What Is Tonic Water?

Tonic water is a kind of soda water that is most commonly used as a mixer in drinks. It is most famously known to be paired with gin, creating the humble gin and tonic.

It’s refreshing, versatile, and primarily used as a mixer for alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks around the world. 

What Is Tonic Water?

If you’ve ever drank tonic water by itself, you’ll know that it has a distinctive bitter, dry taste.

It’s not exactly the most pleasant drink, but when it’s mixed with something else, it turns into a refreshing beverage with a satisfying tang of bitterness. 

Still, what is tonic water? What is tonic water made of, and does it actually have any health benefits? 

Here is everything you need to know about tonic water! 

What Is Tonic Water? 

Also known as Indian tonic water, tonic water is a carbonated soft drink that appears in mixed drinks, most famously gin and tonic. 

The reason why it is also called Indian tonic water is because of the ingredient quinine.

Quinine is a type of medication used to prevent malaria, and was combined with soda and sugar to serve British officials in India during the 19th century.

The mixture of quinine with soda and sugar helped to mask the taste of the medicine, resulting in tonic water. 

What Is Tonic Water Made From?

As mentioned above, the first key ingredient of traditional tonic water was quinine.

Quinine was a helpful factor in European colonialism, as it was discovered in the 1600s by Europeans who witnessed indigenous people making tea out of cinchona bark.

Quinine is an alkaloid extracted from the cinchona bark, and worked to prevent diseases like malaria. 

To this day, quinine is still a vital ingredient in tonic water, alongside carbonated water and a flavored syrup.

The ingredients of tonic water will vary depending on the brand, but most tonics will also include a range of citrus peels and oils, a sweetener (such as high fructose corn syrup or cane sugar), and natural quinine or an artificial substitute. 

You can also get flavored tonic waters to mask the bitterness of the original lemon-flavored drink, including elderflower, rose, lavender, ginger, allspice, lemongrass, and cinnamon. 

What Does Tonic Water Taste Like?

Tonic water is infamous for its bitter taste. It’s a carbonated drink, so the fizziness helps to mask the bitterness of the tonic water, but it’s still a considerably dry drink.

While there are flavored tonic waters available, you’ll struggle to find a tonic water that tastes like syrup. Even with a sweetener or flavor, tonic water is still a bitter drink. 

If you mix the tonic water with another liquid, such as gin or lime juice, then the tonic water works to elongate the other liquid. They work together to create a unique blend of flavors, but at its core, it’s a drink suitable for those who love bitter beverages. 

Is Sparkling Water The Same As Tonic Water?

It would be easy to assume that sparkling water is the same as tonic water, because both beverages are carbonated. However, there is a key difference between tonic water and sparkling water – the ingredients. 

While tonic water is made of carbonated water, sugar, and quinine, sparkling water is basically a carbonated version of naturally occurring spring water.

It is also known as sparkling mineral water thanks to the minerals found in the water, including magnesium, sodium, and calcium. 

The flavors of both tonic water and sparkling water are largely different. Sparkling water doesn’t really have a flavor, and is simply a fizzy version of water.

Tonic water, however, is slightly sweeter yet also bitter, thanks to the inclusion of citrus flavors and sugars. 

The only similarity between tonic water and sparkling water is that both are carbonated drinks. That being said, you can’t replace the tonic water in a gin and tonic with sparkling water, because it just won’t taste right. 

What Is Tonic Water? (1)

How Do You Drink Tonic Water?

Tonic water can be enjoyed on its own poured over ice with a slice of lemon, but it is mostly used as a mixer in alcoholic drinks.

It is most famously known as the sole mixer in a gin and tonic, consisting of a gin of your choice and tonic water, creating a bitter yet refreshing beverage. 

In terms of other alcoholic drinks that tonic appears in, it is also paired with vodka, Irish whiskeys, and fortified wines. It works best with citrus flavors and is often used as a healthier alternative to sweeter sodas in cocktails. 

As for nonalcoholic beverages, tonic water is often paired with lime juice to emphasize the citrus flavors. It is also paired with cold brew coffee, syrups, or fresh berries to work as a palette cleanser. 

What Are The Benefits Of Tonic Water?

Arguably the main reason why tonic water is chosen as a mixer in cocktails is because it is a low-calorie drink. It is ideal to pair with low-calorie liquors, such as gin or vodka, for those who are keen to lose weight. 

The inclusion of quinine in tonic water is believed to be one of the reasons why tonic water is considered a healthy mixer.

However, while quinine was once used to kill the organism responsible for malaria, it isn’t consumed nowadays for the same reason. It’s safe to consume, but doesn’t really hold many health benefits. 

Tonic water itself doesn’t come with a myriad of health benefits – it’s just a healthier alternative to other mixers that are high in sugar, such as Coca-Cola.

It depends on what you pair the tonic water with, and how often you consume it. 

You’ve also got to consider what artificial sweeteners appear in tonic water. While a small amount of sugar isn’t going to cause rapid weight gain, it’s still sugar nonetheless. 


So, there you have it! Tonic water is a simple yet satisfying carbonated drink, most famously known for its bitter taste and as an accompaniment to various alcoholic beverages.

It’s primarily used as a healthier alternative to sugary sodas. 

Mark Williams
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