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 flavouring. 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 that disease is endemic. The mixed drink gin and tonic originated in British colonial India, when the British population would mix their medicinal quinine tonic with gin to improve its bitter flavour.
Since 2005, premium tonic water brands have increased in the marketplace, such as Fever Tree and Q Tonic. These brands place emphasis on using real quinine and natural sweeteners, as opposed to quinine flavouring and high-fructose corn syrup. These brands often sell at a price premium.
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.
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 flavour. As a consequence, it is less bitter, and is also usually sweetened, often with corn syrup or sugar. Some manufacturers also produce diet (or slimline) tonic water, which may contain artificial sweeteners. 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 (83 mg per liter if calculated by mass), while the daily therapeutic dose of quinine is in the range of 167–333 mg. Still, it is often recommended as a relief for leg cramps, but medical research suggests some care is needed in monitoring doses. Because of quinine's risks, the FDA cautions consumers against using "off-label" quinine drugs to treat leg cramps.
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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- Should people with nocturnal leg cramps drink tonic water and bitter lemon?
- 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.