If you're a frequent visitor to your local farmers market or the neighborhood hipster hangout, chances are you've seen a new drink on the scene: switchel. Advocates of the beverage swear by its good-for-you ingredients and applaud it as a healthy drink that actually tastes as good as it feels.
Switchel is a mix of apple cider vinegar, water or seltzer, maple syrup, and ginger root, so it boasts some major health benefits. Beyond an impressive ability to quench even the most serious of thirsts, the different ingredients work together to make this drink a one-stop shop for health: The ginger ramps up the anti-inflammatory power, the high acetic acid content of apple cider vinegar means that your body may absorb vitamins and minerals more readily, and the vinegar plus maple syrup combo may help stabilize your blood sugar. But before you start pouring, it's important to note the sugar content—despite it's pleasantly tart taste, the drink's use of maple syrup can mean sugar levels skyrocket if you aren't careful in monitoring how much of it you're putting in the batch or how much of the pre-made blends you're consuming.
Chef Franklin Becker of The Little Beet in New York City recently added two different types of switchel to his menu. "From a culinary standpoint, it's exciting—mildy sweet, acidic, and thirst-quenching," he says. "From a health perspective, all the ingredients tied together boost the immune system and provide you with electrolytes necessary for an active lifestyle, like the original Gatorade." (With news that Energy Drinks Could Tank Your Heart Health, there's even more reasons to steer clear of those manufactured alternatives.)
While switchel once was a staple in the colonial farmer's diet, the store-bought variety now enjoys a place on the shelves of stores like Whole Foods and specialty markets. It's also easy to make on your own if you're feeling up to DIY.
As a coffee addict always looking for ways to rely on two cups a day instead of four, I was intrigued by switchel's street cred as a healthy caffeine alternative. With that in mind, I decided to drink switchel every day for a week. The methodology was simple: I would test both a homemade and a store-bought version, nix the usual cold brew, and track my energy levels throughout each day.
For the homemade version, I snagged a recipe from the ever-reliable Bon Appetit. It stays pretty true to the drink's simple roots, using predominantly fresh ginger, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, and your choice of water or club soda. To add a bit of brightness, they suggest adding lemon or lime juice and mint sprigs. As you can imagine, every ingredient was easy to find at the grocery store. While prep wasn't exactly labor-intensive, having to juice the ginger did take a bit of time. I made one batch with regular water and another with its bubbly friend, club soda, for the sake of research. I left both pitchers in the fridge overnight to make sure they were thoroughly chilled (warm maple syrup sounds better on pancakes than it does in a tepid drink...).
When it came time for the first taste test the next morning, I immediately noticed the awesome smell emanating from the fridge—if the scents of fall and spring had a child, this would be it. I poured a bit of each over ice and added some fresh mint to be extra fancy. If I could only use one word to describe the drink, it would be refreshing. But for the sake of journalism, I have a few more words to spare: The ginger generates a serious zing that balances out the sweetness of the maple syrup, and the apple cider vinegar brings a little zap of tartness to the mix. All together, you get a flavor-filled gulp of deliciousness. While I enjoyed the water-based sips, the use of club soda made it all go down a bit smoother for me and enhanced its value as a stomach-settling aid (plus, it would pair great with some bourbon or whiskey for a seasonal cocktail!).
While drinking switchel in the morning was no replacement for my daily cup o' joe, it felt a bit like a jumpstart to my system in the morning, revving up my metabolism and body for the day. The boost didn't last as long as my favorite coffee concoction, but it caused less shakiness and allowed me to focus more than usual after a comparable single cup.
I wondered if the store-bought options were comparable. I had done some research and came across a brand called CideRoad Switchel. Their recipe attracted me because they added a "proprietary riff" to the traditional tonic—a dash of cane syrup and blueberry or cherry juice if you wanted an extra flavor element.
I loved their flavored versions. The addition of fruit juice lowered the acidity of the drink slightly, so that it tasted even more like a Gatorade. While the original was definitely enjoyable, once I tried the fruit-infusions, I kept craving that extra jolt of fruity goodness and would drink them in the late afternoon for a little pick-me-up. It was fantastic—the taste kept my mind from wandering to that 3 p.m. snack and the electrolytes gave me some energy without the jitters that sometimes comes with late afternoon caffeine. (But if you do have to snack, try one of these 5 Office-Friendly Snacks That Banish the Afternoon Slump.) That said, I recommend only drinking half of a bottle at any one time. The whole thing contains 34 grams of sugar total and trust me when I say that cutting yourself off at half is nothing close to deprivation.
At the end of my week of switchel, I started to understand the craze. While it may not be something that I incorporate into my everyday routine, this drink with a wacky name certainly holds tremendous appeal as a fun way to turbocharge your energy levels and feel good while doing it. Next time you find yourself in the grocery store drink aisle, ditch the Gatorade and go for the makings of this all natural option instead.