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Switchel is a fermented, thirst-quenching beverage– that’s actually fast and easy and …rewarding and …encouraging to make! …And your kids, if you have any, will say, “Can I have more of that?” Apple cider vinegar is the magic ingredient. It actually contains probiotics and inoculates this simple ferment. No work. Just a blender (or shake it to combine). And lovely spring ingredients: strawberries and basil!
In spring. I *love* fresh herbs.
My kids LOVE strawberries.
Herbs help us to detoxify. So do berries! This probiotic beverage is full of minerals and electrolytes; and it also helps our bodies to cleanse themselves, which is what our bodies are designed to do each spring!
This lovely beverage is sweetened with maple syrup, but you can make it GAPS Diet-friendly by using honey instead, if you prefer. It also contains that super-food, ginger…!
Also…the apple cider vinegar in this drink helps to give our stomachs the right ph for digestion. So this is a great drink for supporting digestion, before meals, between meals, during or after meals.
Speaking of after meals, if you’re someone who has a hard time feeling satiated with meals, this is a great “dessert” drink. It helps with satiety, as many fermented foods do, leaving you fuller and satisfied, while also aiding in digestion.
Switchel: A Brief History
It’s fun to say, Switchel! (Added bonus.)
How long have humans said, Switchel?!
Perhaps switchel originated in the Caribbean; others say China. There is also a reference in the Bible to Ruth sharing a vinegar-based drink while working in the fields of Boaz– so Israel.
Many say that the Amish brought it with them to the American continent. It became popular in the States in the 1600s, in Vermont and amidst the American colonies. I was first introduced to this thirst-quenching drink while reading The Long Winter (one of my favorites) by Laura Ingalls Wilder to our two oldest kids, now teenagers. Laura said the ginger in the sweet vinegar water helped Pa’s body to assimilate the hydration better, so he could gulp down the water without getting a belly ache. Ma knew this, and to Pa it was a treat.
While most broadly switchel has historically, across many countries, been used by field workers to cool off, we also see it was consumed by the first American east coast college students, with alcohol added in– and conversely, by families, as a wonderful alternative to alcoholic beverages! Wow, such a diverse appeal!
Switchel: What’s It Taste Like?
You do taste the mild vinegar flavor, kind of like with kombucha, but less sweet. You taste the basil and strawberry strongly. The ginger comes through, too, but not as strongly as the strawberry and basil.
If you like alcohol, it would go well with a shot of something in it (like tequila…or having likely originated in the Caribbean–rum or whiskey).
It has that same restful quality that you want from a before or an after-dinner drink.
It’s also pretty cute to see my 8-year-old sipping on it and savoring it. Again, like kombucha, it’s got a lot of different nuances, and it feels like an experience to have a glass.
While sipping it is fitting, if you’ve been exerting yourself in the sun, then by all means it’s a drink that can also be gulped!
It’s not super sweet, so if you prefer– add a few drops of liquid stevia, to taste, to the finished product (or you can add fresh or dried stevia at the beginning of the recipe, with the fresh basil).
My kids and husband like it as is. When asked if it was sweet enough, they all said yes; it was just so good. So I don’t add any stevia personally.
Everyone is so pleased with the drink. They fight over the last bit in the jar…
How long to ferment?
The first option is to drink the electrolyte beverage immediately. There won’t be as many probiotics, but it will be a little bit sweeter, and delicious.
The second option is the leave the beverage out on the counter overnight, during which time the basil steeps into the liquid and the probiotics increase. You can leave this switchel on the counter for 24 hours.
Or thirdly, some folks refrigerate theirs immediately, and that works fine, too, but the probiotics won’t increase as much.
I leave mine out for 24 hours and then refrigerate it overnight, or for up to a week, for the best of both worlds. Refrigerating not only chills the liquid, but also intensifies the flavors.
Like many historic beverages there is no right answer. All of the different versions of switchel reflect the ways it’s evolved from one home to another, across country and state lines. The main thing is to have fun with it. Most ferments have more rules than switchel. Be poetic and drink it when the muse leads you.
Have you made or enjoyed switchel before? I’d love to hear!