The term "shrub" often conjures ideas of scrubby plants, but a shrub is also a drinking vinegar or beverage. Shrubs have taken various forms throughout time and place and the word shrub is borrowed from the Arabic word sharāb meaning "to drink” (“Shrub”).
Shrubs, that we enjoy today, have roots in ancient civilizations, and overtime, they’ve had a variety of presentations as a health tonic, liqueur, drinking vinegar, cocktail mixer, and preserver of fruit. In current American vernacular, a shrub is sweet tart syrup made with fruit, vinegar and a sweetener used as a mixer in alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. The 21st century has seen a rise of shrubs as a more commonplace ingredient, known to wider and broader circles. Shrubs have revitalized as delightful cocktail ingredients and healthy soda variations when sipped with sparkling water.
Red Root & Co shrubs are crafted with whole botanicals, raw organic apple cider vinegar and raw honey. It’s important to us that our shrubs have a good dose of plant magic and salubriousness. Splurging on a fun drink doesn’t need to mean artificial colors and flavors. Cocktails made with quality spirits lend themselves to topnotch flavor pairings and crafty mocktails benefit from fruity and herbaceous flavors of the botanical world. Shrubs open up lively alternatives for tasty drinks that bring plant goodness to your cup. Not only do they find good homes in the drinks, but also culinary creatives will enjoy them sprinkled on roasted brussels sprouts and grilled carrots, mixed in berry compotes and greek yogurt, and drizzled on vanilla ice cream and pound cake.
Consuming vinegar based drinks and tonics dates back to ancient Greek and Babylonian times (“Sweet and Sour”). Vinegar preparations were often consumed as remedies and vinegar was frequently added to beverages and foods to extend shelf life (Zargaran 2012). Current day shrubs are an offshoot of these traditional drinks and restorative tonics. With base ingredients of vinegar and often a sweetener (honey, molasses, or maple syrup), fruits, vegetables and other plants could be preserved easily and offered healthful benefits to the drinker.
During 19th century Britain and America, shrubs and other vinegar-based drinks, including switchel, were again noted as hydrating and healthful (“Sweet and Sour”). Switchel, or haymaker’s punch, was consumed during long days of physical labor and to help the body cool down from the inside out during warm summer months. During this time, ginger was a popular ingredient to add to switchel. Ginger acts to ease or prevent a stomach ache, and it was a perfect accompaniment to the already present sour and sweet notes. These combinations were so tasty; they gained popularity with a wide variety of crowds and people starting mixing switchel with alcohol.
Without refrigeration, vinegar was often used as means to preserve and/or make questionable foods and drinks safe to consume. Alongside switchel, shrubs had a similar function but with more focus on fruit flavors and preservation. Shrubs were made by pouring vinegar over fruits and left to infuse for days or weeks, strained and then, preserved further with a sweetener. These sweet, tart and fruity shrubs would then be mixed with flat or soda water, mixed with foods or combined with alcohol for drinks.
As refrigeration became more commonplace in homes, the need for vinegar drink preservation decreased and some historic cookery traditions fell to the wayside. Beverages that were sweeter, contained fresh juices and were pasteurized supplanted these age-old drinks, but vinegar and our attraction to it’s mouth-puckering sourness is locked in our taste buds and cultural heritage. With a brief absence from mainstream food and beverage, our bodies missed these tart concoctions. To no surprise, shrubs and other vinegar infusions have been recalled from the past into kitchens and restaurants, enjoyed in the present and continue to grow as household recipes for the future.
- “Shrub (drink).” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrub_(drink)#:~:text=The%20American%20version%20of%20the,carried%20over%20to%20colonial%20America. Accessed 7 January 2021.
- “Sweet and Sour: Cooling off with Switchels and Shrubs.” The Ultimate History Project, ultimatehistoryproject.com/shrubs-and-switchels-a-history.html. Accessed 7 January 2021.
- Zargaran, Arman, et al. “Oxymel in medieval Persia.” Pharmaceutical Historian, vol. 42, no. 1, march 2012, pp. 11-13. ResearchGate, Accessed 5 January 2021.