What Is in Tonic Water That Makes It Taste So…Different?

When perusing the variations on bubbly water, one naturally turns to seltzer. It’s everywhere, and frankly, we’re thankful for that fact! But, when you want to wade a little deeper into the uncharted carbonated waters, tonic is there to guide you. Yes, tonic water has been by our (and our bartender’s) side for quite some time, so it’s time we learned a little bit more about it. That is, before it joins forces with the gin and we find ourselves in a stupor…quick, let’s learn while we still have our wits about us! 

So, what is in tonic water?

Tonic water is an uncomplicated combination of carbonated soda water with dissolved quinine and sugar. You read correctly; even though it’s called “water,” the answer to the question, “Does tonic water have sugar?” is one big yes—an average serving of tonic water has 32 grams of sugar. Tonic water also often contains citric acid (or some sort of citrus flavoring) and preservatives. 

best tonic water

Best Tonic Water

What’s the best tonic water? We tasted all the top brands to find the best tonic water to make G&Ts and drink solo.

What is quinine in tonic water? And how much quinine is in there?

Quinine is a medication used to treat malaria by killing the organism responsible for the disease. Or, at least, it was. It is no longer recommended by the WHO for medicinal uses, but it is still a necessary ingredient in tonic water. It gives the beverage its signature bitterness. Don’t worry, there’s a very small amount of quinine in tonic water. The U.S. FDA limits the amount of quinine in tonic water to 83 parts per million.

How to make tonic water

Making tonic water is not rocket science, brain surgery, or any of literature’s favorite stuff to convey something that is difficult. It’s simple stuff! To make an extremely basic tonic water, combine quinine syrup with carbonated water, mixing 1 part syrup to 4 parts water. Boom! Tonic! If you want something that tastes more like the tonic water you buy at the grocery store (or can’t get a hold of quinine syrup), try this recipe from Serious Eats, which includes sugar and citrus along with cinchona bark in place of quinine.    

Does tonic water glow in the dark?

Honestly, this is the best question I’ve ever had to answer for one of these explainer articles. In fact, from here on out, I’m going to report on whether ANY of the foods I write about glow in the dark, whether the general population is wondering about it or not. Anyway, in the case of tonic water, it’s true! Under an ultraviolet black light, the quinine in tonic water makes the water glow a bright blue hue that is visible in the dark. Throw away your lava lamps, all you need is tonic water to set the mood! 

I’ll bet you didn’t think an essay on tonic water would include facts about malaria fighting and glowing-in-the-dark, did you? But that’s just the kind of action-packed storytelling we here at Sporked pride ourselves on! Sometimes truth IS stranger than fiction!

About the Author

Joe Rumrill

Joe Rumrill is a fictional one-eyed spinach-loving sailor created in 1929 by E.C Se- Wait, no, that's not right... Joe Rumrill is a stand up comedian and writer currently based in Los Angeles. His favorite thing about food is a close tie between the taste and the nutrients one gets from it. His least favorite thing about it is the "gritty, dirt-like quality some food has", but he's most likely referring to the time in third grade he was dared to eat playground sand.

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  • So if I can’t get quinine syrup I should get the much easier to source CINCHONA BARK>