This Is, Hands-Down, the Most Refreshing Thing You Can Drink This Summer

updated Jun 6, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

There are countless ingredients clamoring for space in your kitchen. Taste Makers are the ones that actually make a dish amazing. Each month, we’re exploring one ingredient that has earned its place in our small kitchens and will make even simple food taste spectacular

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to explore the world of mocktails. While I enjoy the occasional glass of wine, most nights I’d rather not have a drink — but a glass of water always seems so boring. With rising interest surrounding non-alcoholic drinks, I figured it was high time I jumped on the bandwagon — and boy am I glad I did.

After a bit of research, I discovered one simple ingredient that adds excitement to my booze-free nights, improves the nights I do enjoy a cocktail, too, and sparks a little fun into my cooking. It’s one of the most versatile ingredients I’ve ever played with, and it most definitely deserves to be in your kitchen this summer.

Drinking Vinegars Are the Refreshing Mixer and Flavor Booster You Didn’t Know You Needed

Drinking vinegars, also called shrubs, are exactly what they sound like: vinegar-based concoctions you can, well, drink! The word “shrub” is derived from the Arabic word sharbah, which means “a drink.” They have a long history, dating back to the Babylonian, and were incredibly popular during colonial America.

To make a shrub, vinegar is flavored with fruit and sweetened with sugar. Shrubs are then diluted in still or sparkling water to tame their bite, resulting in a non-alcoholic beverage that’s shockingly refreshing, thanks to the tang of vinegar, and just mildly sweet.

But the beauty of shrubs doesn’t start and end with mocktails. The sweet-tart concoction can brighten roasted vegetables, salad dressings, poultry, fish, and even ice cream. Of course, they’re also great as a mixer for cocktails.

A Few Great Brands to Try

Drinking vinegars aren’t actually too difficult to make at home, but their recent resurgence in popularity means there are a lot of awesome brands to try, many of which are made with locally sourced fruit and boast unique flavor combinations. Here are a few I’m currently loving.

  • Girl Meets Dirt: Audra Lawlor makes some of the most unique shrubs in tiny Orcas Island, WA, using orchard fruits. Flavors to try include Lemon Lavender, Ruby Spiced Apple, and Quince, but honestly you can’t go wrong with any of them.
  • Mother Shrub: Meredyth Archer’s inspiration came from memories of drinking vinegar with her grandmother when she was growing up in West Virginia. “The Salted Honey shrub is the true ode to that since I use J.Q. Dickinson Salt, harvested from a salt-works about five miles from where I grew up,” Grapefruit is also incredible in a riff on a Paloma.
  • Som Cordial: These bottles have the bonus of looking pretty sharp on your bar cart. You can’t go wrong with their familiar flavors like Ginger, but don’t hesitate to try something more unique like Pineapple Szechuan Pepper or Strawberry Thai Basil.
Credit: Joe Lingeman

My Favorite Ways to Use Drinking Vinegars

  • Splash it into club soda, seltzer, or tonic: The gateway into drinking vinegars is obviously mocktails. It turns plain sparkling water into something special.
  • Shake it with your preferred spirit: That doesn’t mean they’re not great when spiked with booze, though. Combine one part drinking vinegar with two parts of a spirit like gin, whiskey, or vodka in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake, strain, and sip.
  • Add it to anything you’re roasting: A smart idea from Audra Lawlor, owner of Girl Meets Dirt: “I’m partial to drizzling them, along with olive oil and salt and pepper, on any vegetables I’m roasting. Same goes for roasting fish and meat — just a drizzle!”
  • Make a vinaigrette: Swap it in for half the vinegar called for in a basic vinaigrette to lend a touch of sweetness while still keeping it tangy.
  • Turn it into a marinade: Combine equal parts drinking vinegar and olive oil for a unique marinade for chicken, pork, salmon, and shrimp. You can toss some herbs like rosemary or thyme in, too, if you have them around.
  • Drizzle it on desserts: Make an instant dinner party-worthy dessert by drizzling vanilla ice cream, poundcake, or fresh fruit (or all three!) with your favorite shrub.

Your turn: What’s your favorite underrated ingredient in your pantry? What do you reach for when you want to elevate your cooking quickly and easily? Tell us in the comments below! We may give it the star treatment in an upcoming edition of Taste Makers.