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Tonic water

File:Tonic water uv.jpg
Under ultraviolet light, the quinine in tonic water fluoresces.

Tonic water (or Indian tonic water) is a carbonated soft drink, in which quinine is dissolved. Originally used as a prophylactic against malaria, tonic water usually now has a significantly lower quinine content and is consumed for its distinctive bitter flavour. It is often used in mixed drinks, particularly in gin and tonic.


The drink gained its name from the medicinal effects of its bitter flavoring. The quinine was added to the drink as a prophylactic against malaria, since it was originally intended for consumption in tropical areas of South Asia and Africa, where the disease is endemic. Quinine powder was so bitter that British officials stationed in early 19th Century India and other tropical posts began mixing the powder with soda and sugar, and a basic tonic water was created. The first commercial tonic water was produced in 1858.[1] The mixed drink gin and tonic also originated in British colonial India, when the British population would mix their medicinal quinine tonic with gin.

Recently, premium tonic water brands such as Tomr's Tonic, Fever Tree and Q Tonic have entered the marketplace. More recently, it has been released a new recipe using natural Yuzu juice under the QYUZU brand. These brands place emphasis on using real quinine and natural sweeteners, as opposed to quinine flavouring and high-fructose corn syrup.[2]

Since 2010, at least four tonic syrups have been released in the US. Consumers add carbonated water to the syrup to make tonic water; this allows drinkers to vary the intensity of the flavour.[3]

Quinine content

Medicinal tonic water originally contained only carbonated water and a large amount of quinine. However, most tonic water today contains a less significant amount of quinine, and is thus used mostly for its flavor. As a consequence, it is less bitter, and is also usually sweetened, often with high fructose corn syrup or sugar. Some manufacturers also produce diet (or slimline) tonic water, which may contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. Traditional-style tonic water with little more than quinine and carbonated water is less common, but may be preferred by those who desire the bitter flavour.

In the United States, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limits the quinine content in tonic water to 83 ppm[4] (83 mg per liter if calculated by mass), while the daily therapeutic dose of quinine is in the range of 500–1000 mg,[5] and 10 mg/kg every eight hours for effective malaria prevention (2100 mg daily for a 70 kg adult).[6] Still, it is often recommended as a relief for leg cramps, but medical research suggests some care is needed in monitoring doses.[7] Because of quinine's risks, the FDA cautions consumers against using "off-label" quinine drugs to treat leg cramps.[8]


Tonic water is often used as a drink mixer for cocktails, especially those made with gin or vodka (for example, a gin and tonic). Tonic water with lemon or lime flavour added is known as bitter lemon or bitter lime, respectively. Such soft drinks are more popular in Europe than in the United States.


Tonic water will fluoresce under ultraviolet (UV) light, owing to the presence of quinine. In fact, the sensitivity of quinine to UV is such that it will appear visibly fluorescent in direct sunlight.


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  1. ^ Raustiala, Kal. "The Imperial Cocktail". Slate (magazine). The Slate Group. Retrieved 30 August 2013. 
  2. ^ Premium cocktail mixers stirring interest. "Associated Press" via "The Seattle Times" 12 July 2010 retrieved from:
  3. ^ Building a Better G&T "WSJ Online" 15 August 2012 retrieved from:
  4. ^ "21 CFR §172.575 Quinine." (PDF). Retrieved 15 December 2008. 
  5. ^ "Quinine". Tropical Plat Database. Section "Current practical uses": Raintree Nutrition. Retrieved 10 July 2011. 
  6. ^ Achan, J (2011). "Quinine, an old anti-malarial drug in a modern world: role in the treatment of malaria". Malaria Journal 10 (144): 1–12. PMC 3121651. PMID 21609473. doi:10.1186/1475-2875-10-144. 
  7. ^ Should people with nocturnal leg cramps drink tonic water and bitter lemon?
  8. ^ United States Food and Drug Administration (2006-12-11). "FDA Orders Unapproved Quinine Drugs from the Market and Cautions Consumers About Off-Label Quinine to Treat Leg Cramps". Retrieved 2009-12-14.