Most people these days reach for a sports drink or “smart” water after a good workout or an afternoon of yard work. But there was a time when the thirst-quenching beverage of choice was a drink called switchel or switzel. It’s a blend of water, maple syrup or molasses, ginger and cider vinegar.
The origins of the drink are fuzzy. Some sources say it was brought to the colonies from the West Indies. Others credit it to Amish communities, who still serve it. It may also be related to a 15th century vinegar-based drink called oxymel. The medicinal mixture of water, honey and vinegar dates back to Hippocrates. These vinegar-based drinks essentially served the same purpose as lemonade at a time when neither clean drinking water nor fresh lemons were easy to come by.
There was also another good reason for it. It functioned much like modern Gatorade. It contained water, a sweetener—either molasses, maple syrup, honey or brown sugar—ginger, and cider vinegar. All the ingredients (except water) happen to be sources of potassium—an electrolyte which needs to be replaced after hard exercise.
1/2 cup chopped ginger
4 tablespoons maple syrup
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, preferably organic
3 cups water
1/4 cup lemon juice (optional)
Sparkling water if desired
Combine ginger, maple syrup, vinegar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then remove from heat and add lemon juice if using. Refrigerate covered overnight.
To serve: Strain into glasses filled with ice adding sparkling water if desired to your taste.