What's a Switchel?

What's a Switchel?

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Emily Han
Jan 22, 2016
(Image credit: Emily Han)

You may be familiar with shrubs, but have you met our friend the switchel? This vinegar-based drink is energizing, refreshing, and a great alternative to commercially made sports drinks. It makes a fabulous cocktail, too!

Originating in the Caribbean in the 16th or 17th century, the switchel has developed into different versions over the years. My exploration has turned up an array of ingredients and ratios, but in general, a switchel was likely to contain the sweet, tangy, and spicy combination of molasses, vinegar, and ginger. Together, these components provided valuable minerals and electrolytes.

As the molasses trade traveled to New England, so did switchels. There they became known as haymaker’s punch for their ability to quench workers’ thirst as they labored during the harvest — just like a modern-day sports drink.

Instead of molasses, New Englanders often sweetened the drink with an ingredient more readily available to them: maple syrup. In addition to its inimitable flavor, maple syrup supplies parched bodies with minerals such as manganese, zinc, potassium, and iron.

Try a glass of this drinking vinegar post-gym or on a warm day outdoors. Or, if you want to skip the workout and head straight to the bar, you’ll find that rum is a great partner for this bracing concoction. Switchels also make delicious non-alcoholic cocktails.

Reprinted with permission from Wild Drinks & Cocktails: Handcrafted Squashes, Shrubs, Switchels, Tonics, and Infusions to Mix at Home by Emily Han, copyright (c) 2015. Published by Fair Winds Press.

(Image credit: Emily Han)

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