What the Heck is Switchel?

Before the days of soda and sports drinks, people reached for switchel to quench their thirst out in the fields. And, if you have ever suffered from dehydration, you know that is the last thing you will ever want to deal with again. Sports drinks that provide electrolytes and/or probiotics to help fight the effects of dehydration, typically contain a huge amount of added sugars, dyes and chemicals.

Switchel is a homemade, fermented beverage providing electrolytes and probiotics, allowing you total control over the quality and quantity of the ingredients you use, that is wonderfully refreshing, delicious & beautiful, too!

You don’t have to ferment switchel before you consume it, however, the fermented version will have more electrolytes and probiotics, which is better for you overall in the long run. Switchel is adaptable to bright, fresh flavors and fruits that are in season!

Is Switchel Good For You?

Although it tastes something like a tart soda, switchel is much better for you than any bottled soft drink. Each ingredient (except for the water) is high in potassium – especially molasses. And, because potassium is an electrolyte.

On top of the electrolytes, each ingredient also comes with vitamins, minerals, and natural sugars, making switchel a much better option than a bottle of pop or a sports drink.

A Brief History

Historians don’t agree on where switchel originally came from. Many say that the Amish brought it with them to the United States and others believe that switchel originated in China or the Caribbean.

It became popular throughout the 1700s and into the early 1900s in the American colonies and has historically been used by field workers to quench their thirst. People referred to it as “haymaker’s punch” because there were few things more refreshing when you were hard at work tending your fields.

Even though this traditional beverage still lives on in today’s Amish communities, switchel is something that few people have heard of. I, for one, am so relieved this nearly forgotten beverage is making a comeback!

No matter where its origins lie, all switchel recipes have a few common ingredients: water, apple cider vinegar, ginger, and a sweetener. Back in the day, switchel was sweetened with molasses, but throughout history, maple syrup, honey, and brown sugar have also been used.

But why the vinegar? Some historians suppose that the vinegar serves as a substitute for alcohol since vinegar is essentially wine that has gone bad. It could also be that switchel was a substitute for lemonade, but since the colonial New Englanders that popularized this drink didn’t have lemons, they used vinegar instead, for tartness.

Although we aren’t sure where switchel came from, we do know that colonial farmers believed that drinking hot drinks while working in the Sun was good for you, helping you keep a balanced body temperature in relation to the heat outside. The problem was that no one actually wanted to drink a hot beverage on a hot day. For that reason, alcohol was a popular beverage because it created the same “heat” sensation as it went down. Similarly, the ginger in switchel causes a mild feeling of warmth when consumed, and that made this drink popular among farmers tending their fields under the scorching sun.

How to Make Switchel

All switchel recipes contain apple cider vinegar and ginger, either fresh or dried. After that, you have choices! Use plain water or add some fizz with sparkling water. And, no matter which sweetener you choose – molasses, maple syrup, honey or brown sugar – you can tweak the amounts depending on whether you like your switchel tangy or mild.

Strawberry-Basil Switchel

  • 6 cups filtered water (you can also use portions of water, sparkling water or coconut water!)
  • 12 ounces strawberries fresh or frozen (and defrosted), about 2 cups
  • 1 cup fresh basil loosely packed
  • ¼ cup Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar with the mother, raw, unfiltered
  • ¼ cup maple syrup or raw honey or molasses
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh ginger minced, or ½ teaspoon dried ginger


  • Place 4 cups water in the blender. Add the strawberries, ginger and sweetener of choice.
  • Blend on low speed for 10 seconds. Then increase to medium for 15 seconds.
  • Pour the contents of the blender into a ½ gallon mason jar. Add the apple cider vinegar, fresh basil and remaining 2 cups water. Stir to mix. (If there is too much water, just keep the liquid level in the jar about 1 inch from the top.) Screw on lid.
  • Leave the ferment out at room temperature (covered with a tea towel) for 24 hours. Then refrigerate overnight. Switchel will only get stronger and the flavors more distinct as it refrigerates. May be refrigerated up to a week.
  • Note: Switchel does not need to be left out overnight. I like to do this step to increase the probiotics. You can actually serve it immediately, or simply chill and serve. 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. Try it and see what you think!
  • You can add more sweetener if you prefer, but try drinking it according to the recipe before adding too much extra sugar. You’ll be amazed how quickly your tastebuds and body will respond to the lesser amounts of sugar.

Servings: Makes 8 cups


Calories: 36kcal | Carbohydrates: 9g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 10mg | Potassium: 102mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 163IU | Vitamin C: 26mg | Calcium: 24mg | Iron: 1mg

The blog post contains information from The Farmer’s Almanac and Eat Beautiful