COVID-19 Day 32: Gin and Tonic, the Original Quarantini


British soldiers drinking their quinine

Sequestered at home in social lockdown for weeks because of COVID-19, many have turned to hosting virtual cocktail parties. Cooking and Lifestyle websites have shared various “Quarantini” recipes. But many don’t remember the original quarantini: gin-and-tonic

Gin traces its origins all the way back to the middle ages. Its name comes from the Dutch word for the juniper tree, “genever”. Juniper berries were infused in alcohol and the elixir was used as a traditional medicine to treat gout. Today we know it as a liquor made famous by the English and hipster mixologists.

Tonic water is a sugar-sweetened beverage flavored with quinine. And this is where the story gets weirdly prophetic. Quinine is a medicine that has been used to cure malaria for over 100 years. The synthetic versions of quinine are Chloroquine and Hydrochloloroquine. Yes, the same drugs made famous by President Trump in his COVID-19 press conferences. 

Quinine is the refined form of a traditional Incan medicine, made from ground tree bark. It was used as a muscle relaxant and fever reducer in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Jesuit missionaries brought the powder back to Europe where it was also used to treat diarrhea. Its first recorded use for malaria was in 1631; coincidentally, during an epidemic in Italy.

In the 19th century, British soldiers in India were issued quinine as a prophylactic treatment against malaria. They mixed quinine powder with gin and sugar to disguise the medicine’s bitter taste. From this mixed beverage we derive the modern gin-and-tonic cocktail.

And in case you’re wondering, can you drink a gin-and-tonic to treat yourself with quinine? Sadly the quinine in ‘tonic water’ is just a small fraction of a medical dose (the FDA limits quinine to 83 ppm in consumer beverages). You’d need to drink something like a gallon of gin-and-tonic to even approach the dosage of a single quinine pill.

Challenge accepted.


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