Perfect for a hot day, switchel is a refreshing, old-fashioned tonic that’s perfect for keeping you hydrated during summer. Infused with blackberry and ginger, this switchel recipe has a gorgeous pink color, zippy flavor, and is easy to make. It’s also a refreshing drink that’s a good source of electrolytes and acts as nature’s Gatorade.
What is switchel?
Switchel is a lightly sweet, ginger-infused drinking vinegar similar to a shrub. It also goes by the names switzel, swizzle, haymaker’s punch, and sometimes ginger water. Immensely popular during colonial times of 18th-century America, switchel provided a delicious, sweet-and-sour soft drink that helped to hydrate and re-energize workers.
Historically, it was popular among both farmers and sailors because it provided a hydrating tonic that helped slake thirst after hours of intense manual labor. In a way, it’s the world’s first sports drink, providing adequate hydration, a dose of electrolytes, and a little dose of sugar to help boost energy.
What’s in it?
Switchel contains three basic ingredients: vinegar, water, ginger, and a sweetener. Traditionally, switchel makers used apple cider vinegar, powdered ginger, and molasses; however, most modern recipes use fresh ginger and natural sweeteners such as honey, pure maple syrup, or brown sugar.
Additionally, some switchel recipes, include fruit – especially berries or stone fruit such as peaches and plums.
- Vinegar gives switchel a lovely tartness and helps to acidify the water. Most recipes call for apple cider vinegar which has both a pleasant flavor and is affordable.
- Ginger gives switchel a zippy, fiery flavor. Traditionally, people made switchel using powdered ginger, but fresh ginger is popular in contemporary recipes because it’s more widely available than it once was.
- A sweetener is essential in providing both calories and in balancing the tartness of the vinegar. Older recipes call for molasses, which was both more affordable and more accessible than other sweeteners at the time. New recipes, such as the one below, tend to favor raw honey or maple syrup as their flavors hold a wider appeal.
- Additions can include fruit, herbs, and other spices. Mint is delicious in combination with ginger and makes a perfect addition to switchel. Fresh berries, such as blackberries, give switchel a boost of flavor and a gorgeous, vibrant pink color.
Is it good for you?
Switchel hovers on the line somewhere between refreshing summer soft drink and revitalizing tonic. The drink’s plentiful electrolytes mean it helps to hydrate the body, especially in hot weather or after heavy labor. It’s nature’s original sports drink.
Additionally, the drink uses ginger, a medicinal herb that is traditionally used to ease nausea, while also supporting the heart, metabolism, and immune system.
- Drinking vinegar may help support better metabolic health and blood sugar regulation (1,2).
- Switchel contains electrolytes including sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium which help support hydration (3).
- Berries are rich in a wide variety of anti-inflammatory plant nutrients that help support gut health.
- Honey provides a little bit of sugar that can give a boost of energy.
Tips for Making Switchel
Switchel, as with many apple cider vinegar drinks and many fermented drinks, is a pretty basic recipe. You’ll warm the ingredients in a saucepan until the honey dissolves, and the berries turn fall-apart tender. Then you strain the mixture, and then let it cool. It’s delicious served with rum or mixed in with sparkling water or club soda.
- Switchels makes great use of over-ripe fruit.
- Fresh ginger can really lend a brightness to the drink, but you can add powdered ginger if that’s what you have on hand.
- The honey mixes best when warmed on the stove. But, if you prefer to keep your honey or vinegar raw, try heating the water, ginger, and berries together, and then mix in the honey and vinegar once the water cools completely.
- Adjust the flavor as you like it. Some people prefer a sweeter switchel, so adjust the vinegar-honey ratio as it suits you. Traditionally, you’d make it using equal parts sweetener and vinegar, so start there and adjust to your personal tastes.
Blackberry Ginger Switchel Recipe
This riff on old-fashioned switchel uses fresh ginger instead of powdered, and it includes plenty of blackberries, which give the drink a gorgeous pink color and a vibrant, summery flavor. Serve it over ice with a sprig of mint.
Servings: 6 servings
Add all the ingredients to a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes. Mash the softened berries into the liquid, and continue simmering for another 5 minutes.
Strain the switchel, discarding the solids. Refrigerate overnight. Serve cold over ice.
Swap the sweetener. Molasses was traditionally the sweetener of choice for switchel. Brown sugar and maple syrup are also good choices.
Try different berries. Blackberries are delicious, but raspberries and loganberries also work well in this recipe.
Try adding ginger juice, either fresh-pressed or bottled, in place of chopped fresh ginger if you’d like a more assertive flavor.
Consider making a shrub instead. A shrub is a fruit-forward drinking vinegar often made without ginger, but using other herbs. This raspberry shrub is a great option.
If you don’t have any vinegar, try adding a little fresh lemon juice instead and make a lemonade-inspired switchel.
Switchel keeps for about 5 days in your fridge.
Keep switchel in a tightly sealed bottle in your fridge for up to 5 days for the best flavor.
Generally, about 8-12 oz switchel is a good serving.
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- Johnston CS, Gaas CA. Vinegar: medicinal uses and antiglycemic effect. MedGenMed. 2006 May 30;8(2):61.
- Hadi A, Pourmasoumi M, Najafgholizadeh A, Clark CCT, Esmaillzadeh A. The effect of apple cider vinegar on lipid profiles and glycemic parameters: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. BMC Complement Med Ther. 2021 Jun 29
- Wein, H. How the Body Regulates Salt Levels. NIH Research Matters. Retrieved 2020.