The other day at lunch, my friend Anna was telling me about someone she knew who roasted his own coffee beans at home. I made a joke about how ridiculous that was and then remembered that I had a vat of quinine syrup brewing in my fridge—who am I to judge?
This is the perfect recipe for those of you with some extra cinchona bark lying around. I know that demographic is probably an even smaller percentage of the population than those roasting their own coffee. But, nevermind all of that, this recipe is magic—witchcraft even. And, outside of finding yourself some cinchona bark, this is a pretty straightforward process, though it does take several days.
To the one person who is still reading these words: the searching for unusual ingredients and tending to the cauldron of potion for several days is all worth it when you are sipping your homemade quinine syrup combined with sparkling water. Homemade tonic water is good. The syrup is even better with some gin and soda.
There is something so awesome and confidence building about recipes where an odd mix of ingredients become something familiar that you never imagined you would be able to make at home. Of course you might not want to make your own quinine syrup every day, but you need to try it once! It is fun. It will last you all summer, and imagine how friends of friends will make fun of the foodie who makes his own quinine syrup.
Cinchona bark is pretty difficult to find, you’ll likely need to turn to the internet and even then it might be a struggle. I don’t know why, but we happened to have some in a drawer. Probably something Bryan was curious about, he’s like that.
Cinchona is the bark of a shrub native to Peru. It has long been used for is medicinal purposes: to cure pain, ease fever and relax muscles. Most famously, because of the quinine contained in the bark, it was used to prevent malaria. The bark is very bitter and needs to be tempered with other botanicals and sugar to make it palatable.
Quinine Syrup (via Tony Cecchini and the NYTimes)
- 4 cups water
- 1/4 cup (1 ounce/20 grams) cinchona bark, powdered (use a coffee grinder)
- 1/4 cup citric acid, also known as lemon salt
- 3 limes, only the peeled zests
- 3 lemons, only the peeled zests
- 1 grapefruit, only the peeled zests
- 1 cup chopped lemongrass (3-4 stalks)
- 9 whole allspice berries
- 6 whole cardamom pods
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon lavender
- 3-4 cups rich simple syrup (by volume, two parts sugar to one of boiling water, stirred to dissolve)
In a covered saucepan, bring all ingredients except the simple syrup to a boil and reduce heat immediately; simmer on low for a half hour, then remove from heat and allow to cool fully. Transfer to a carafe or jar and chill for two days. Strain through a superfine chinois or cheesecloth, or by using a plunger press coffee maker. Return to the carafe and refrigerate for a day or two, allowing sediment to accumulate on bottom. When the layer of sediment seems stable, gently decant off the clearer liquid without disturbing the sediment “mud.” It should be about 3 cups at this point (I was closer to 2 1/2); add to this liquid an equal measure of simple syrup, mixing well. Funnel into a clean, cappable bottle and refrigerate. Makes roughly 6 cups or 1.5 liters.