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What Is Tonic Water? | Tonic Water Quinine

By
Joshua Weatherwax
Table of Contents

The gin and tonic is one of the most popular cocktails of all time. But the tonic portion can be a bit confusing to people.

We often hear, "is tonic water interchangeable with other mixers?" To answer that you need to understand the ingredients in tonic water and you also need to ask what is club soda, what is soda water, and what is sparkling water?

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Keep reading to learn what tonic water is, the nutritional benefits and disadvantages, and some of the most popular brands of tonic water.

What Is Tonic Water?

Tonic water is a flavored drink that generally tastes bitter, but may be sweetened by whatever fruit juice is used in the production. Originally, tonic water was developed as an anti-malaria drink consumed by British soldiers in India and other tropical posts of the British Empire. The key to its use as an anti-malaria tool is the ingredient quinine, which is also the cause of the bitterness.

Before we move on, it's worth noting that you really can't discuss tonic water without discussing quinine.

What Is Quinine?

Quinine is a compound that comes from the bark of the cinchona tree commonly found in tropical regions in the Americas, Caribbean, and Africa. It is often turned into pills to treat malaria, but has been diluted and added to water to create tonic water. This drink was not intended to treat malaria, just as a preventative.

Today, the amount of quinine in tonic water is much lower and most manufacturers increase the sugar content to keep the drink from being overly bitter.

Is Tonic Water Good For You?

Unlike a few of the other types of carbonated waters, tonic water isn't particularly good for you. This is because tonic water has sugar added to counteract the bitterness of the quinine. If you're specifically looking for a water replacer, you're better off going with soda water or another type of carbonated water.

Tonic Water Benefits

There is only one primary benefit to drinking tonic water and that is hydration. Since it is still water, it will keep you hydrated and help you focus better than a soda or juice. However, it still has a sugar content comparable to those, so it's a bit of a double-edged sword.

What Is Tonic Water Good For?

Tonic water is best used as a mixer for a variety of cocktails. You can also drink tonic water straight, but many people find the bitter taste off-putting. Historically, tonic water was good for malaria prevention, but the quinine levels are much lower today.

Tonic Water Calories

A 12 ounce serving of tonic water has an average of 115 calories. This is due primarily to the added sugar found in nearly all brands' tonic water. If calories are a major factor in your purchase, you're likely better off buying sparkling water or club soda. However, they aren't interchangeable in all situations as tonic water is used to intentionally add some bitterness to cocktails.

Tonic Water Carbs

Tonic water has an average of 32 grams of carbs in a 12-ounce bottle. In general, the total amount of sugar in tonic water will be the same as the carbs in tonic water. That's because tonic water itself is a 0 calorie drink, but the bitterness makes it difficult to sell. You may be able to find lower-calorie options, but we recommend only using it as a mixer since it's not the healthiest option of the bunch.

Tonic Water Nutrition

Tonic water isn't a particularly healthy drink with a much higher caloric impact than other water-based mixers. This all comes down to the addition of sweeteners, usually sugar.

With that in mind, here are the general nutritional facts of soda water:

  • Calories - 114
  • Fat - 0 grams
  • Sodium - 40 milligrams
  • Carbs - 30 grams
  • Fiber - 0 grams
  • Sugars - 30 grams
  • Protein - 0 grams

Though it's too sugary to be your go-to water, it's a great choice to be added to gluten free gift baskets along with some other mixers for the cocktail lover in your life. This is especially true if you’re giving them to someone with a wine allergy who's far more limited when it comes to gift baskets.

Tonic Water Ingredients

Tonic water is made of more ingredients than comparable carbonated waters. That's because both sugar and fruit juices tend to be added to help override the bitterness of the quinine. This means tonic water and the ingredients used can have a major impact on any cocktails you make with it.

What's In Tonic Water?

Other than carbonated water, tonic water usually contains quinine and sugar. This sugar can come from a variety of ingredients including pure cane sugar, juice, high fructose corn syrup, and more. You should always read the label when purchasing tonic water if you're concerned about the sugar content and where it comes from. You may also be able to find tonic water brands that use stevia or other non-sugar sweeteners.

Does Tonic Water Have Sugar?

Yes, tonic water has an average of 32 grams of sugar in a 12-ounce bottle. This sets it apart from other carbonated waters which generally have 0 grams of sugar.

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Drinks With Tonic Water

Unlike club soda and seltzer, you won't find tonic water in many of the drinks every bartender should know. That's because tonic water has a much stronger flavor that can range from bitter to sweet. However, it's still a great mixer to have on hand when crafting summer cocktails.

With that in mind, here are a few drinks that contain tonic water:

  • Gin and Tonic
  • Vodka Tonic
  • Campari and Soda
  • Whiskey Tonic
  • Japanese Highball
  • Tequila and Tonic

Tonic Water Brands

With the rise of the online marketplace, buying tonic water has never been easier. We’ve listed our favorites below, but there are quite a few smaller brands that are starting to become available online, so feel free to test them out and find your favorites.

Here are the ten most popular soda water brands:

  1. Polar Tonic Water
  2. Schweppes Tonic Water
  3. Q Mixers Premium Tonic Water
  4. Canada Dry Tonic Water
  5. Fevertree Premium Tonic Water
  6. Zevia Zero Calorie Tonic Water
  7. Top Hat Classic Tonic Syrup
  8. London Essence Premium Tonic Water
  9. 365 Everyday Value Tonic Water
  10. Regatta Dry Citrus Tonic
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Tonic Boom!

Tonic water is a unique mixer that can really elevate the flavor of distilled liquors. It's not the same as other soda waters and shouldn't be consumed in the same manner unless you go with a low sugar and calorie option.

Unlike other types of soda water, tonic water isn't used in as wide a variety of classic drinks or fancy aphrodisiac drinks. However, drink recipes that do call for tonic water really benefit from its unique flavor profile. Don't switch it out for a club soda or flavored seltzer unless you're intentionally trying to test drinks. Tonic pairs well with many different types of alcohol, and you can learn more about it by checking out some of the best bartending books.

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