Over 200 years ago, switchel was widely craved by thirsty farmers. Today, it’s loved for its natural, beneficial ingredients.
Switchel, also called Haymakers Punch, is a refreshing drink that originated in the Caribbean. It is a tasty, slightly effervescent beverage made of water mixed with vinegar, sweetened with molasses and sometimes lightly flavored with ginger. Honey, brown sugar or maple syrup are also used in various locally adapted versions.
Switchel made its way from the islands to the American colonies, becoming a popular summertime drink by the late 1600s. Gradually over the next 200 years, “switchy” became the traditional drink of choice to serve to thirsty farmers harvesting hay, hence other popular names like “Haymakers Punch.”
Vermont has a variation called Haymakers Oat Water that uses oats and molasses. While I’ve never been fond of that particular adaptation, switchel uses (raw) vinegar instead of juice and requires no starter, making it super simple for first time home brewers.
You most likely have all the ingredients you need to whip up a batch of switchel right now in your pantry.
You won’t believe how thirst quenching and healthy switchel is. No wonder it was the preferred beverage for centuries of those working hard in the summertime heat on a farm.
Be sure that the apple cider vinegar you use to make switchel is raw and packaged in glass bottles. ACV is like kombucha – it is acidic and has the potential to leech toxins from a plastic container.
Some of these statements could be considered a bit exaggerated, but folklore and marketing tactics aside, a quick run-down of the ingredient list churns up some intriguing evidence-based benefits:
Apple Cider Vinegar: fermented food with healthy protein enzymes; digestive aid; shown to increase satiety; helps increase muscle endurance and recovery.
Ginger: anti-inflammatory properties; broad spectrum anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral; blood sugar regulator; powerful antioxidant capacity; gastrointestinal soother.
Raw honey: full of antioxidants; known anti-bacterial benefits; high in minerals and beneficial phytonutrients; provides key enzymes for immunity and digestion.
Blackstrap molasses: Provides iron for energy. Eases joint pain caused by arthritis. Provides calcium for healthy bones and teeth and treats constipation.
Maple syrup: Provides potassium-rich electrolytes, particularly potassium, that are replenished when working out hard, making it an excellent alternative to sugary drinks like Gatorade
Traditional Switchel Recipe
(Makes about 1/2 gallon)
2 quarts filtered water
1/2 cup raw apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup raw honey or maple syrup
1 tablespoon of molasses
2 teaspoons ginger powder or 2.5 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
Place all ingredients together in a large bowl and mix very well. You can add ice and drink the switchel immediately at this point if you like.
Source: Sarah “The Healthy Home Economists.”
Robert James Hawk II is County Extension Director, Jackson and Swain County Extension Center.