‘Absinthe Thujone’ these two words have had a very ambivalent history. Absinthe on the one hand was lovingly called as ‘The Green Fairy’, ‘The Green Muse’, or ‘The Green Goddess’ was also equally hated by its detractors and held responsible for moral degeneration and madness.
The origin of absinthe can be traced back to later years of the 18th century when a French doctor Dr. Pierre Ordinaire invented a digestive tonic using herbs such as wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), fennel, anise, hyssop and nutmeg. It was considered an herbal remedy at that time. In the year 1797 Henri-Louis Pernod started commercial production of absinthe. In 1805 a dedicated distillery for the production of absinthe was set up by Pernod and soon after that absinthe became the national drink of France. It was the most popular alcoholic drink in Europe and at one time absinthe rivaled wine. It is estimated that in the 19th century more than 2 million liters per year of absinthe was consumed in France alone. The rich and poor both consumed absinthe.
Absinthe was considered an inspirational drink and many great artists and writers were regular drinkers. Great painters like Vincent Van Gogh were so much in love with ‘The Green Fairy’ that absinthe features in five of his masterpieces. Other prominent people from the world of art and literature including Pablo Picasso, Oscar Wilde, and Hemmingway attributed their creative genius to absinthe and its mystical effects. However, by the beginning of the twentieth century alarmed by the increasing alcoholism amongst the population and certain unfounded rumors the demand to ban absinthe started gathering momentum. It was widely believed that thujone a terpene found in the herb wormwood was responsible for the detrimental effects of absinthe. It was widely believed that absinthe contained alarming levels of thujone. This sustained campaign against absinthe eventually led to absinthe being banned at the beginning of the 20th century in most of Europe and North America.
With the ban on absinthe, interest in absinthe slowly declined. However in some parts of Europe absinthe was still distilled clandestinely and this came to be known as clandestine absinthe. In the year 1975 in a paper published in a scientific magazine indicated that thujone’s chemical structure is similar to THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol which is present in cannabis and causes convulsions and hallucinations when consumed in large quantity. However in the year 1999 further evidenced proved that thujone has no effect on cannabinoid receptors. The research further proved that thujone in small quantity produces stimulant action, as it is a GABA-A modulator. In the light of this new finding most European countries have now lifted the ban on absinthe and it is now available in Europe. However, it continues to be banned in the US.
US residents can buy absinthe from non-US producers as possession and drinking of absinthe is not illegal in the US. With the fast growth of the internet there are many online stores that sell absinthe essence and other absinthe products. You can now buy absinthe essence online and prepare your own absinthe at home. A note of caution, since absinthe has high alcohol content it is recommended that you drink absinthe in moderation.
Good quality absinthe contains wormwood and other essential oils, these oils get precipitated when ice-cold water is added to it and the emerald green color of absinthe turns opaque white, this is called louching and it is responsible for the fabulous anise flavor.
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