Why is quinine used in tonic water

Quinine in beverages

Dr. Eva Lassek - Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety
Thomas Klasna - Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety

Quinine is mainly known as a component of bitter lemonades such as tonic water or bitter lemon. What is less well known is that quinine is also used in the medical field. We provide information about labeling and health concerns.

  • What is quinine
  • Use in medical field
  • Use of quinine in food
  • How much is quinine in non-alcoholic soft drinks?
  • How should quinine be labeled?
  • How is quinine to be assessed in terms of health?

What is quinine

Quinine is a white, crystalline powder that is very sparingly soluble in water with a very bitter taste and the molecular formula C20H24N2O2.

Quinine belongs to a group of alkaloids found in the bark of the cinchona tree (Chinchona pubescens). The home of the cinchona tree is the high forest (1500-2700 m above sea level) in the Cordilleras in South America but also on Java or in high altitudes in tropical Africa.

The name "quinine" is said to come from the Countess Chinchón, the wife of the Spanish viceroy of Peru at the time, who was cured of malaria by using cinchona bark. Her personal physician brought the bark to Spain in 1639. The isolation of quinine from cinchona bark in 1820 goes back to the French pharmacists Pelletier and Caventou. The first factory extraction of cinchona bark to obtain pure quinine was achieved in 1824 by the German pharmacist F. Koch in Oppenheim.


Use in the medical field

Quinine has been used as a pure substance against malaria and fever attacks since 1820. It has been strongly pushed back by synthetic antimalarials. With the emergence of resistant strains in the middle of the last century, quinine gained in importance again.

It is also used as a muscle relaxant (drug to relax the skeletal muscles) for the treatment of nocturnal calf cramps and also has analgesic properties.
The following are contraindications (contraindications) for drugs containing quinine in the Red List:

  • Pregnancy (promotes labor and, in high doses, damages the embryo)
  • Tinnitus
  • Previous damage to the optic nerve
  • Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency
  • Myasthenia gravis (muscle weakness)
  • As a restriction on use, it is recommended to use quinine carefully in the case of cardiac arrhythmias.

Use in food

Quinine is getting strong these days because of its bitter taste as a flavor component of some non-alcoholic soft drinks such as tonic water and lemonades containing fruit Bitter orange and bitter lemon added.

It is also found in Bitter spirits Use. Such drinks played a much more important role in colonial times. The development of Indian tonic Water came up with a brilliant idea to take the annoying dose of quinine in the form of lemonade, which is necessary for malaria prophylaxis. The colonial officers of the British Empire stationed in the malaria areas accepted the drink enthusiastically and thus helped it to achieve its worldwide triumph.

According to Regulation (EC) No. 1334/2008 on aromas and certain food ingredients with aroma properties for use in and on foods, the addition of quinine and its salts (such as quinine hydrochloride and quinisulfate) with both non-alcoholic soft drinks and spirits up to the following maximum quantities allowed:

  • Spirits (up to a maximum of 250 mg / l) and
  • non-alcoholic soft drinks (up to a maximum of 100 mg / l)

The maximum levels are expressed as pure quinine.

How much is quinine in non-alcoholic soft drinks?

Of the food groups to which quinine and its salts may be added, soft drinks have the largest market share, usually the bitter lemonades "Tonic Water" and "Bitter Lemon".

The clear "tonic water", made without any fruit juice, is the most bitter tasting product, with the highest quinine content in the field of soft drinks. According to investigations by the LGL (Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety), these are on average 71 mg / l. Significantly less quinine is contained in "bitter lemon", which is made with approx. 3 - 12% lemon juice. The average quinine content here is around 34 mg / l.

How should quinine be labeled?

Pre-packaged beverages that contain quinine and / or its salts as aromas must, in accordance with the requirements of the Food Information Regulation, have the indication "Aroma quinine" in the list of ingredients.

For beverages that contain other flavorings in addition to quinine, this results in a double flavor declaration, namely “aroma” and “aroma quinine”. In the case of beverages for self-service, which, for example, are served openly on beverage boards and which do not have to carry a list of ingredients, the note "contains quinine" must still be attached on the basis of the national flavor regulation. This also applies to serving in restaurants. The corresponding drinks must be marked as "containing quinine" in the drinks menu.

Figure: Quinine must be specified in the list of ingredients.

How is quinine to be assessed in terms of health?

The BfR (Federal Institute for Risk Assessment) issued a detailed opinion on the health assessment of quinine on February 17, 2005 (updated with Opinion No. 020/2008 of May 9, 2008). The evaluation from 2005 (No. 002/2005) included publications by the SCF (Scientific Committee on Food), the JECFA (Joint FAO / WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives), case reports and individual statements.

The BfR recommends:
"Consumed in large quantities, quinine can be a health problem for certain consumer groups. Risks are seen in particular for the intake of quinine during pregnancy. People who doctors advise against taking quinine, cinchona bark and their preparations because of their clinical picture should also refrain from consuming quinine Avoid soft drinks. Patients with cardiac arrhythmias and those who take drugs that interact with quinine should only consume quinine-containing lemonades after consulting their doctor. "


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