From kombucha to coconut water, there are plenty of trendy drinks that have been touted as ultra-hydrating and gut-friendly. But one you may not have heard about that’s increasing in popularity is switchel.
WHAT IS SWITCHEL?
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. Now, it’s back, popping up on menus and in grocery stores as a trend amongst health-conscious folks looking to quench their thirst, replenish electrolytes and keep their guts happy.
Think of switchel as an all-natural sports drink filled with electrolytes. The ginger helps reduce inflammation and the vinegar aids in digestion. It can be served sparkling or still, cold or hot. And while it’s easy to make at home (simply combine apple cider vinegar with fresh grated ginger and maple syrup or honey, shake and dilute with water) there are plenty of brands on the market offering quality, ready-to-drink, bottled switchel.
BRANDS TO TRY
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).
WHY MAKE THE SWITCH TO 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.