The most iconic and important ingredient of modern day tonic water is quinine, a bitter extract from cinchona bark. Quinine was originally used as a preventative medicine for malaria and as such was consumed heavily in tropical areas (South Asia and Africa) where the disease was prevalent. The earliest records for its medical use date back as far as 1570 in Spain and 1630 in Rome.
History shows that the original tonic water, circa 1855, was created by the British colonials in India where they would mix their malaria treatment, quinine powder, with carbonated water and a little sugar to offset the bitterness. Today, quinine is rarely used for medicinal purposes due to the long list of negative side effects caused by heavy consumption of quinine. The U.S FDA limits quinine content to 83ppm (83mg per litre) and effective malaria treatment is 2100mg daily for an adult. Basically, it’s best just to have it as part of your gin & tonic!
Modern manufactured tonic water contains much less quinine, often artificial, than the U.S FDA limit and are sweetened with high-fructose syrups. One popular bartending practice has seen a rise in home-made tonic syrups (effectively tonic water without the water). This gives control over the use of real quinine and natural sugars, and ultimately the flavour.
Apart from tonic water/syrup quinine is now widely used across the world in many other beverages such as:
Chinotto (Canada & Italy); a carbonated soft drink made with bitter oranges and quinine.
Irn-Bru (Scotland); a carbonated, caffeinated, soft drink with quinine.
Faxe Kondi (Denmark); a carbonated sports drink with quinine.
Quinquina (France); an aperitif with quinine, tonic wine.
Malaga Quina (Spain); quinine blended into sweet wine.
Barolo Chinato (Italy); a digestif where the cinchona bark is macerated in Barolo and flavoured with spices.
At The Wigs Cellar we provide just a select few natural tonic waters for our customers; Australian made Capi and Indi & Co, one of which we import ourselves!
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