(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.

  • Rick Gray
    Rick Gray
  • Kathy Stanford
    Kathy Stanford
  • nissasm0m
  • Oma
  • Lara Strubel
    Lara Strubel
Writing and cooking in Brooklyn.


Rick G. August 26, 2023
I have tried making it with passion fruit, but the amount of pectin in that fruit makes it very hard to handle
Kathy S. August 26, 2023
Has anyone made one with Passion Fruit? I’m going to have a windfall soon & wonder about trying it!
nissasm0m August 10, 2023
There is a regional fruit here in Kansas called a sand plum or sandhill plum. They are super dry/tart and they aren't good for much beyond jelly. But, I have found they make a great shrub. I was surprised that I didn't even have to increase the amount of sugar recommended.
Oma May 11, 2023
I have only used the cold method. Strawberries, basil and a bit of balsamic were very nice. My favorite might be fresh lime juice and minced ginger or lemon juice with ginger and turmeric. Sometimes I let my kombucha go to vinegar and then use it.
Lara S. January 23, 2023
We came by a windfall of quince a couple years ago. Normally we make membrillo but didn’t have time so my husband made some shrub with it instead. Perhaps my favorite shrub ever! The quince is so aromatic. Highly recommend.
jmgx4stl August 8, 2022
I have had Basil Shrub made by Siren Shrub Co. It is outstanding. I want to make my own because a 16 oz bottle costs $22. The items listed are organic basil, organic apple cider vinegar and organic cane sugar. My questions is how could I make this basil shrub and what quantities of each item do you suggest? I have only seen shrubs that begin the process with fruit and this has no fruit in it.
Rick G. August 8, 2022
looking at my other contributions, you may safely assume i like white vinegar instead of apple cider vinegar. in the case of basil, apple vinegar might be ok. i'd try a pack cup of pressed down basil simmered in two cups of vinegar until it seems the flavor of the basil has been expressed.... 15 minutes? then add 2 cups of sugar, simmer until dissolved then go another few minutes to make sure. in filtering i would try and remove as much as you can of the basil leaves by hand (spoon and press them on the side of the pot) before filtering into bottles.... i fear the leaves will quickly plug a filter up. this shrub sounds intriguing and one in which tweaking would be fun..... a slice of ginger, a twig of thyme..... two large slices of tomato?
Bernadette H. August 15, 2021
Just made a peach ginger shrub and a peach jalapeno shrub. Really not sure I can decide which one is better! Fortunately peach season is still going so I sample with friends and them help me decide. Oh and make a blackberry basil. I think basil worked better with marionberries but it is still quite tasty.
Lorin August 3, 2021
I just picked a load of blackberries and decided to turn some of them into shrub. I put about 8 cups of blackberries through a food mill and this turned into about 5 cups of thick juice. I added no water. What I plan to do is the make a hot method shrub from this juice. Since the seeds have already been extracted, I would not have to strain after cooking. Thinking that the 8 cups of blackberries were about a pound, I plan to make a simple syrup of 1 cup water + 1 cup sugar ( or less) + 5 cups of blackberry juice + 1 cup of apple cider vinegar and maybe some sage. Is there any reason I should not use this thick blackberry purée (juice) in this shrub - rather than whole blackberries?
Bernadette H. August 15, 2021
I don't see why you couldn't do this way. I think the sugar helps to extract all the juice. Not sure why you would make a simple syrup and not just add sugar. You've probably already made it by now. Let us know how it turned out.
Bethany July 12, 2021
Do you think you can leave the pits in when making a cherry shrub and then strain them out when you strain the rest of the fruit pulp?
Bernadette H. August 15, 2021
I tried it this way a couple of years back and felt like I couldn't extract as much juice with the pits in the mash. Maybe if I used a cheese cloth and left it over night it would have worked better. Did you try it with or without pits? What did you think? I had high hopes for a tart cherry shrub but was disappointed. Maybe I should try it again.
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
Karen M. September 14, 2021
Rick, I'm so interested in your ginger-lemongrass combo. I have a bunch of lemongrass in my garden, so I'd love to try this. Would you mind sharing your quantities?
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...