Quinine Syrup

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.

67 comments to “Quinine Syrup”

  1. Alas cinchona bark seems to be prohibited in Australia, otherwise I’d be on to this in a flash!

  2. This is amazing! I have been getting compliments left and right on this syrup, and I am about to make another batch because it is gone! Such a surprising and fantastic combination of flavors. Love it. Thank you, Tim.

  3. Thanks so much for this- I’m going to make a batch as a birthday gift for a vodka&tonic lover.

    I apologize if I’m oblivious, but I didn’t see anything here or in the original NYTimes post about how long this keeps (refrigerated, I assume)- any guess?
    Thanks again!

  4. Hey Tess- I haven’t tested, but for months in the fridge for sure. Nothing to cause quick spoilage here. Mine is always used within a few weeks.

  5. Love the recipe too never thought of adding other flavors, but just made some grapefruit and blood orange shrub for which the peels had to laboriously de-pithed. Good thing I saved them so I can use them in this.

    Just picked up some Cinchona bark at the local apothecary, alas it wasn’t powdered. I only have one coffee grinder and don’t want to clean it of coffee flavors. I was thinking of pounding the bark with a hammer inside a bag and doing the decoction with it that way. Do you think it will give enough flavor to the syrup? Plus I’m thinking it will filter out faster if unpowdered.

    PS I will send you some weight measurements if I get a good tasting batch. It would be better to know the flavorings by weight to make each batch more consistent regardless of their form or size of pieces. Thanks so much

  6. I’m really enjoying your site. After you make the quinine syrup let it
    glow in the dark with a black light. Really! Saw that on another food
    blog last year and made glow in the dark jello with tonic water.

  7. I like making my own tonic. But only for myself. I want to serve it to my customers, but how am I supposed to know how much quinine is in my solution?

    The FDA has regulated limit. But there doesn’t seem to be any easy ways to measure this.

    Does anyone have any clues?


  8. awesome recipe! thanks for sharing, but i am wondering how you mix your gin tonic with that? how many parts quinine sirup/water/gin. what do you suggest? looking forward hearing from you! flo.

  9. Hi Flo- It is totally up to you and your taste. I would play around a bit. I usually do 1 part gin to 2-3 parts sparkling water and then add a small amount of the syrup to taste.

  10. Made this for gifting to the other writers with whom I work this holiday season. I used rich syrup that I’d cooked orange peel in for my traditional candied orange peel. Delicious!

  11. Great post! So I have 2 cinchona bark maintenance questions. I’m gonna be trying to make some Barolo Chinato, so I’ll be infusing a grain alcohol with the bark. 1. Do I need to thoroughly wash the bark? And 2. How long will the bark leftover keep for? I found some from Honduras on eBay but I don’t need the full pound of it! How good does it keep in my drawer? Thanks!

  12. Hey Jonathan, I am not the expert you were hoping I would be. I’ve only worked with it a couple of times. 1. I did not wash my bark- but it looked “clean” and so it never crossed my mind. 2. I think it will keep indefinitely, as long as it is dry and airtight. I made this with bark that had probably been in my kitchen for a year or more and it was still fine. I will use the same bark the next time I make this.

  13. I’ve been waiting and waiting since you posted this for a weekend when I had enough time to get the ingredients and put this together, and it finally came. I just made this for my mom for Mother’s Day a week or so ago. She used to drink gin & tonics at my horse shows when I was little, and I’d drink plain tonic water. I can’t say I drink it without the gin anymore though… Looks like there are a lot of us nostalgic G&T people out there!

    Anyways, this stuff is so good. It’ll be fun to play around with the ratios of the non-cinchona ingredients when I make it again. I might add some ginger and peppercorns for some added spice on my next run.

    Thank you so much for sharing yet another wonderful recipe!

    (NOTE: For people in SF, you can get all of the ingredients, including the cinchona, at Duc Loi market in the Mission. Cost me about $16 altogether.)

  14. Summer Amerine says:

    October 7th, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    Hoping to find out if this can be used for my husband health needs for leg cramps. His doctor has recommended for cramps and I am looking for a better flavor than commercial “store bought” brands. Thank you!

  15. I have been looking for a recipe using cinchona bark (Smallflower brand) so I could make something to use for leg cramps. But, I can’t do sugar or most sugar substitutes, so am hoping this recipe will work somehow with stevia. I have found an “instant tea” recipe on pennherb.com (where it is made pouring boiling water over 1/4 – 1/2 tsp. of ground bark and then sweetened to taste, and with lemon if desired). I haven’t tried that yet either…I found your site by happy accident because I thought maybe I should wash the bark first (probably will)and that question led me here. I was a little afraid of the stuff now that I bought it, wondering how much quinine I would be ingesting. But your recipe sounds much more palatable…I know it is all about the G&T, but vodka tonics are pretty good, too! Now I think I will try both recipes. Thank you!

  16. I found your recipe whilst looking on the net for healthy tonic water alternatives. I was really inspired by your writing and pictures for this tonic syrup and would love to try it. I love my G&T’s in summer but have been told to cut back on my cane sugar intake. Please could you recommend a non-cane sugar healthy alternative for the “simple syrup”. Thank you!

  17. Hi Simon- I am probably not the right person to ask since I don’t have this limitation. Any sugar substitutes will add additional flavors that will change the recipe entirely. You can control how much of the syrup you mix with your sparkling water or cocktail, so that might be a better way to control the sugar. Good luck!