|Cinchona officinalis, the harvested bark|
The Incas were made aware of the healing properties of the bitter alkaloid after a cinchona bark fell into a pool making its waters appear to be poisoned. One of the Incas was suffering from malaria and so keen was the feverish man to quench his thirst that he drank the bitter tasting water from the pool, not caring about the consequences. To everybody’s surprise instead of dying, he was cured. The Incas came to realize that quinine eased the symptoms of malaria, though they did not understand how the disease was transmitted.
A Jesuit priest, Padre Calancha, serving in Peru reported in 1633 that the locals ground the bark of what they called “the fever tree” into a powder which they then used as a medication to cure fevers. He noted that this treatment was miraculously effective in curing diseases. Within seven years Jesuit missionaries had introduced quinine to Europe.
|Peru offers a branch of cinchona to science (from a 17th-century engraving).|
In 1820 the French chemists Pierre Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Caventou isolated the alkaloid from the cinchona bark.
A formal chemical synthesis was accomplished in 1944 by American chemists R.B. Woodward and W.E. Doering. Since then, several more efficient quinine total syntheses have been achieved, but none of them can compete in economic terms with isolation of the alkaloid from natural sources.
Tonic water (or Indian tonic water) is a carbonated soft drink in which quinine is dissolved. It was originally used as a prophylactic against malaria, since it was originally intended for consumption in tropical areas of South Asia and Africa, where the disease is endemic. Quinine powder was so bitter that British officials stationed in early 19th Century India and other tropical posts began mixing the powder with soda and sugar, and a basic tonic water was created. Tonic water generally now has a significantly lower quinine content and is consumed for its distinctive bitter flavor.
It’s the quinine in tonic water that makes it glow in ultra-violet light.
|Under ultraviolet light, the quinine in tonic water fluoresces.|
The mixed drink gin and tonic also originated in British colonial India, when the British population would mix their medicinal quinine tonic with gin to mask the bitter taste.
In Scotland, the company A.G. Barr uses quinine as an ingredient in the carbonated and caffeinated beverage Irn-Bru.