I have always wondered what quinine is and why it’s added to tonic water. On its own, I think tonic water tastes so gosh darn terrible yet bottles of the stuff still grace the shelves of any given super market or liquor store. There must be some significance behind adding quinine…but what is it anyway?
Quinine’s ancient history began in Peru with the Quechua Indians using it as a muscle relaxant to alleviate cold weather shivering, a reality that comes with high altitude Andes living. Made by mixing the bitter ground bark of Cinchona (aka fever) trees and with sweetened water or wine, Europeans adopted this tonic water in the 17th century to treat malaria in Rome. Jesuits visiting Peru as missionaries discovered that it successfully alleviated malaria-induced shivering.
Quinine soon enabled Europeans, particularly the British, to colonize Africa and avoid being statistics in a land that was commonly referred to as the “white man’s grave”.
Instead of ingesting their bitter anti-malaria medicine as an exercise of necessity,
British officers discovered they could actually enjoy it at predetermined “cocktail hour” by mixing quinine extract with soda water, sugar, and gin. The original gin and tonic was born, and it soon became the quintessential drink of the British Empire. World War II witnessed mass usage and eventual synthesis of quinine. Tonic water gradually lost the authentic ingredient that defined it for centuries.
To this day, it’s still difficult to find tonic water with genuine quinine extract unadulterated with high fructose corn syrup. Q Tonic is the exception. They custom blend handpicked Cinchona bark straight from the Andes, Mexican organic agave, and carbonated pure spring water. Q not only brings tonic water back to it’s roots but yields a much better flavor, one that can be enjoyed as much on its own as mixed with fine spirits like Hendricks gin. Here’s a history lesson that you can toast to!
photos courtesy of meganabigail.blogspot.com and Q Tonic