Cultures for GI Health
What is Switchel?
Switchel is a drink that is not as trendy or well known as kombucha in the US, but it has a long history in the Western world. Also known as switzel, swizzle, switchy, ginger-water or haymaker’s punch, switchel was the original “Gatorade”, a tasty beverage filled with electrolytes. It has been called “the original mocktail” by author Corin Hirsch. Switchel shares some probiotic benefits with traditionally fermented beverages.
This soft drink is a simple introduction to homemade fermented beverages. With easy to buy ingredients and no special equipment or cultures required, newbies can get a sense of the tart, cultured style of drink.
What is Switchel?
A simple recipe, switchel contains just four ingredients: water, vinegar, sweetener, and ginger. Although a vinegar-based beverage sounds unappealing to our contemporary palate, historically, vinegar was commonly used in edible goods as food preservation methods were limited. Writer Hirsch says, “Vinegar could substitute pretty well for alcohol in terms of providing some tang, or for citrus, which didn’t always make it inland from the coast.”
Switchel is similar to well-known Caribbean punches, however, apple cider vinegar made it unique to the US. “It’s really a creolized drink — blending these exotic Caribbean goods with North American vinegar, to produce a popular drink,” says an anthropologist from the College of William and Mary, Frederick Smith.
It is so tasty because it provides the perfect balance for the palate: sweet, sour, bitter and salty and the nutritional benefits make it a great choice to quench your thirst.
Some say that the ancient Greek herbal elixir Oxymel is the lineage. Hippocrates and Pliny referenced it and its health benefits.
Oxymel means acid honey in Greek, used to mask the unappealing flavor of medicinal herbs. It was recommended for a variety of ailments including dehydration, arthritis, colds, insomnia, and digestion.
Others believe that the drink was born in the Caribbean in the 17th century, a ginger-water made with molasses instead of maple syrup that was a refreshing, hydrating treat in scorching hot temperatures.
Its original base was similar to an island sour punch including molasses and ginger but adding cider vinegar and maple syrup as a sweetener created a distinctly American drink.
In the US
Eventually, it made its way to the US. Switchel was a popular refreshment in New England. The addition of vinegar to the ginger water was the perfect riff. It came to be known as Haymaker’s punch because farmers would keep buckets in the fields to quench their thirst on long, hot days when icy drinks would have melted too quickly.
A Popular American Pastime
Even the early US Congress was known to have enjoyed this drink in the summertime, spiked with a favorite version of Jamaican Rum.
And proponents of the temperance movement touted Switchel as a substitute for alcoholic beverages. The spicy fresh ginger provided the “burn” of alcohol without the buzz. It remained a popular national drink until the 20th century and the advent of industrialized food production.
The Benefits of drinking switchel
Electrolytes are the chemicals in bodily fluids, like blood and urine, that conduct electrical signals throughout our bodies. These transmissions control important physiological functions such as nerve impulses, muscle contraction, blood chemistry, and tissue growth and repair.
Dehydration is the most common cause of electrolyte imbalance. Whenever we sweat or urinate electrolytes are lost. Excessive exercise or elimination via illness can cause dizziness, head and muscle aches, heart palpitations, stomach cramps, joint pain, and fatigue. Gatorade and other sports drinks have been designed to replenish the depleted minerals.
Switchel contains apple cider vinegar (ACV), which is a natural source of sodium, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium, as well as beneficial bacteria and acetic and citric acids. Also, maple syrup is a rich source of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, and zinc. Switchel provides similar benefits of manufactured sports drinks with no chemical compounds, artificial flavorings and coloring.
Ginger is known to have a multitude of anti-inflammatory uses for medical conditions including: circulation, arthritis, congestion, infections, and menstrual pain. It suppresses pro-inflammatory enzymes associated with other milder forms inflammation like muscle pain and soreness from exercise, acne, eczema, heartburn, bloating, and nausea and the physical signs of aging. Gingerol – the pungent, active ingredient of ginger – is effective as an analgesic (pain relief) without undesirable side effects.
ACV is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
ACV with the “mother,” the actual cloudy culture that includes proteins, enzymes and beneficial bacteria, has been recommended as a digestive aid since Hippocrates. It can promote a balanced microbiome and improved assimilation of foods.
Ginger also has a long history of use as a remedy for digestive problems including nausea, gas and bloating.
Our recipe templates are designed to be simple and easy to follow.
Switchel is a great introduction to non-alcoholic fermented beverages. Although it is not technically fermented, the tart apple cider vinegar mimics the sharp, sour flavor of traditionally cultured drinks. Maple syrup is a great source of antioxidants, manganese, and zinc.
- Prep Time5 min
- Serving Size1 cup
- Energy34 cal
- 2 tbsp Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2 tbsp Unfiltered Molasses
- 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 4 cups filtered or sparkling water
Preparing the spices
Grate ginger root until you have about 2 tsp.
Combine ginger, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, and water in a quart jar, and shake until the maple syrup has completely dissolved. The ginger will sink to the bottom of the jar.
Place the jar in the fridge and let it steep for at least 24 hours, stirring again before serving.
Strain into glass over ice.
- 4 servings per container
- Serving Size1 cup
- Amount per serving
- % Daily Value*
- Total Fat0.1 g0.13%
- Sodium7 mg0.3%
- Total Carbohydrate8.2 g2.98%
- Dietary Fiber1 g3.57%
- Total Sugars5.6 g
- Protein0.1 g0.2%
- Calcium4 mg0.31%
- Iron3 mg16.67%
- Potassium164 mg3.49%
This is a selection of the most frequently asked questions about switchel.
Not exactly, switchel has apple cider vinegar (ACV) as a key ingredient. ACV is fermented. If it is not heated, ACV with the mother provides probiotic benefits.
No switchel is alcohol-free.
However, switchel pairs perfectly with any spirit to create a hard beverage.
Some of the traditonal recipes even use oats in the Switchel for additional texture.
For a flavor variation try one of the following:
- Use molasses or honey in place of maple syrup
- Add fresh fruit
- Add citrus juice, lemon and lime are commonly used
- Use fresh herbs like mint, basil, lemon thyme, rosemary and thyme
- Add in cinnamon sticks or star anise to complement the ginger
The choice of sweetener is a personal preference. Each has slightly different nutritional benefits. As always use sweeteners sparingly.
14g carbs/12 from sugar
iron, calcium, zinc, manganese, sodium, and potassium.
17g carbs/17 from sugar
vitamin B-6 and vitamin C, fluoride, riboflavin
17g carbs/17 from sugar
vitamin B-6, manganese, magnesium, iron, potassium, selenium, and copper. It retains many of the nutrients of sugar cane.
15g carbs/15 from sugar
Is identical to regular sugar.
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