Switchel: The Benefits of This Fermented Energy Drink

Switchel
Cathy Wong

In the aisles of your nearest natural foods store—or at the counter of your favorite café—you may have noticed a newly popular drink known as switchel. Often referred to as "nature's Gatorade," switchel is a sweet-tart mixture of apple cider vinegar, water, ginger, and honey or maple syrup (or, in some cases, molasses). Lemon and spices like turmeric are sometimes added.

Although sipping switchel has only recently become trendy, this slightly acidic beverage has a long history of use as an all-natural thirst-quencher. In fact, switchel was the drink of choice for colonial farmers looking to rehydrate while haying the fields, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac. For that reason, switchel is sometimes known as “Haymaker’s Punch.”

What Are the Benefits of Switchel?

Aficionados often tout switchel as a long-lasting energy-booster and caffeine-free alternative to coffee or energy drinks. It’s also marketed as a top source of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes.

What’s more, switchel is said to offer scores of benefits, such as a stronger immune system and healthier digestion. It’s also purported to help with specific health troubles, such as heartburn. And because certain compounds found in ginger possess anti-inflammatory properties, switchel is sometimes claimed to help curb chronic inflammation (a key factor in the development of many illnesses).

Some proponents of switchel suggest that it can help speed up your metabolism and support weight loss as well.

Research on Switchel: Can It Really Help?

Many fans of switchel state that the drink’s potent blend of natural substances creates a “synergistic effect” and, in turn, makes the mixture more powerful than any of the ingredients on its own. However, due to a lack of research on switchel and its health effects, there’s no evidence to support this claim.

Still, some research shows that the individual ingredients in switchel may be beneficial to your health. For example, some studies have shown that ginger may help soothe the inflammation and pain associated with issues such as osteoarthritis. Ginger may also provide relief of nausea-related conditions.

In addition, preliminary research suggests that consuming vinegar may help regulate blood sugar levels. For a report published in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice in 2017, for instance, researchers analyzed previously published studies on the effect of vinegar consumption with meals and found that vinegar intake could be effective in reducing the glucose and insulin responses after meals.

While these preliminary findings suggest that the ingredients in switchel recipes may offer certain benefits, more research is needed. The small amounts of these individual ingredients in switchel are unlikely to be effective at preventing or treating any condition. It's important to note that switchel shouldn't be used as a substitute for standard care in the treatment of any health condition.

How to Make Switchel

Switchel is now sold in many stores, but you can make your own by combining four teaspoons of apple cider vinegar, a teaspoon of grated or minced fresh ginger (or 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger), four cups of filtered water, and honey or maple syrup to taste (if you like it sweetened, try adding four teaspoons of honey or maple syrup to this mixture).

Mix the ingredients in a pitcher or jug, let it sit for 12 to 24 hours in the fridge, and stir well before serving. If you are using fresh ginger, you can strain it before serving. (Note: this recipe yields four glasses of switchel.)

To infuse your switchel with even more flavor, try squeezing in some lemon juice, adding a sprig of mint, or dropping in a few fresh berries. Some switchel lovers also enjoy adding a pinch of powdered spices, such as cardamom, cinnamon, or turmeric.

If you use turmeric, try adding a pinch of black pepper. Black pepper has been found to increase the bioavailability of curcumin, the active component in turmeric.

What to Watch Out For

While most people can drink the occasional glass of switchel, keep in mind that it the vinegar in the drink is acidic, so consuming it regularly may erode tooth enamel over time. Rinsing your mouth after drinking it may help remove some of the acids, but brushing your teeth too soon after consuming acids may weaken tooth enamel.

You can read about other common mistakes to avoid when using apple cider vinegar.

Avoid consuming excessive amounts of apple cider vinegar, as there is evidence that it may harm the esophagus (or other parts of the digestive tract), lead to low blood potassium levels and low bone mineral density, or interact with heart medications, diabetes medications, laxatives, or diuretics.

Should You Drink Switchel?

Switchel is just one of many natural beverages that may help enhance your wellbeing. Other drinks with possibly wellness-boosting properties include the fermented drinks kombucha, kefir, and various types of tea (such as green tea and ginger tea).

If you’re thinking of adding switchel to your routine, just make sure to monitor your sugar intake. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 24 grams of added sugar daily and that men limit their sugar intake to 36 grams per day. When made with one tablespoon of maple syrup per serving, switchel contains 14 grams of sugar.

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