What is Tonic Water?

  • By: Max S.
  • Date: November 21, 2022
  • Time to read: 6 min.

Have you ever wondered what sets tonic water apart from other sodas? What is it that gives it that bitter taste? Or where did it even originate from?

Tonic water is one of those carbonated sodas that go well as mixers in alcoholic drinks. Its bitter taste gives it an edge over other options like seltzer and club soda. As a result, it’s used in many popular drinks such as Gin and Tonic. 

Tonic water has a fascinating backstory. Keep reading if you want to know more about this beverage than what meets the eye!

Who invented tonic water?

The first tonic water was officially patented in 1858 by Erasmus Bond, who owned Pitt and Co. in Islington.

The history of tonic water dates back to the 17th century in Spain. It contains an alkaloid called quinine, procured from the bark of the Cinchona plant. Back then, Malaria ran rampant, and the Spanish used quinine to help combat the disease. According to this legend, they were said to have received the remedy from the natives in Peru.

Even so, it was in the 19th century when tonic water was said to have originated. Then, quinine from the Cinchona bark made its way to Europe. There, in India and other parts of the British Empire, quinine was rationed to the British army to help prevent Malaria. 

However, quinine has a bitter taste which many found difficult to ingest back then. Thus, it’s said that the British soldiers added water and sugar to the concoction to dilute that taste, creating the first unofficial tonic water. 

Moreover, to further improve the taste, the British soldiers allegedly mixed their tonic water with gin, creating the first unofficial gin and tonic, a famous cocktail today. 

gin and soda water

What is tonic water used for?

The quinine in tonic water helps prevent Malaria. Besides this health benefit, tonic water is used in cocktails and can also be used in daily household chores. 

In the past, the primary purpose of tonic water was to fight Malaria and prevent its spreading. Today, however, tonic water is an excellent mixer for cocktails and is used in many different beverages. 

Tonic water is a famous mixer in Gin and Tonic. Besides this popular drink, it’s also used in other beverages like Vodka and Whiskey Tonics. The bitter taste of tonic water due to the quinine pairs perfectly with other drinks like fruity cocktails and vermouth. The bitter tones are neutralized with sweet, fruity flavors. 

You might not know this, but you can also use tonic water for household activities. This is because it has ingredients and properties which make it a good cleaning agent. Thus, it can replace cleaning sprays in emergencies as it cleans glass, table tops, and other surfaces. 

It is also good at removing stains from clothes. If you have a clothing item with a smear, try soaking it in tonic water and see the results yourself.

Lastly, tonic water is a good option for preserving flowers and plants. That is because it contains minerals, sugars, and water suitable for plants. Therefore, you can mix tonic water with regular water when you water your plants next time. You can also preserve fresh flowers from a bouquet in a bottle or vase filled with tonic water.

Is there still quinine in tonic water?

Tonic water today still contains quinine but in minimal quantities compared to the past. Quinine is more for the bitter taste than for prevention against Malaria like it was back then.

Until the 1920s, tonic water contained large amounts of quinine because it was considered an effective prevention method against Malaria. A few years later, the alkaloid was synthesized and sold in pharmacies in a much larger dosage to combat Malaria.

Since then, quinine in tonic water has been added in a much smaller dosage, not more than 83 parts of a million, as allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The limited dosage ensures that too much quinine is not ingested; otherwise, it could have harmful side effects on the body.

tonic water

What are some health benefits tonic water has?

Tonic water has been used as a prevention against Malaria since the 17th century and is still used in many countries. It also helps bring down fever and helps with weight loss.

Malaria is caused by a parasite from the Plasmodium group. Its mode of transmission is through the female Anopheles mosquito. Tonic water contains the alkaloid quinine, which is known to kill the Plasmodium parasite and prevent it from growing. Thus, tonic water is considered a prevention method against Malaria.

However, it was used more in the past than today because there are low levels of quinine in tonic water nowadays. So instead, quinine tablets are available today to help combat Malaria in much higher doses than in tonic water. 

Furthermore, tonic water’s quinine helps reduce a fever when ingested in large quantities. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. It even acts as a muscle relaxant which is why it is helpful for muscle spasms and restless legs. Quinine also helps in weight control without affecting your appetite and food intake.

Besides quinine, tonic water also contains added sugars and water. Thus, tonic water can be a good source of hydration, and the added sugars give you an energy boost when needed. However, too much sugar can be harmful, so it’s best to avoid drinking tonic water in large amounts. 

Are there other flavors tonic water has?

Tonic water has always had a bitter taste due to the quinine. In the past, drinks like Gin and Tonic originated from trying to mask the bitterness. Today, tonic water has many different flavors, especially in the form of tonic syrups.

Depending on the brand and flavor, tonic water can be drunk alone, with other alcoholic beverages, or with additional syrups or flavors. It all depends on your preference. 

A lot of companies, like Fever-Tree, create flavored tonic water. These include fruit-flavored tonic water like raspberry, citrus, aromatic, etc. They are the perfect ingredients to balance out the sharp taste of regular tonic flavor and are much more appealing if you prefer sweeter cocktails.

On the other hand, tonic syrups are very trendy these days. They are a more concentrated type of tonic water with more fresh and potent ingredients, making them more delicious. They can also be refrigerated and kept longer, and you can add them to other alcoholic drinks like gin, whiskey, vermouth, etc., to create more flavorful cocktails.

Some popular flavors for tonic syrups range from fruity flavors like berries, lemon, and grapefruit, to more spice-like flavors such as cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, etc. In addition, there are options available if you prefer either sweet, sour, or spicy flavors. 

tonic water variety

What is a good substitute for tonic water?

Tonic water is essentially carbonated water with added sugars and a little bit of quinine. If you ever need to substitute it with something else, you should go for something with similar ingredients, such as club soda or seltzer.

Tonic water has a bitter taste that is difficult to replicate without adding quinine to the substitutes. However, excluding the quinine, tonic water is similar to club soda and seltzer. 

Club soda is carbonated water with minerals and chemical compounds like sodium bicarbonate and chloride. These compounds are baking soda and table salt, bringing a fresh, bubbly flavor to the carbonated drink. This is why club soda can be a delicious alternative to tonic water and can be mixed with other alcoholic beverages.

Seltzer, on the other hand, is just carbonated water. It has no sugar, which is why it is considered a much healthier alternative to tonic water. To add sweetness, you can mix seltzer with fruit cocktails or syrups to enhance the flavor. You can also add a slice of lime or lemon. Seltzer water alone is just as healthy as drinking regular water.


Tonic water started as a medicinal beverage above all else due to the presence of quinine. But over time, it has become a popular mixer for many alcoholic drinks. From Gin and Tonic to Whiskey and Tonic, tonic water is part of many famous drinks today and has many uses.

If you’re a fan of bitter, sharp drinks, then tonic water is something you should try. It can even help spice up your sweet, fruity cocktail. So experiment with this beverage. You might discover your new favorite drink in the process!