Along the Grapevine


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How to Make Tonic Water

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I recently wrote about making sodas from the root of a common weed – chicory. Fermenting a root, often ginger, is the first step in making a soft drink. It is then mixed with whatever juice you choose, a little more sugar or raw honey for a further ferment, sealed, and that’s it. The full recipe can be found here.

How to Make Tonic Water on Punk Domestics

I found the chicory bug had a bitter flavour, but nothing that would interfere with other flavours, so it can be a good alternative to ginger. It reminded me of the flavour of tonic water, so the next challenge was to develop it into the real thing.

I dug up some more chicory root while the ground is not yet frozen. The flowers had wilted but there were some tasty young green leaves at the base of the plants not to be wasted.

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Chicory plants in November

The roots are easiest to cut up when fresh, so it’s best to chop them all so when they dry, they are ready to add to your bug.

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Chicory roots

Searching for a good tonic recipe, I came across this one by David Lebovitz which I followed very closely, except I used a pinch of lavender flowers in place of the lemongrass called for. Instead of mixing the prepared syrup half and half with soda water, I fermented it with the ‘bug’, some raw honey and more water.

First, a little about this syrup. The ingredient that gives tonic water its distinctive flavour is the bark of cinchona (quina), a plant originating in South America but cultivated also in Asia for its medicinal qualities, one of which has been a treatment for malaria. For more about the plant, its uses and contraindications, read this.

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Cinchona bark

You won’t likely find this bark in your local green grocer’s, but a good herb shop should carry it, and of course you can buy it on line.

It is wise to use organic fruits, especially since the peel is used.

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Tonic infusion after 2 days

The bark, some spices, fruit juice and zest are all mixed together, heated and allowed to sit for a couple of days to make a richly coloured, super aromatic, bitter syrup.

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Strained tonic syrup

The next step was to ferment this with my chicory bug. For this I used

100 ml. chicory (or other root) bug

125 ml tonic syrup

2 Tbsp raw honey

1 tsp granulated sugar (optional, for a little extra sweetness)

200 ml non-chlorinated water.

Mix these ingredients in a bottle with a sealable lid like the one in the photo above, and let it sit at room temperature for about 5 days, after which time it should be refrigerated. Even at a cool temperature, fermentation will continue, so to be safe you can occasionally release the seal and let some gas escape, then seal it up again.

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Tonic on the rocks

The syrup soda combination was very good, but the fully fermented drink was definitely superior and well worth the extra little effort. The recognizable flavour of tonic was more complex, and was so good I didn’t even feel tempted to add the usual splash of gin, although I’m sure that would be excellent too.

If you don’t have access to chicory roots, any bitter, edible root such as dandelions would be a good alternative.

Linked to: Fiesta Friday #96

Related posts: Two New Flavours of Ginger SodaChicory Root Soda; Dandelion Gin Fizz