Ever heard of switchel? It is a fermented beverage that hasn’t seemed to gain the popularity of kombucha … yet (though I suspect it will soon!). It relies on pre-fermented apple cider vinegar and does not have a long fermentation process like kombucha or kefir do, making it a great first drink for anyone new to fermenting.
What is Switchel?
Switchel has quite a few nicknames including Haymaker’s Punch, Ginger-Water, and Swizzy. It is a fermented drink that originated in the Caribbean and that often contains apple cider vinegar, water, a natural sweetener, and a flavoring, like ginger root.
It is an inexpensive and electrolyte-filled way to get the benefits of apple cider vinegar and is much more tasty than undiluted vinegar! While it isn’t as popular as kombucha yet, I recently saw a switchel-based cocktail on the menu in a restaurant, making me wonder if its return to popularity has begun.
History of Switchel
Sources disagree about when switchel officially made its way to the United States, but agree that it has been here for well over 100 years. I remember a mention of it in one of my favorite childhood books, The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder:
Ma had sent them ginger-water. She had sweetened the cool well-water with sugar, flavored it with vinegar, and put in plenty of ginger to warm their stomachs so they could drink till they were not thirsty. Ginger-water would not make them sick, as plain cold water would when they were so hot.
Sources also disagree about the “right” way to make switchel, the sweetener that should be used, and the proportions. Like most recipes, the trick seems to be finding a recipe that you love.
Benefits of Switchel
Like other fermented foods and drinks, switchel has its share of benefits, depending on the ingredients. There are endless ways to make this tasty drink and all of the ingredients offer their own benefits. In my favorite recipe, I use:
- Apple cider vinegar: A great natural source of minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium, as well as beneficial bacteria and acids. While many people don’t love the strong flavor of vinegar by itself, it is perfect in this recipe when balanced with ginger, honey, and lime. I get mine here.
- Honey: A versatile natural remedy in our house that I use as a face wash, to help speed healing of cuts and burns, and even as a natural sleep aid. Raw honey is a source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and enzymes that makes it a nutrient powerhouse with antiviral and antibacterial properties. It is often recommended for digestive health and there is some evidence that it may benefit the skin when taken internally.
- Ginger: A powerful natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant due to the presence of an oil called gingerol. It has a long history of use as a remedy for digestive problems, nausea, and illness. In this recipe, it adds both flavor and a slight spicy balance to the sweetness of the honey. Ginger root is found in most grocery stores and its skin can be peeled off easily with the edge of a spoon.
- Lime: I add some fresh lime juice purely for flavor but it is also a good source of vitamin C.
Switchel Variations to Try
- With molasses: Blackstrap molasses is good for skin and hair. It is a great natural source of iron, B6, potassium, selenium, and copper, and often helpful for people who suffer from anemia and have trouble absorbing other sources of iron. It is considered diabetes friendly and unlike refined sweeteners it maintains many of the nutrients of sugar cane. Especially during pregnancy, I switch out the honey in this recipe for some organic blackstrap molasses for the extra nutrients and iron. This is also the lowest glycemic option for a sweetener.
- With maple syrup: A good source of antioxidants, manganese, and zinc, use maple syrup in place of honey.
- Using lemon or herbs: For flavor, you can use lemon in place of the lime or omit completely. I also love adding other herbs besides just ginger and muddling the fresh leaves for flavor. Some favorite herbs to add are basil, lemon thyme, and rosemary.
- With seltzer water: Though regular water is traditionally used in this recipe, seltzer water can give it natural fizz and make it even more refreshing. Since it is typically “aged” overnight in the refrigerator, I recommend using regular water in the recipe, but only using half as much and then adding the additional as seltzer water when serving.
- With cinnamon: If you prefer more of an apple-cider flavor, add a few cinnamon sticks to the overnight soak in the refrigerator in place of the ginger.
Just talking about it makes me want to get up and go start a batch!
How to Make Switchel
Now for the fun part! No need for a scoby or kefir grains (though I always have those in my kitchen as well). In fact, you likely already have the ingredients for this delicious drink in your kitchen.
Here’s how to make ginger switchel:
Ginger Honey Switchel Recipe
- Mix all ingredients in a large jar, cover, and shake well.
- Place in the refrigerator overnight.
- To serve, pour over ice or add seltzer water if desired.
Ever heard of switchel? Ready to try it with your family?