Absinthe, also known as the Green Fairy, is a herbal alcoholic beverage with an anise flavor. It was the drink of La Belle Epoque period of history and of the Bohemian culture of Paris, in particular Montmartre. Absinthe fans – Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway claimed that the drink was responsible for their genius and that it gave them inspiration – the Green Fairy was their muse. But, what is in Absinthe?
What is in Absinthe?
Henri-Louis Pernod’s Absinthe of the early 19th century was produced using a wine based alcohol which was distilled with natural herbs. It is said that his Absinthe recipe was made using the plant common wormwood (Artemisia Absinthium) and other herbs including Florence fennel, green aniseed, hyssop, lemon balm, dittany, star anise, angelica, veronica, nutmeg and juniper. Some of these herbs were used at the beginning of the process and others were used at the end to give the Absinthe its classic green or verte color.
Wormwood gave Absinthe its name (from Absinthium) and its slightly bitter taste. Roman or petite wormwood (artemisia pontica) is also sometimes used in Absinthe production.
Wormwood contains a chemical called thujone. Thujones are monoterpenes and ketones which are found in various other plants too – sage, cypress and tansy. Thujones act on the GABA receptors in the brain and can cause convulsions and muscle spasms when consumed in large quantities. They can also be toxic to organs such as the liver and brain. Thujone was thought to be similar to THC in the drug cannabis causing psychedelic effects such as hallucinations but research has shown this to be false.
Wormwood, or thujone, was responsible for the banning of Absinthe in the early 1900s. The medical profession of the time claimed that drinking Absinthe led to Absinthe addiction, Absinthism whose symptoms were:-
- Hyper excitability
- Weakening of the intellect
- Brain damage
These claims have now been proved false and seem to be just part of the mass hysteria promoted by the prohibition movement of the time. Absinthe, even pre ban Absinthe, only contains very small amounts of thujone and it would be impossible to ingest enough thujone to be harmful – you would die of alcohol poisoning first! There is far more thujone in sage and no one hallucinates after eating a casserole flavored with sage!
All good Absinthe contains wormwood and other essential oils. These oils allow the Absinthe to louche when water is added in Absinthe preparation and give it its wonderful anise flavor. Make sure that you buy a quality Absinthe or make your own Absinthe using a top-quality essence from AbsintheKit.com. See AbsintheKit.com for information and help regarding their Absinthe products.
Absinthe also contains alcohol and it has a very high alcohol by volume, up to 75% ABV. Care should be taken when drinking Absinthe, not because it will make you hallucinate but because it is so easy to get drunk on Absinthe especially if you are mixing it with other alcohol in cocktails.
I hope that this information has answered the question “What is in Absinthe?”. Enjoy getting to know the Green Fairy!