“Switchel” sounds more like one of those ridiculous left turns in Jersey than it does a beverage—let alone an appetizing one. But then again, neither does “kombucha tea,” the incredibly popular fermented fungus/bacteria hybrid that people (like me) can’t seem to get enough of.
Compared with the bubbly alternatives (looking at you, Big Soda), kombucha tea is a pretty impressive contender. It’s loaded with B vitamins, which is a bonus for vegans, and it’s naturally fermented, which helps keep those gut bacteria colonies from turning against you. At a fraction of the sugars of most sodas, kombucha satisfies that craving for something slightly sweet and full of effervescence (at more than double the price of soda, though).
It's the holy grail of natural food stores' refrigerated shelf-space, and for the DIY-er, it's way easier than making beer, jams or pickles at home. Plus, we get to call it "the 'booch" and burp like Homer Simpson in front of all the wrong people as we suck down the snotty bits of "the mother" fungus trolling at the bottom of the bottle like a hungry catfish. We're a hipster Whole Paycheck nation completely hooked on the most unlikely beverage choice ever, sucking down $4 bottles day in and day out... so why on earth would we ever look toward another drink trend?
Perhaps it’s because switchel is pretty darn healthy and delicious - and even easier to make than fermenting your basement batch 'booch. Or, maybe it’s that it’s a drink that’s been enjoyed for centuries, if not longer, likely by our own grandparents. So what is it, exactly? According to Modern Farmer, it’s generally “water, ginger, cider vinegar, and some kind of sweetener, like molasses or brown sugar.” Some folks making switchel, also called haymaker’s punch, use maple syrup now because that's what you do when you live in Vermont and make small batch things.
The brew is actually a super potent hydrator, and if you think drinking apple cider vinegar is a little bit like chugging down a side of vinaigrette, it’s actually a lot more like drinking kombucha, just without the bubbles. You get that tart tang offset by the sweetness and the burst of spice from ginger and you're likely to forget there's straight vinegar in there too. Besides, apple cider vinegar is a great energy enhancer and has scores of other benefits that make it a worthy addition to your regular diet anyway.
Switchel “played an important role in early American culture and was even immortalized in the work of Herman Melville (‘I will give a traveler a cup of switchel, if he want it; but am I bound to supply him with a sweet taste?’),” Modern Farmer explains. And now, it’s getting a hipster revival, with producers cropping up making small batch craft switchel available in (where else?) Whole Foods Markets and small specialty retailers. But you can also make it yourself, and you absolutely should. Even if you're sucking down a kombucha tea while you brew up your switchel.
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 teaspoons molasses
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 cup water
*optional: garnish with fresh mint, lavender or berries
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and mix well before serving.
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