Design by Maitane Romagosa
Health trends come and go, but few have been around since the time of the Babylonians. Despite a long and storied history, vinegar has recently been trending for something decidedly new: as a healthy alternative to soda. A viral TikTok shows a mixture of vinegar and seltzer water as a replacement for Coca Cola, a concoction deemed “healthy coke.” It’s just one piece of the vinegar’s trendy moment. (A glittery sherry cocktail is another.)
But vinegar’s life as a healthy-for-you drink or ingredient for cocktails, boozy and non, isn’t new.
The switchel, otherwise known as Haymaker’s Punch, has been enjoyed for centuries and was once considered a quintessential American beverage. Everyone glugged the hydrating combination of vinegar, water, ginger and sugar (or molasses) in the 1800s for its refreshing qualities and health benefits. Sailors even drank switchel because it was thought to prevent scurvy.
In New England, love for the switchel never waned. It’s still home to Fire Cider, which is touted as an immunity booster, cold kicker, and digestive aid. Massachusetts-based Shire City Herbals launched a potent version (organic apple cider vinegar, oranges, lemons, onions, ginger, horseradish, habanero pepper, garlic, turmeric, and raw wildflower honey, all steeped for six weeks) of the traditional cure-all more than 10 years ago. It was a time when the rest of us downed shots of apple cider vinegar in the morning in hopes of a healthier gut. Despite the implied benefits of drinking ACV, it wasn’t the most enjoyable way to attain gastrointestinal equilibrium.
Although vinegars made for sipping—or shooting—have long been with us, there’s renewed interest in the tart tonic. Small companies like Kosterina, Acid League, Stone Hollow Farmstead and Kismet Refining are leading the charge, proving that beverages needn’t be laden with artificial sweeteners to be tasty or crave-inducing.
“There has been a rise in drinking vinegars because of flavor. Peoples’ palates are being refined away from sugar,” says Allan Mai, co-founder Acid League. “The horrible, stereotypical perception that Americans love sweet things is really turning on its head. Consumers are waking up to the fact that acidity actually lifts and enhances other flavors, and once we learn to look for and appreciate acidity in our food we start to seek it out more.”
Mai and his co-founder Cole Pearsall are food scientists who created Acid League’s Living Tonics once they noticed people were becoming more cognizant of their gut health. In Mai’s opinion, “the ACV that was available before had a harsh taste and high acidity,” so he and Pearsall set out to create something that they “knew could and should be delicious.” The result is raw and unfiltered apple cider vinegar, combined with the flavor and additional health benefits of often unexpected ingredients, which has formed tonics such as Vanilla Mānuka Spice, Coffee Chaga Maple, and Passion Fruit Oolong.
“I was watching the trend of vinegars made with fruit but they all still tasted too tangy.”
That gap in the marketplace was also what inspired Katerina Mountanos, the founder of Kosterina, to create her own line of crushed fruit sipping vinegars. A certified olive oil sommelier, Mountanos knows a thing or two about a flavor, and applied her vast knowledge to the formulation of a new kind of vinegar-based drink that leans heavily into the fresh fruit flavors of strawberry, blueberry, and tangerine.
“I was watching the trend of vinegars made with fruit but they all still tasted too tangy with just a hint of fruit flavor,” she says. “I wanted to create something that wasn’t overpowered by the vinegar but was drinkable even on its own.”
Mountanos tells us that the health benefits of sipping vinegar goes even further beyond our typical expectation of digestive aid, as it also helps to stabilize blood sugar—serving, essentially, as the antithesis of sugary soft drinks. All these health benefits and more are thanks to the fact that sipping vinegars are all unpasteurized, meaning the “mother” is still present, which Mai agrees “is the source of all that goodness.”
The beauty of sipping vinegars is also their adaptability, as they can be used in a number of different ways: combined with seltzer for a refreshing beverage, drizzled over salads and mixed into sauces, used as a flavorful marinade, or shaken into a cocktail or switchel. Mai’s main advice on how to use their Living Tonics and Living Vinegars is to experiment, and he also touts their ability to keep us more hydrated.
“Vinegars are a super interesting way to spice up your water. I feel like people don’t get enough water. Even I don’t, and I know I don’t because I track my water consumption every day. I’ve gotten better at it though thanks to all these Acid League vinegars making my afternoon water more interesting,” he says.
Well, it seems the healthy coke enthusiasts on TikTok were onto something after all.