Editors' Picks

Louisa Shafia's Watermelon, Mint, and Cider Vinegar Tonic

July  3, 2013

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: The most refreshing drink for your sunny picnics and barbecues doesn't have alcohol or sugar -- just vinegar, of course.

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"You have to get the crispy pig face and the drinking vinegar." This could be a cruel sorority hazing rite, but it's just the start of a nice dinner out in 2013.

Like compost cookies or Cronuts, drinking vinegars are one of those sweeping trends that seems to be fueled by how unpleasant they sound (their other name, shrubs, isn't much more inviting). 

But even if drinking vinegar sounds like a dare -- and maybe that's why you ordered it -- it's anything but. It's sweet and sour and icy-cold. It vibrates and clangs with fruit and vinegar, and soothes with sweetness and mint. It is the most refreshing drink you will have this summer.

And it's not even new, really.

It's age-old in lots of places -- a means of preserving fruit in pickled, drinkable form as much as a way to cool off. In Iran, sekanjabin is the sweet, vinegary base to a cooling tonic, as well as a dip for cold romaine lettuce leaves -- drink and salad dressing in one.

In The New Persian Kitchen, Louisa Shafia takes the traditional drink -- which is often made with white vinegar and sugar -- and puts her trademark modern, ingredient-focused stamp on it.


More: Try Louisa's Vinegar Carrots with Toasted Sesame Seeds.

Here's how to make it like Shafia does: Make a hot honey syrup (that's honey, water, and a little salt), then pour it over chopped watermelon and a packed cup of mint leaves.


Let that cool off, stir in some cider vinegar, then let it all hang out for a few hours or more.


When you're ready, strain to get your concentrate, dilute with water to taste (sparkling or still), gulp. A bonus: you get to eat the pickled watermelon (if desired).

Shrub Strain  Strained Shrub

And this is just the beginning. "Try adding a few slices of ginger, fresh rose petals, or a stalk of crushed lemongrass." Shafia wrote to me. "Instead of watermelon, try cherries (including sour!), or sliced apricots, peaches, plums, or grapes."

While there's only so much lemonade you can drink in the hot sun before the sugar starts to go to your head -- and boozy drinks pose a similar, sloppier problem -- this is an elixir you could drink all day.

And because it's a grown-up drink without alcohol, you can take it on a picnic, at any park, without having to look side-eyed at cops that might pass by. You can stare them straight in the face and tell them what you're drinking: vinegar.

Louisa Shafia's Watermelon, Mint, and Cider Vinegar Tonic

From The New Persian Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, 2013)

Makes 5 cups concentrate 

3 cups water, plus more to serve
1/4 teaspoon sea salt 
1 cup good-quality honey
6 cups coarsely chopped watermelon 
1 cup tightly packed fresh spearmint 
1 cup cider vinegar
Ice cubes

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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Photos by James Ransom 

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Charliechee
  • rob weaver
    rob weaver
  • Beth Gerrish Renzetti
    Beth Gerrish Renzetti
  • EM-MV
  • smonfor
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Charliechee May 8, 2022
I did it and made it with cantaloupe melon. It was lovely. I can't wait to make it with watermelon. Also I'm thinking of using my home brew kombucha instead of vinegar when it gets too vinegary. I realise it won't have the longevity as with the vinegar but I think it will still work.
Charliechee May 1, 2022
Hi, I'm just discovering drinking vinegar. Thankyou for your recipe. Do you think this will be just as delicious made with cantaloupe melon? My local supermarket has no watermelons.
rob W. March 22, 2014
a couple times a month i mix up a table spoon of honey, 1 tablespoon of Braggs vinegar and a quarter cup cool water as a quick, tasty beverage. i will definitely be making this Tonic this summer
Beth G. September 7, 2013
I followed the recipe and have been making double batches weekly since! I don't dilute the concentrate as much s recommended. I like it closer to 50/50. Heck, I like it straight up! And my daughter loves the watermelon pickles!
EM-MV September 1, 2013
I've made this several times and have found it very popular, especially the watermelon "pickles." The tonic, with a splash of sparkling water, I find to be very refreshing, especially after too much to drink the night before!
Beth G. July 16, 2013
Any reason not to just puree the whole thing instead of straining the fruit out?
I_Fortuna July 16, 2013
Yes. If you use a food mill, it will remove the seeds and some of the pulp resulting in a nice semi-clear liquid. If you use a blender and the seeds are not completely pureed then they turn into little stickers catching in one's throat and the pulp from the fruit makes the drink thick and not clear and lovely as it is pictured here. Also, if this many mint leaves are pureed with the rest of the ingredients, the flavor may be unpleasantly minty. The leaves of the mint done in this way are meant to give a hint of mint and not a barrage. If using a juicer, I would use less mint leaves and this might be a great way to go as well as the method described here. And, I don't think the vinegar addition would allow for a sorbet to be made. But, anything is possible. Leave the pulp in and see how you like it. : )
smonfor July 12, 2013
Tried this today and was impressed - very nice and refreshing. used another commenter's suggestion to serve up the fruit remains as a salad. I didn't have any mint, so I used lemon basil. I also had a few pie cherries sitting on their lonesome and threw them in too. Everyone enjoyed it. And SO easy to make!
Paula A. July 9, 2013
So cider vinegar is apple cider vinegar?
Paula A. July 9, 2013
Spearmint or Mint? Or either? Sorry so anal, I'm trying to keep from just eating the watermelon as it is.;-)
Kristen M. July 9, 2013
We used spearmint, which is commonly labelled as mint at the grocery store. And yes, cider vinegar is apple cider vinegar!
SusanR July 8, 2013
I made this last weekend. It is fantastic! Everyone loved it. I did find that for the ones I made with sparkling water, I had to add more of the base. Also, I put about a tablespoon of the watermelon in the bottom of the cup. Truth be told, the watermelon on its own after it was strained was crazy delicious! Making it for another party this weekend. Oh, and one more thing... a shot of vodka doesn't hurt! :)
SusanR July 8, 2013
OH! One more thing. A "foodie" friend at the party said that a vinegar-based drink is called a "shrub." Learn something new every day! Cheers!
Susan E. July 8, 2013
I eliminate the added sugar to the watermelon icicle treats --just straight watermelon. The grandkids thought it was a big deal to be able to have them even before breakfast! Just straight watermelon.
Trevor July 8, 2013
@lotus: I used a brand new bottle of Heinz apple cider vinegar, a new jar of local honey, a farmers market watermelon and fresh mint from the garden.
_lotus July 8, 2013
Hmm. Maybe I used more fruit in mine (didn't really measure it - used one of those "individual" sized melons). Could be, as you said, differing tastes.
Kristen M. July 8, 2013
We made this recipe as written (and a number of other commenters have too) and didn't find the vinegar overpowering -- we used Spectrum organic unpasteurized cider vinegar. It could be different tastes, or maybe the Heinz style of cider vinegar is to blame.
_lotus July 8, 2013
I used the Heinz cider vinegar and mine turned out fine.
Kristen M. July 8, 2013
Good to know!
_lotus July 8, 2013
I made it for a picnic on the fourth and it was a hit. It was great making people guess what the "secret ingredient" was and see their shock when it was cider vinegar. I also used a mint-infused honey that I'd purchased at a local farmer's market. The vinegar was not overpowering in mine; wonder if the quality of cider vinegar used in other's attempts resulted in a bad one?
Christine M. July 8, 2013
This looks so good!! We've done different kinds of "agua frescas" with cucumber and watermelon but this looks so much more interesting. Also, the only time I ever drink hot tea is when I don't feel well and it always has honey and cider vinegar in it.
Trevor July 6, 2013
I just made the watermelon, mint and vinegar tonic and cannot say how vile it was. It was overwhelmingly vinegary and undrinkable. What a waste of ingredients.
Kristen M. July 6, 2013
I'm sorry, and surprised, to hear that -- did you dilute it with water and ice, as described in step 4?
Trevor July 6, 2013
Hi Kristen,
I did dilute it as per the directions and the vinegar was very pronounced over the other flavors, especially the mint, which came straight from the garden, so I assumed that the flavor would be strong enough. After we tried the diluted version, we tried it with less water and even added more sugar. We tried to doctor it up, but it just tastes like fruit that had had "turned". Maybe the Persian flavor profile was just too new to my palate. I would try this again without the vinegar for a purer fruit flavor.
Sherry July 10, 2013
I too found the vinegar in this drink off-putting. In fact a half glass of this, diluted and over ice, made me a bit nauseous.
Just made it with Thai Holy Basil, ginger, rice vinegar and watermelon. That's what I had on st. Croix . It is delicious. Though Thai basil being tougher, I chiffianoded it and steeped it a little longer. Re. Negative Honey comment. I used local St Croix, VI honey. It's about the allergies, not the sugar. Thank you
Judith R. July 4, 2013
This recipe and all the comments remind me of a gussied up switchel...
Cdnchef July 4, 2013
you could use Aguave, coconut syrup or fruit source, All vegan and low on the glycemic numbers so great all around. just taste it, they all have different sweetness levels, Brown rice syrup is still around too
Elizabeth H. July 3, 2013
I just made a shrub using hibiscus flowers, it is so pretty.
DVC July 3, 2013
Also disappointed in the discovery of honey in this recipe. By any chance, do you know how it tastes without it? Thanks.
Kristen M. July 4, 2013
You could try it, decreasing the vinegar to taste and maybe increasing the watermelon. But it's nicely balanced and not too sweet as written, once the concentrate is diluted.
Sherri G. July 3, 2013
I am going to use fig vinegar.