Tonic Water

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

tonic water is a non-alcoholic drink based on sweetened, carbonated water flavoured with quinine. It is now probably best loved as one partner in the drink gin and tonic, a mixture considered by many to epitomize the British Raj; however, the combination does not appear to have been popular until well into the 20th century, when it joined a well-established range of other drinks based on gin and bitters.

Artificially carbonated water has been known since the mid-18th century, when a method for making it was invented by Dr Joseph Priestley. In the 1790s, a Mr Jacob Schweppe (amongst others) set up a small factory in London to produce sparkling waters. Many of these included blends of mineral salts, in imitation of naturally occurring spring waters, considered to have qualities beneficial to health. Quinine, as well as being used as a prophylactic against malaria, was also considered to be an appetite stimulant and a more general antidote to fever. Bayley (1994) comments that Schweppes added ‘Indian’ Tonic Water to their range in the 1870s as a commercialization of an already well-established Raj practice of adding anti-malarial quinine to soda water. This remains the best-known brand of tonic water, although a ‘Quinine Tonic Water’ had been patented in 1858 by one Mr Erasmus Bond.