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Let's talk about quinine

So if you're anything like me you spend a lot of your time on Wikipedia researching random questions you find yourself wondering about. For instance, when making yourself a gin and tonic you may ask, "what exactly is quinine?" And when you Wikipedia quinine you'll be glad you did because the answer is far more interesting than you could have ever thought.

"It was quinine's efficacy that gave colonists fresh opportunities to swarm into the Gold Coast, Nigeria and other parts of west Africa."

The first effective malaria treatment, quinine is a naturally-occurring alkaloid found in the cinchona trees of what is now Peru. At one point in history Africa was known as "the white man's grave" but the discovery by Europeans of quinine's medicinal purposes* is considered to be the main reason Europeans were able to survive Africa enough to colonize the continent.


As for the beloved gin and tonic, it is said that British colonists in India were the first to mix water and quinine (the primary way the medicine was ingested) with gin to cut the bitter flavor. Bombay gin is named for those colonists.

So the next time you order a gin and tonic or vodka tonic (really?...I kid...kinda) just remember that without quinine, the massive colonization of an entire continent for money, power, and cheap (free, mostly) labor would not have been possible. Gold, God, Glory, and Gin.

*I mean, specifically, Europeans realizing that quinine could treat malaria. The Quechua, the native people of the region where the cinchona tree is found, had (as to is be expected) long known of the many medicinal properties of quinine.

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