Quinine is an alkaloid used in the tonic water drink, for its ability to give it its bitter taste. But what does it consist of and what is it really used for?

If you regularly drink tonic water it is quite possible that on some occasion, when reading its label, you have noticed a notice that reads like this: “contains quinine”, or basically  “contains a source of quinine”.

The reason why this compound is used in this type of drink is its ability to enhance its flavor, turning it into a drink with that characteristic bitter taste that characterizes them so much. For this reason, in some countries this type of drink is also known by the names of agua quinada or aguaquina.

Also known by the name of chinchona, it consists of an alkaloid of natural origin, with a white and crystalline appearance, which is produced by some species belonging to the genus Cinchona. It is basically a stereoisomer of quinidine.

The history of quinine.

For many years, quinine was obtained from the bark of the cinchona tree, a tree native to Peru, which we find especially in the Amazon rainforest. This bark was widely used by the pre-Columbian cultures of Peru, Ecuador and Colombia for its curative and medicinal effects. In fact, after the discovery of the New World, its properties were recognized in Europe in 1631, when the Jesuit Alonso Messiah Venegas brought the cinchona bark to Rome.

During the second half of the 18th century, various botanical studies of various species of cinchona were carried out. Among these varieties we find the Chinchona, on which there was almost special attention due to a curious legend that claimed that it had cured the wife of the viceroy of Peru, the Countess of Chinchón.

From then on, the use of the bark was imposed as a natural remedy for a wide variety of conditions, especially its use as a febrifuge. For this reason, it began to be sold at the price of gold and was increasingly in demand.

What is quinine for?

Quinine becomes one of the main compounds in tonic, a popular carbonated drink in which quinine is used as a flavoring, thanks to its characteristic bitter taste. However, since high doses can cause side effects, the American FDA has limited its concentration to a maximum of 83 ppm (approximately four thousandths of that used medically for different medical treatments).

Precisely because of its contribution in quinine, tonic water provides some properties, such as: it is a digestive drink by inducing secretion and reflecting the salivary and gastric glands, it also exerts a vascularization of the gastric mucosa.

On the other hand, it also became the main compound used in the medical treatment of malaria, until it was replaced by other much more effective synthetic drugs, such as primaquine, chloroquine or quinacrine. However, quinine is still used in the treatment of resistant malaria.

In turn, it also provides other therapeutic benefits. For example, it is a recognized antipyretic, analgesic and antimalarial.


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