“Why the heck would I want to drink vinegar?” you ask.
“Because when you steep it with herbs, honey, and fresh ginger it’s super delish!” I answer.
“Oh, and it’s good for your gut, packed with electrolytes, and makes for a not-boring, non-alcoholic refresher for the non-drinkers in your life,” I add.
A switchel falls in the same “drinking vinegar” category as the trendy shrub. The switchel and shrub share similar ingredients—vinegar, sweetener, and fruits/herbs. The difference is that a switchel is steeped kind of like tea and it’s key flavor component is fresh grated ginger.
The switchel is thought to have originated in the Caribbean, where it likely contained molasses as the sweetener. It’s what a Caribbean granny would make for a tummy ache or other ailment. It’s also what a farmer would use to stay hydrated out in the field when he didn’t have access to fresh water—“the original Gatorade” is how I heard one person describe it. To this day, a switchel is sipped with crushed iced and a splash of rum in a cocktail known as the swizzle.
I find switchels to be more thirst-quenching, less sweet, and less acidic than shrubs. That’s probably because a switchel recipe calls for water to cut the vinegar, as well as spicy fresh ginger to balance both the sweetness and the acidity.
Why this recipe works with tea: The beauty of a switchel is you can add fresh or dried fruit and herbs to create your own flavor profile. In this case, I’m swapping plain water for a strong-brewed herbal tea to enhance my switchel’s flavor base.
A tea-infused switchel works best with herbal teas, or tisanes, which contain no actual tea leaves. The tea needs to steep for quite a while in this recipe, so using an herbal blend ensures you won’t end up with the astringency or bitterness you can get from over steeping true tea leaves.
I used organic, hand-blended herbal teas from Vana Tisanes to make my tea-infused switchels. Vana’s blends are beautiful to behold and even more gorgeous to sip.
Vana Tisanes are all made with a health function in mind. Like Inflame with basil leaf and turmeric; Energy with eleuthero root and yerba mate leaf; and Happy with lavender flower and kava kava root. All three flavors paired well with this ginger drinking vinegar recipe, each offering a slightly different flavor experience and bonus wellness benefit.
While you could easily experiment with the switchel as a cocktail mixer, my favorite use has been to sip it in a glass full of ice with half switchel and half seltzer water. Garnished with any fresh herbs or citrus you have on hand, it’s like sipping a sophisticated ginger-lemonade.
Trust me on this drinking vinegar thing. It really is super delish!
Happy cooking & sipping!
P.S. Thanks so much to Vana Tisanes for sending me samples of their herbal tea blends to play around with in my Tea Foodie kitchen.
Ginger-Herb Drinking Vinegar (aka Switchel)
Makes about 3 cups
Adapted by Suzanne Klein, Tea Foodie, from the Traditional Switchel Recipe on the Rural Sprout blog.
2 cups water
2 tablespoons loose leaf tisane or herbal tea (I used Vana Tisanes)
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/3 cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar (like Bragg)
1/4 cup raw honey or maple syrup
Juice of 1 lemon
1. Bring water to a boil and pour over tisane in a glass measuring cup. Let steep for 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile add ginger, apple cider vinegar, honey, and lemon juice to a quart-size jar.
3. Strain the still-warm, steeped tisane into jar with other ingredients. Seal jar and shake vigorously until honey dissolves. Loosen jar lid slightly and let sit on counter for 24 to 36 hours, giving it a shake every once in awhile.
4. Give jar a final shake then strain into a clean container. Rinse out any ginger bits still in the jar and pour strained mixture back in the jar. Seal and refrigerate.
5. To serve, fill a glass with ice and add half switchel and half seltzer water. Garnish with citrus or herbs of your choice.