(Not) Recipes

How to Make Shrubs (aka Drinking Vinegars) Without a Recipe

June 20, 2019

Here at Food52, we love recipes—but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often. Today: We're making a zingy, fruity drinking vinegar that's all a matter of ratio. (And yes, it makes for great cocktails, too.) 


If you've never had a shrub before, it's just about the most refreshing thing you can think to drink—especially in the summer. It starts with a syrup that’s a combination of vinegar, fruit, and sugar. The fruit tastes like its truest self and the vinegar cuts right through it. Add it to a glass, then bubbles to make it bright. The alcohol is optional, but awfully good.

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You can make a shrub two ways: the hot way (fresh fruit simmered in simple syrup) and the cold way (fresh fruit tossed with sugar and left to sit for a few days). Shrub purists may tell you that a shrub made the hot way is not a true shrub—and maybe they're right. But true shrub or not, it's delicious and a fast way to get a fruity, vinegary syrup that works just as well in a drink as a more authentic, cold process shrub. If you're short on time, the hot way is a good approach to take; if you can be a little more leisurely, try the cold process—I do prefer the flavor of a cold process shrub, which is a little less jammy and more true to the fruit in flavor.

Here's how you do it: 

1. Gather ingredients.

Shrubs are a matter of ratio: The sweet spot (the sweet-tart spot, that is) is a 1:1:1 ratio of fruit, sugar, and vinegar. A good place to start for cold process shrub is 1 pound chopped fruit, 2 cups sugar, and 2 cups vinegar; for the heated process, go for 1 pound fruit, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, and 1 cup vinegar. Each method should yield about 3 cups of shrub syrup, which will keep in the fridge. 


The fruit and flavorings

You can make shrubs at any time of year with nearly any kind of fruit—from summer berries and peaches (both of which I have made with great success) to apples, grapefruits, and pomegranates in the winter. I would not recommend the heated process with watermelon, however, which I tried (and which, I'm afraid to say, made my apartment smell wholly of stomach acid. Gross). A good rule of thumb: The heated process will work well for anything you would make jam out of. For watery melons, stick to the cold process.

More: There are ways to get a watermelon shrub! Try Louisa Shafia's Genius method.

If you want to make a citrus shrub, zest the (preferably organic) citrus peel off first, and use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until it's really fragrant—this way, you don't lose any of those good oils. Then just chop up the fruit itself, toss it with the zesty sugar, and let it sit as you would any other shrub.

That said, it doesn't just have to be a fruit shrub! Add grated fresh ginger, fresh herbs (hi rosemary, hello thyme), or spices (like whole peppercorns, cardamom pods, or bay leaves) to either the simple syrup (hot process) or the sugar-fruit mixture (cold process).

The vinegar

Most vinegars will work in shrubs, but think about how your fruit will pair with the flavor of the vinegar you select. I would steer clear of plain white vinegar, which is too intensely sharp. Apple cider vinegar is the one I use most, but white or red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, Champagne vinegar, or coconut vinegar also work very well. Balsamic adds an amazing depth to berry shrubs in particular, but you only need a splash. The rest of the vinegar can be cider or wine vinegar.

The sugar

You can use white or brown sugar; white sugar will really let the fruit flavor shine, while the brown sugar will add another element of flavor. While I haven’t tried this myself yet, you could also experiment with honey, maple syrup, and agave. (Molasses would probably be too overpowering.) 

Some combinations that sound particularly appealing:

  • strawberries + white sugar + red wine vinegar and a splash of balsamic vinegar 
  • blueberries + thinly sliced ginger + cider vinegar
  • nectarine + peppercorn + brown sugar + white wine vinegar
  • peach + cardamom pods + honey + cider vinegar
  • pomegranate + peppercorn + white sugar + red wine vinegar
  • pear + star anise + brown sugar + white wine vinegar
  • red plum + cardamom + brown sugar + white wine vinegar (which is what I made here)


2. Combine the sugar and the fruit, and then add vinegar.

For a cold process shrub, assemble your fruit (sliced or mashed gently) in a bowl, and toss it with sugar.  

Let this mixture sit, covered securely with a dishtowel, on your kitchen counter for about 2 days. Stir once a day. It should start to look very juicy. After 2 days, strain the mixture into a measuring cup, discard the fruit, then combine the syrup with approximately an equal amount of vinegar (again, your choice, but cider vinegar is a good place to start)—but do this slowly, tasting as you go so that you get a shrub that is just sharp enough for you—especially with a zingier fruit like raspberries or citrus. That's it! Pour it into a jar and stick it in the fridge.

More: Shrubs could be your signature cocktail. Here's how to find yours!

For a hot process shrub, make a simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add your sliced fruit and bring the syrup-fruit mixture to a low simmer. Let it bubble away until the syrup has become the color of the fruit and the fruit looks tired. Stir in the vinegar and bring the mixture just to a simmer; strain out and discard the fruit (or serve it over vanilla ice cream), and pour the shrub into a jar. Keep it in the fridge.


3. Drink up! 

Fill a tall glass with ice, pour in a splash of shrub, and top it off with seltzer water, stirring a bit to incorporate the shrub. Or add a shot of booze: I like gin and found it to be delicious with a strawberry-balsamic shrub, but whiskey or vodka would also be delicious. Or do away with the seltzer water altogether and substitute Champagne or another sparkling wine instead.

No matter which process you use, a shrub will keep for a long time in your refrigerator—I would count on a couple of months at least (though I've not yet had one stick around more than a month, so I couldn't say for sure). The shrub should not ferment, bubble, or become slimy. If it does, scold it, throw it away, and start anew.


Photos by Alpha Smoot

Looking for even more shrub inspiration? We've got you. Here are some A+ shrub recipes by fellow Food52ers:

Tomato Shrub by FiveandSpice. This shrub starts with a whole pound of tomatoes, then gets seasoned with a slew of spices: coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon stick, red pepper flakes... What's more is, at the end, you shake in some Worcestershire and hot sauce for a savory boost (or not, it's your shrub). Serve this with everything from plain seltzer to beer. FiveandSpice even puts it toward salad dressings. 

Cranberry-Apple Shrub by adashofbitters. The coziest shrub in all the land. (Also: that color!) All you need for this recipe are apples, cranberries, cider vinegar, and turbinado sugar. Since it keeps for up to a year in the fridge, you could get ready for fall, ahem, right now.

Watermelon, Mint & Cider Vinegar Tonic by Louisa Shafia. A shrub by another name. This recipe was dubbed Genius in 2013 and it's been making our summers more refreshing ever since. The combo of watermelon, honey, and mint is particularly welcoming to a pour of vodka, if that's your thing.  

This article was originally published in August 2015. We're refreshed it for another hot, sweaty summer. Have you ever made a shrub before? Tell us which kind in the comments below! 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • meximegan
  • LemaireDuVin
  • JenniferJ
  • Bjohnson1971
  • Lynn Kennedy
    Lynn Kennedy
Writing and cooking in Brooklyn.


meximegan May 9, 2021
For the cold process shrub, could the fruit, sugar and vinegar be mixed together and refrigerated for a week and then strained? Or does vinegar always need to be added as a separate step?
LemaireDuVin February 28, 2021
I have a question: If I wanted to keep the used fruit after making the shrub, how long would it keep if I put it in a mason jar and kept it refrigerated?
Rick G. February 28, 2021
i would say a week at least, maybe a month. it might be better to put it in a ziploc and squeeze out the air
JenniferJ August 1, 2020
I love these comments! Great ideas and combinations and cautions. I have my first ever cold-process shrub covered on the counter as I type this. These comments are part of why I love Food52. Thanks to you all. : )
Bjohnson1971 June 29, 2020
Strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, and. Blueberry(added flavor). Equal amounts in weight. I used 1 cup stevia in the raw to be less sugar added. The apple cider vinegar 3/4ths, red cider vinegar and a splash of The balsamic vinegar. Cooked 10 minuteA, simmered till color darkened and fruit rested. I put it in a jar for 2 days... then strained the juice into an old apple cider vinegar with stopper. It’s divine. I made it as a joke mixing multiple berries that grow from shrubs, then declared I brought him a Shrubbery! Monty Python jest... for those not in the know. ;) Enjoy and let me know if you join me in multiberry. I used Zing 72 to mix the drink. Soda stream to make carbonated water. Mrmm
Lynn K. November 30, 2019
I made this with Stawberries, cold method - one on fruit, 2 cups sugar and 1 cup red wine vinegar, splash of balsamic- it’s too sweet for me, next time I’ll cut the sugar down to 1.5 cups (I used cane sugar..)
Tuni August 30, 2019
I made this with nectarines in both hot and cold methods. the outcome is delicious on both ends- but rather sweet! I was wondering if it's possible to ferment the fruit in vinegar first, and add sugar syrup to taste at the end...
Lazyretirementgirl August 17, 2019
Great post and great comments. So timely, too.We are close to a peach oversupply situation, as our backyard tree is in the home stretch. Plus, I have somehow acquired a LOT of random vinegars that are all too sharp for my taste in salad dressing, so this gives me lots of ideas to ponder. Thanks!
Rick G. August 17, 2019
I would caution about using strong or distinctly flavored vinegars because in my opinion this should be fruit forward
Joan August 1, 2019
I've been making shrubs this summer in my instant pot, super quick hot process. 10 minutes on high, let it sit until cool, then strain and bottle.
Mixed frozen berries and lime, strawberries and lime, pineapple ginger. Waiting for my peaches to ripen and will do them with ginger also. Pour over some ice, fill glass with soda water
Rick G. August 2, 2019
OK, now you’ve got me interested. What are your ratios when using the Insta pot? I live in the rainforest and now my favorite combination is lemongrass and ginger which I grow myself but I have also used homegrown pineapple and locally grown passionfruit also
Joan August 2, 2019
I have been using 2:1:1 ratio. 2 cups cut up fruit, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup vinegar, and 1/2 cup water for the pot. Today I used 1/2 cup each of Splenda and sugar; tasted the same as all sugar. When I want to take the time, I mix the sugar and fruit and let it sit for a few hours before adding the vinegar and cooking.. Trying to get all the juice I can!
The fruit that is left after straining is interesting. Strong! I froze the ginger pineapple, and put a couple pieces in the glass as a garnish. I envy your fresh fruits!

Rick G. August 2, 2019
how do you strain? i've used cheese cloth but have been using a food mill to good effect for some time now. Maracuya (passion fruit) is tricky. it must have a ton of natural pectic as it gels up. this leaves me with an acidic, very passion fruit tasting , ¾ set jam, but used in the right context, great. what it isn't, is a readily dispersible syrup. i have white pineapple and the key is using it at the correct ripeness to capture it's distinction. mango is another tricky one as far as resulting in a mixable syrup form, but the flavor from fresh mangos is quite good. i'm able to grow my own ginger and lemon grass and use it is at a ratio of about 9:5. now, if i could only grow rhubarb
Rick G. February 28, 2021
update....... just made my 'simpler' ginger shrub.... using the instapot. i shredded 1.25 cups of ginger, i didn't even peel it, just scrub washed it well, then grated it. 4 cups of white vinegar , 4 cups sugar..... 12 minutes on the timer.... poured liquid through a strainer into a bowl, then that into fliptop bottles
Wendi July 12, 2019
Should the Apple Cider Vinegar have "mother" in it? Will the "mother" have an effect on shelf life?
mary G. July 6, 2019
Not too dissimilar from Kombucha after a second fermentation, right?
Kaitlin July 5, 2019
I live in an extremely humid area (ie; a baguette i bought got moldy in 3 days). so idk if my question is dumb but, do i have to leave it on the counter for a few days? or can i store it in the fridge? while it macerates. i just dont want any mold or anything growing on it...
Emily B. July 3, 2018
I’m way late in the game on this one - but - do you think you could do this with tart red cherries? I have some frozen from last summer from an old neighbor’s tree. Maybe with a little more sugar to counter the tartness of the cherries? What vinegar and sugar options would you recommend?
Christopher P. August 20, 2018
Done it, very tasty. I used lime zest and almond extract with white sugar and cider vinegar.
L.E. May 17, 2018
Probably a dumb question, but I’m going to ask anyway. I have put strawberries in sugar and got juice, but there is still a lot of sugar in the bowl. Do I add the sugar in with the juice and then add the vinegar or just keep the just and leave the sugar and fruit solids?
Ellen June 3, 2018
It's really a matter of preference and how sweet you want your shrub to be. If it was my shrub, I'd stir the fruit/sugar/juice and let it sit a bit longer to dissolve the sugar and maybe get a bit more juice. I've found shrubs to be pretty flexible though, so adding the sugar and juice to the vinegar would be fine, but so would leaving the sugar behind with the fruit solids.
Vaishali M. February 10, 2018
Lovely idea! Now, what if I want to make shrubs with juice instead of the fruit? How will that work?
Author Comment
Caroline L. February 10, 2018
Hmm... It won't quite be the same (it's very intensely fruity) but you could experiment by adding a little splash of vinegar (like red wine vinegar or tarragon vinegar) to a bit of juice (like tart cherry) and topping it off with soda water.
Rick G. October 24, 2017
i've tried 5 different commercial shrubs and ginger was my favorite. i can easily imagine my ranking might change as i make my own. my question for the community is in making ginger shrub..... proportions. fine grating? medium grate size?
Mark S. July 13, 2017
I have made a couple of batches. I like to heat the vinegar to infuse herbs. I tried black cherries and pineapple with rosemary in red wine vinegar. Will use just a couple of sprigs next time. Got a black cherry and plum with thyme in red wine vinegar and black pepper brewing now. This is a great way to be creative with flavors and ingredients. Great article!
Les K. July 8, 2017
Has anyone tried freezing the finished shrub? I want my rhubarb shrub available in small amounts all winter long.
Rick G. October 24, 2017
you're killin me...... a rhubarb shrub, if the rhubard flavor does indeed come through, would be heaven

Rick G. October 24, 2017
you're killin me...... a rhubarb shrub, if the rhubard flavor does indeed come through, would be heaven

Bernadette H. June 12, 2019
The vinegar should preserve it. I've made 3 shrubs with rhubarb. One with honey, one with ginger and one with cardamom. They are the best thing I have ever had. Sadly I'm at the end of my rhubarb but sometimes I get a late summer crop. Fingers crossed!
kimfriday July 26, 2019
I have a weekend house in the Hudson Valley and got turned onto shrubs by a local maker, Hudson Valley Shrubs. They do a strawberry rhubarb that is out of this world!
Rick G. May 9, 2021
i have since made rhubarb shrub a number of times, which is wonderful. this last time i saved the pulp and it's about the best "jam" i've ever tasted
Charity July 5, 2017
Your article referred to the Alice Waters book containing interesting recipe for shrubs - https://food52.com/blog/9123-a-week-s-worth-of-simple-food-with-alice-waters - instead of using vinegar, you are making it with shrub - also using apple cores and skins and not the fruit that would be wasted. "Apple Peel Cider Vinegar" from MY PANTRY
EM May 17, 2017
Has anyone used an ISI Whipper (or the like) to make a shrub? I wonder if the several week long steep could be cut drastically short using the rapid infusion method.
meet Y. April 27, 2017
Can the leftover solids be used in anything afterwards? I made a rhubarb shrub and was hoping I could use the leftover rhubarb in a quick bread, muffin, scone?
Laura415 April 27, 2017
Absolutely. If you used raw rhubarb and followed this method simply taste the leftover rhubarb mash and if it tastes good then add it to your quick bread or muffin recipe. Be sure to drain it well so it doesn't mess up the wet to dry ratio in your quick bread recipe. Other things I've done with leftover fruit in shrubs is to cook it and season with sugar (if needed) to make a refrigerator jam. I've made sauces and toppings for other desserts and used it for yogurt mix in. Use it to flavor a second ferment in your kombucha. The list goes on and on:)