If you’ve never heard of quinine, it’s the bitterness you taste when you drink tonic water. Tonic contains carbon dioxide, sweetener, and quinine while club soda contains carbon dioxide with mineral salts and seltzer only carbon dioxide. Genetically determined taste receptors will cause an individual to either enjoy the flavor of quinine or find it terribly bitter.
The first patented tonic water, Schweppe’s, with quinine and lime infusion hit the market in 1870 and modern-day tonic waters are available in many flavors, variations, and brands. Even RedBull carries tonic water. Tonic with quinine is typically an ingredient found in cocktails and is the accompaniment to gin or vodka in a “gin & tonic” or “vodka tonic.”
The intensity of quinine flavor will depend on which brand of tonic water you drink as each brand has its own special formulation and added ingredients. Overall, quinine has a bitter taste that is medicinal or astringent. The flavor is similar to the bitterness of the pith or peel of a grapefruit, which makes sense since naturally occurring quinine can be extracted from grapefruit. Quinine is also reminiscent of a double or imperial IPA beer with a high hops content.
What is Quinine?
Quinine is a chemical compound that was originally derived from the bark of a tree found in South America called the cinchona tree. It was used for its medicinal qualities and is the first known use of a chemical compound to treat infectious diseases.
Quinine was used alone as an anti-malaria drug for centuries but was difficult to take due to its bitterness. Soldiers would add sugar, soda water, and sometimes gin to the quinine to make it more tolerable. Hence, the original gin & tonic was born.
One fascinating fact about quinine is that it fluoresces under ultraviolet light, making tonic water a good addition to any designer cocktail or science experiment.
Final Thoughts on Quinine
Quinine is a useful chemical compound with an interesting history and unique flavor profile. If you enjoy hoppy beer, citrus peel, or other bitter flavors then quinine will likely taste pleasant to your palette.