Three Minnesota-based companies are creating special brews that will make you rethink what you drink. Switchel, kombucha and kefir are healthier alternatives to sugary sodas, fruit drinks, Gatorade and Vitamin Water. While no substantiated claims are documented, all three beverages have natural ingredients instead of high fructose corn syrups and artificial flavorings and preservatives.
St. Paul Switchelis a beverage company based out of, you guessed it, St. Paul, and it’s owned and operated by Colleen Schlieper. Switchel is a drink farmers used to consume during late-summer harvest to replenish electrolytes and boost the immune system. Schlieper says, "I had a friend recommend it to me when I had a nagging cough that went on for months. After consuming a small amount, I felt better."
Intrigued with switchel’s restorative properties, Schlieper experimented with different recipes. Ingredients in switchel are ginger, a potent antioxidant, organic apple cider vinegar, known to help lower cholesterol and aid in digestion, and honey, an all-natural sweetener containing antioxidants helping to reduce minor coughs and throat irritation.
When she created the perfect potion, she invested in a commercial kitchen and began brewing. Schlieper says she boils chunks of fresh ginger to create an herbal tea. She uses the herbal tea and adds organic, cultured apple cider vinegar (not distilled) and local wildflower honey. She says, "The wildflower honey tastes so good, it just makes the drink pop." You can serve warm, cold or on the rocks.
Kefir is another beverage loaded with lots of good bacteria. It’s creamy and cultured and similar to yogurt. It can be milk or water-based. Water kefir is vegan, gluten-free and lactose free. Both aid digestion and boost the immune system. "While yogurt has about three strains of the good bacteria, kefir has about 30," says Jonathan Stensgard co-owner of Pine Creek Farmsin Peterson.
Pine Creek Farms water kefir tastes similar to a combination of tea and soda. It’s fermented like beer with a hint of carbonation, but it’s below the legal limit of alcohol. "It’s known to aid in digestion and help with an overgrowth of candida. If you’re taking antibiotics, it kills the good bacteria; however, kefir replaces the good bacteria," says Stensgard.
Stensgard was introduced to the drink by his aunt who brought him some from Australia. "I loved it," he says, so he and Jordan Flynn, his business partner, created a water-based kefir in 2014. They brew their goods at rented space within Forager Brewery and sell it at the Rochester Farmers Market and People’s Food Co-op.
Another healthy drink on the rise is kombucha, a beverage produced by fermenting tea with a culture of yeast and bacteria known as Scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). Nate Uri is the founder of Prohibition Kombuchalocated in the Twin Cities. With his winemaking and craft beer making background, brewing up kombucha was a natural segue.
Uri works with David Duckler of Verdant Tea to create his kombucha. Verdant Tea is a company that sells tea leaves from small 10-acre plots in China. The farms are so remote, tea leaves aren’t damaged by impurities in the air or run-off from polluted streams.
Prohibition Kombucha offers three flagship flavors, White Elephant, Pink Robot and Sicilian. When Uri describes one of his kombucha flavors he sounds like a wine guy. "White Elephant has hints of apricot, cinnamon, lychee, jasmine and cedar," says Uri. You can buy it on tap at People’s Food Co-op.
Kombucha has probiotic content similar to bacteria found in yogurt. This bacterium is known to aid in digestion and boost immunity. Uri says it’s chock full of antioxidants, and it tastes darn good.