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Why healthy hipsters love this gut-friendly fermented drink


switchelPut down the kombucha (at least for a minute). There’s a new trendy fermented beverage on the wellness scene, and it’s called switchel.

A year ago the unlikely hipster magazine Modern Farmer broke the story with a headline that was something of a dare: “Are You Cool Enough to Drink Switchel?” And since, switchel’s only grown in popularity, with bottles of the apple cider vinegar-based beverage turning up all over Brooklyn (particularly certain neighborhoods known for fedoras and ironic facial hair).

It also has many DIY devotees for those who want to whip it up at home. (We’ve got a simple recipe below in case you’re game.)

So what’s switchel? Here’s the 411 on the gut-friendly fermented beverage that’s encroaching on kombucha’s limelight and fridge space.

What is switchel and where does it come from?

Makers of switchel trace the beverage’s origins to places as far-flung as the Caribbean and China, but Bushwick-based (of course) founders of the best-known Brooklyn brand, Up Mountain Switchel, say their recipe stems from 18th-century Vermont.

While there are variations on this theme, switchel, which was also known as haymaker’s punch, basically consists of water, ginger, apple cider vinegar, and a sweetener like molasses or brown sugar. Given the Vermont angle, Up Mountain uses maple syrup.

How does it taste?

The taste is definitely sweet (maple syrup is the second ingredient listed, after water)—it’s a bit like ginger beer, with with a subtle, tart, lighter-than-air aftertaste, thanks to the apple cider vinegar. (If kombucha’s funky, earthy brew puts you off, you may find switchel more drinkable.)

Up Mountain’s website explains that switchel is an “American Heritage Beverage”—that sounds wholesome, right?—that was consumed by farmers after days of hard field work in summer heat. Now the “root, fruit, and sap” concoction can be sipped straight, served over ice, warmed up like a tea, or mixed with an adult beverage. (Hello, healthy holiday cocktail mixer?)

So is switchel good for you?

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Its ingredients bring a host of health benefits: apple cider vinegar is one of the darlings the wellness world, credited with everything from balancing pH levels to improving digestion to beautifying skin; maple syrup contains manganese, zinc, and calcium; and ginger is renowned for its digestion-soothing and brain-boosting power.

Up Mountain co-founder Garrett Riffle says ginger is one of the strongest and most effective natural anti-inflammatories on the planet. “It’s great for anything from joint pain or menstrual cramps to headaches. Ginger is also a great analgesic for nausea and sore throats, and it supports digestion.”

Is there a downside?

Where switchel runs into trouble is with its sweeteners. A 12-ounce bottle of Up Mountain Switchel contains 19 grams of sugar. (And, no, your body doesn’t really care if it’s maple syrup or cane sugar.) That may have been okay for hardworking 18th-century farmhands, but for most of us living 21st-century lives, that’s a lot of sugar.

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Lauren Slayton, MS, a registered dietitian and founder of Foodtrainers, has mixed feelings about that. “I was intrigued by switchel as we’re [apple cider vinegar] swiggers at Foodtrainers,” she says. “But while I like the ingredients in switchel, the bottles we’ve come across have been too sweet for straight sipping.”

By comparison, a 16-ounce bottle of Synergy Gingerade Kombucha has 4 grams of sugar, and Bragg sells a Stevia-sweetened apple cider vinegar drink with no sugar.

Instead, Slayton likes to think of switchel as something you do as a shot. Even in the happy hour sense. Switchel is “far superior to many of the nasty things cocktails are mixed with….so an ounce of switchel with vodka and seltzer is Foodtrainers-approved.”

You can also make your own lower-sugar version (see the recipe below from Slayton)—and sip it with a bit more abandon. —Ann Abel

Foodtrainers’ Secret Weapon Sipper

1 Tbsp organic apple cider vinegar (should be cloudy)
¼ tsp Wakaya ginger
Squeeze of lemon
8–12 oz. water (hot or cold)
Optional: Stevia or tiny bit of maple syrup or Manuka honey

For more information, visit drinkswitchel.com 

More Reading: 4 delicious ways to drink to your (gut) health

(Photos: Instagram/upmountainswitchel)