfying than shooting straight apple cider vinegar in the morning and a lot better for you than swigging artificially flavored sports drinks after a hard workout.
The greatest thing about switchel (besides the refreshing taste and healthy ingredients) is that it’s so versatile!
You purchase it, or you can make it by the cup or by the pitcher, all while tweaking the recipe in any way you like.
However you choose to enjoy it, switchel is one tradition worth trying!
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