Long before the invention of sugary sodas, energy drinks, and vitamin water, there was switchel.
An old-timey beverage to be sure, switchel is many things – thirst-quenching, refreshing, energizing, healthful – and it has recently regained some of the limelight it once enjoyed, thanks to both hipsters and health enthusiasts alike.
While it is believed to have originated in the hot tropics of the Caribbean, switchel was a popular refreshment in the American colonies (particularly New England) in the 17th century.
Drank by sailors, laborers, politicians, and university students (who had a habit of spiking it with rum), switchel was a beverage for everyone regardless of social or economic status.
And it’s easy to see why.
Switchel is a concoction that is perfect for combatting long days in sweltering heat, allowing imbibers to keep cool and stay hydrated. In fact, farmers working the fields would often guzzle it by the jug, giving it its other name, haymaker’s punch.
Easy to make, switchel contains just four basic ingredients: water, vinegar, sweetener, and ginger.
It was a popular alternative to ice water, which was very difficult to obtain before the age of ice boxes and freezers, and physicians of the era warned against drinking it because they believed cold drinks on hot days would cause indigestion.
Although it was originally made with vinegar, water, and either molasses, honey, or maple syrup as a sweetener, eventually ginger was added to the mix to prevent bloating, allowing people to drink it all day long without worrying about upsetting their stomachs.
But what does it taste like?
Though on paper the combination may seem strange, switchel strikes a nice balance between tartness (apple cider vinegar), sweetness (maple syrup), and spiciness (ginger).
The Benefits of Drinking Switchel:
Those early American settlers were certainly on to something when they discovered switchel.
They may not have known then just why this beverage was so revitalizing, but today we have the benefit of a deeper understanding of human biology and the restorative power of plant compounds.
1. It Restores Electrolytes
Electrolytes are minerals present in bodily fluids, like blood and urine, that carry an electrical charge.
We need these positively or negatively charged ions in our bodies – they transmit the voltage needed for many physiological functions such as muscle contractions and nerve signalling.
We lose electrolytes anytime we exercise, sweat, or go to the bathroom. Most commonly, electrolyte imbalance occurs during times of dehydration – when we lose fluids through rigorous physical activity or when we get the flu.
The telltale signs of an electrolyte imbalance include muscle aches, anxiety, headaches, heart palpitations, stomach cramps, joint pain, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and dizziness.
But electrolytes can be quickly replenished by consuming things that contain electrically-charged minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, and chloride.
Because switchel is made with apple cider vinegar – a rich source of potassium – and pure maple syrup (which also contains potassium, as well as calcium, magnesium, and sodium), it’s an all-natural alternative to sugary sports drinks that will help maintain a good electrolyte balance in the body.
2. It Helps Ease Pain & Inflammation
It’s no wonder that farmers toiling all day turned to switchel as their refreshment of choice: it combats pain and inflammation, allowing them to work just as hard the following day.
And indeed, switchel is a wonderful post-workout tonic.
The key ingredient here is the presence of ginger, which not only suppresses pro-inflammatory enzymes associated with the aches and pains that often accompany intense exercise, it can also help with other expressions of inflammation like acne, arthritis, eczema, depression, and the physical signs of aging.
Gingerol – the active constituent of ginger – is an effective pain-reliever too, which works just as well as over-the-counter medications used to alleviate pain, but without any adverse side effects.
3. Get Your Daily Dose of Apple Cider Vinegar
In addition to replenishing electrolytes, there’s a lot of good reasons to imbibe apple cider vinegar!
It helps balance the body’s pH levels, keeps blood sugar levels balanced, aids in digestion by fostering the growth of healthy gut bacteria, protects the heart, and promotes healthy weight loss.
While taking one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with one cup of water may not be the most alluring beverage on the planet, switchel offers a tasty way to get your ACV fix.
Want to learn how to make your own supply of apple cider vinegar? You can read our tutorial here.
4. Enjoy the Healthful Effects of Ginger
Unless you are already consuming an ample amount of ginger in your diet, you really don’t want to miss out on the amazing benefits of eating (or in this case, drinking) ginger.
Among ginger’s myriad benefits, it has been shown to help lower cholesterol, improve blood circulation, reduce blood sugar levels, and ease the symptoms of indigestion such as heart burn, bloating, and nausea.
Since gingerol has antioxidant properties, it can help give the brain a boost by improving mental processing, working memory, attention span, and reaction time.
5. The Hidden Wonders of Pure Maple Syrup
Although switchel can be sweetened with raw honey, the time-honored way to make it is with pure maple syrup.
Like other natural sweeteners, real maple syrup is a much healthier alternative to artificial and refined sugars.
As the only product in our diet that comes from tree sap, maple syrup is quite nutritious, containing a goodly amount of calcium, manganese, riboflavin, zinc, and potassium.
And because maple syrup is a plant-based sweetener, it also carries the advantage of a slew of antioxidants – 63 different types of free radical scavengers in fact, spanning gallic acid, catechins, and quercetin.
How To Make Traditional Switchel:
While there are several drink-manufacturers that have jumped on the switchel bandwagon (replete with extras like cherry and blueberry flavorings), it’s really easy to make your own switchel at home with these all-natural ingredients:
To make, grate ginger root (or pass it through a juicer) until you have about half of a cup. Combine ginger, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, and water in a large container, and stir until the maple syrup has completely dissolved.
If you grated your ginger, the bits will sink to the bottom of the container and this is perfectly fine.
Pour over ice for immediate enjoyment or place the jug in the fridge and let it steep for 24 hours, stirring again before serving.
Add a modern twist by including mint leaves and a tablespoon of fresh lemon or lime juice.