Sweet and sour with a pleasant zip of ginger, Haymaker's Punch is a refreshing drink and perfect for hot summer days. Generations ago, thirsty farmers prepared the drink to help rehydrate and re-energize their bodies during the summer hay harvest, hence its name. Now, it makes a perfect homemade energy drink for a hot day.
What is it?
Haymaker's Punch, also known as switchel or ginger water, is a traditional rehydrating tonic prepared from ginger, molasses, and apple cider vinegar. It tastes sweet and acidic with a fiery, spicy edge thanks to the ginger.
Haymaker's Punch was a popular soft drink during the 18th and 19th centuries. Exhausted by heavy physical labor and hot summer weather, farmers and sailors would drink Haymaker's Punch to help hydrate and re-energize their worn bodies.
It was so popular and so essential to the laboring class that ships regularly stocked the ingredients for long voyages (1). An average 19th-century U.S. Navy ship typically preparing for 6 months at sea typically carried close to 900 gallons of each molasses and vinegar (2), for the making of switchel among other uses.
What's in it?
Traditional Haymaker's Punch recipes contain four simple ingredients: molasses, apple cider vinegar, powdered ginger, and water. In addition, many recipes call for a pinch of salt which not only enhances the drink's flavor, but it also provides additional electrolytes that support hydration.
Modern recipes often swap maple syrup, honey, or brown sugar for the molasses, use fresh ginger in place of powdered, and add fruit or other herbs. This switchel recipe is a good example of a modern take on Haymaker's Punch as it incorporates non-traditional ingredients such as blackberries, fresh ginger, and honey.
- Molasses gives the drink a slightly sweet, mineral-like flavor. It is also rich in minerals such as calcium and magnesium as well as vitamin B6.
- Apple cider vinegar gives the drink a pleasant tart flavor and tends to be both widely accessible and affordable.
- Powdered ginger gives Haymaker's Water a zippy flavor, similar to ginger ale. You can also substitute fresh ginger if you prefer.
- Salt contributes electrolytes that help support hydration. If you're using a minimally processed salt, it will also contain traces of other minerals such as iron, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium
Is it good for you?
The farmers and sailors who drank Haymaker's Punch to slake their thirst valued the drink for its health benefits. It turns out they certainly knew a thing or two. It's like nature's original sports drink: it helps to rehydrate the body, replenish lost electrolytes due to sweating and provides a boost of energy.
- Drinking diluted apple cider vinegar before meals supports metabolic health and blood sugar balance (3).
- Electrolytes support hydration (4). And your body's ability to rehydrate effectively depends on these key minerals, including magnesium, sodium, and potassium. The mineral-rich salt and molasses in this recipe provide plenty of both, and more electrolytes than you'll find in a commercially prepared sports drink such as Gatorade.
- Electrolytes also help to move nutrients into your cells and waste away from them (5).
- Molasses is a good source of vitamin B6, a nutrient that plays an important role in heart and cognitive health, and it may play a role in supporting women suffering from PMS or morning sickness (6). It's a common ingredient in energy and sports drinks for its reputed ability to boost energy.
- The natural sugars in molasses can help refuel the body by providing energy.
- Ginger is a highly anti-inflammatory herb that is rich in antioxidants. It's traditionally used to ease nausea and support digestion (7), but it also supports blood sugar balance (8), may help ease headaches (9), and is an excellent tonic for the immune system.
Tips for Making Haymaker's Punch
Haymaker's Punch is easy to make. Remember, it was a favorite of sailors at sea and farmers in the middle of the harvest season. And neither had a lot of extra time for complicated cooking. There are a few things you'll want to keep in mind.
- Use warm water as the molasses dissolves easier.
- Powdered ginger is the traditional option, but it's delicious using fresh ginger, too.
- Swap the molasses for another natural sweetener, such as honey or maple syrup, but your switchel will have fewer minerals and a lot less vitamin B6 as a result.
- Shake the switchel thoroughly before you pour it. The ginger tends to settle in the bottom of the jar.
- Adjust it to your personal taste. It's a flexible recipe, and you can adjust the amount of apple cider vinegar, sweetener, and ginger you use. Or consider adding a few sprigs of fresh herbs or sliced fruit to the mix, too.
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Variations + Substitutions
Use honey or maple syrup in place of molasses. Many people prefer their lighter flavor.
Use fresh ginger root in place of ground ginger. Chop up a 1- to 2-inch knob of fresh ginger, and add it to the liquid ingredients. The ginger will need to sit in the mixture for up to 24 hours before straining to release its full flavor.
Fresh lemon juice or slices of lemon are a popular addition, too. If using lemon juice, cut down on the vinegar.
Add fresh mint, as it gives the apple cider vinegar drink a pleasant flavor and complements ginger nicely.
Haymaker's Punch should last about 5 days in the refrigerator.
Molasses is the traditional sweetener for Haymaker's Punch. If you're avoiding sugar (including natural sweeteners), you can make ginger-flavored vinegar by whisking the ginger into the vinegar and diluting this mixture into a glass of water.
Yes, you can freeze it in a tightly-sealed mason jar or similar container for up to 6 months. Allow at least 2 inches of headspace for expansion.
Occasionally, you may find Haymaker's Water at farmer's markets or grocery stores that stock local, artisanal products. But, for the most part, it's not available commercially and you'll need to make it yourself.
Other simple drinks you'll enjoy
- Morrell, B. A Narrative of Four Voyages. Harper, New York. (1832)
- Brenckle, M. Food and Drink in the US Navy: 1794 to 1820. USS Constitution Museum, Boston. (2019)
- Johnston, Carol S et al. “Vinegar improves insulin sensitivity to a high-carbohydrate meal in subjects with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.” Diabetes care vol. 27,1 (2004)
- Electrolytes. Colorado State University. Retrieved 2020.
- Fluid and Electrolyte Balance. MedlinePlus. Retrieved 2022.
- Vitamin B6 Fact Sheet. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved 2022.
- Ryan, Julie L, and Gary R Morrow. “Ginger.” Oncology nurse edition vol. 24,2 (2010)
- Huang, Fang-Yan et al. “Dietary ginger as a traditional therapy for blood sugar control in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Medicine vol. 98,13 (2019)
- Chen, Liyan, and Zhiyou Cai. “The efficacy of ginger for the treatment of migraine: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies.” The American journal of emergency medicine vol. 46 (2021)