Switchel: The Ancient Health Drink You’ve Likely Never Heard Of
Throughout the years, we’ve seen a rise in the popularity of kombucha due to a societal shift towards healthier lifestyles. Despite the popularity of this probiotic drink, few have heard of its cousin, switchel (also known as swizzle, haymakers-punch, or shrub in its condensed form). Much like kombucha, switchel contains quite a few health benefits (even electrolytes), and has a long history of being used as a drink to sustain oneself during laborious tasks.
Switchel dates back hundreds of years, and its origin is somewhat dubious. Early versions of the drink have been traced back to the Caribbean, Rome, and England, as well as the United States during Colonial times. Due to its variety of forms, the true origins are somewhat hard to track down. Many societies throughout history have had their own versions of drinks involving vinegar and herbs. The historical reasoning behind the popularity of these drinks is simple: the acidity of the vinegar meant that the drink was less likely to contain bacteria, so it was generally safer to drink than water.
In Rome, soldiers would consume posca, which was a rather crude drink composed of red wine vinegar, water, and occasionally coriander seeds. Drinking this was a way to keep the soldiers safe from illness, as well as a way to use up old wine. In ancient Greece a similar drink named oxymel, which literally meant “acid and honey,” was consumed. Switchel even appears in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie, where it’s referred to as “ginger water.”
Switchel is a fantastic alternative to sugary sports drinks and is extremely easy to make at home, although it should not be used as a sole replacement for water while working out. Due to its ginger content, switchel can be soothing for an upset stomach, and can be a somewhat warming drink with a kick of spice. Ginger helps to reduce blood sugar levels and inflammation, while the addition of the apple cider vinegar provides similar benefits, as well as probiotics for healthy digestion. Some studies have also suggested that the consumption of apple cider vinegar may lead to weight loss, as well as reduced cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and blood pressure levels.
Typically, switchel is made with water, ginger, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, and a sweetener such as molasses or maple syrup. The latter provides a milder tasting drink, but provides fewer health benefits.
For instance, molasses provides potassium, iron, selenium, calcium and vitamin B6. If you opt for blackstrap, keep in mind that the end result may appear darker, and will be slightly more bitter in its flavour profile than If you were to use a light or fancy molasses. If you opt for maple syrup, you can expect the colour to appear somewhat light in appearance. Maple syrup is low on the glycemic index, and provides a source of antioxidants. It is also a source of zinc, calcium, potassium, and manganese.
There are nearly endless possibilities when it comes to preparing switchel. Optional ingredients include citrus, fresh fruits, and occasionally, herbs. Due to the fact that this drink does not require a fermentation process, it is somewhat easy and quick to prepare. That being said, it is possible to ferment this drink, resulting in a slightly carbonated beverage. We have included a recipe at the bottom of this article so that you can give it a try yourself.
If DIY is not your thing, that it totally okay. Local Toronto-based companies are beginning to sell their own artisanal versions of shrub and switchel. It is exciting to see such an ancient drink make a comeback once more, with bold modern takes. If you are in the Danforth area, switchel can be found at health food stores such as The Big Carrot, and Moberly Natural Foods. If you choose to buy premade switchel, make sure to look at the ingredients before purchasing, as recently the market has seen some new switchel producers pop up that use non-sugar sweeteners.
3-4 inch piece of ginger root
3 tbsp molasses or maple syrup*
Lemon or orange slices
¼ cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar
- Place ginger in a pot with water and bring to boil. Let simmer for 10 minutes.
- Let cool slightly, and stir in molasses or maple syrup and lemon or orange slices (if adding). Finally, stir in the vinegar last.
- Place in fridge to cool and let steep.
- Once cool, strain out solids. If you find that your end result is too bitter, simply dilute with water.
As you make this over time, you will learn what your preferences are and will be able to go by that. If you find that the ginger is too strong, you could either use less, or skip the boil process, and let the pitcher sit in the fridge overnight.
*Depending on if you used maple syrup or molasses, you may have to adjust the amount you add to suit your tastes.
We hope that you enjoy experimenting with this drink. If you choose to make this at home during lock-down, feel free to snap a pic and tag us on Instagram!