They all have vinegar in common but what is the difference between a Shrub, Oxymel and Switchel? Find out in this essential guide to drinking vinegars.
Drinking vinegars have long purported to have health benefits. A teaspoon a day is said to help cure many ailments from improving digestion to lowering cholesterol.
Health benefits aside, their sweet-tart flavour lends itself to a variety of cocktails whether it a riff on popular classics or as thirst quenching non-alcoholic drinks.
What is a Shrub
Shrubs hark back to an old method of preserving fruit before refrigeration became available. The name is derived from the Arabic word sharāb meaning drink or syrup and their use became popular in cocktails in the nineteenth century.
The drinking vinegar is made from vinegar, sugar and fruit (sometimes vegetables) often married with an aromatic element. It’s a sustainable way of preserving excess fruit if you’re growing an edible garden. An example would be Strawberry and Cardamom Shrub made with strawberries, castor sugar, red wine vinegar and cardamom pods.
What is Oxymel
Oxymel (oxy means “acid” and mel is “honey) has its origins in medicine and was believed to be a cure-all tonic used by the ancient Greeks and Romans. It consists of vinegar and honey infused with herbs. While it shares some similarities with shrubs, oxymel is specifically made with raw honey, vinegar and herbs. An example would be Thyme Oxymel made with raw apple cider vinegar, raw honey and sprigs of fresh thyme.
Here’s a primer on Oxymel and how to use it in cocktails.
What is Switchel
Switchel goes by many names including Haymaker’s Punch and Ginger Water. The fermented drink originated in the Caribbean and consists of vinegar, water, a natural sweetener and a flavouring.
There are many ways to make the sweet-sour-spice drink. An example would be to use raw apple cider vinegar with raw honey, filtered water, ginger root and fresh lemon juice.
Difference Between Shrub, Oxymel and Switchel
In summary, while a shrub, oxymel and switchel share similarities, shrubs tend to be fruit/vegetable driven with an aromatic element such as herbs and spices. Oxymel is a herbal infusion into raw honey and apple cider vinegar while switchel is a concoction of cider vinegar and a sweetener with a spicy element such as ginger.
Here is a summary in table format with an example:
|Shrub||vinegar (red wine vinegar, malt vinegar, apple cider vinegar)||sugar||fruit/vegetable, herbs and spices||red wine vinegar, castor sugar, blueberry, thyme|
|Oxymel||raw apple cider vinegar||raw honey||herbs||raw honey, raw apple cider vinegar, rosemary|
|Switchel||raw apple cider vinegar||honey/maple syrup/molasses/sugar||ginger, lemon||raw apple cider vinegar, honey, ginger root, lemon juice|
Whether it’s a shrub, oxymel or switchel, these drinking vinegars are easy to prepare at home and in the bar, and as cocktail modifiers, they’re a way of adding flavour and depth to a drink.