While cocktails aren’t exactly good for you – alcohol is a toxin after all – some drinks can be more dangerous than others. These dicey craft cocktail ingredients can be found in bars all over the place.
Photo by Michael Shehan Obeysekera.
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Have you ever had a gin and tonic with house-made tonic water? How about a fizz or sour? Perhaps a fun tiki drink? Maybe a glass of eerie, smoking cauldron punch? Those are all tasty cocktail options, but as M. Carrie Allan (no relation) at Imbibe Magazine explains, they can also be hazardous to your health.
Tonic water made in-house, for example, can contain too much quinine – usually made from cinchona bark – and cause cinchonism. This is a type of poisoning that includes symptoms like blurred vision, impaired hearing, vertigo and nausea.
Raw eggs used in fizzes and sours can carry Salmonella bacteria, and most tiki bar drinks actually rely on various nuts to give off that island-style flavour, which is problematic for those with allergies. Orgeat for instance, used in Mai Tais, Royal Hawaiians and most tropical-flavoured party punches, is essentially an almond syrup. And when you see a cocktail giving off a some cool vapour effects, it’s because of dry ice. An overzealous drinker who’s all too captivated by the spectacle could accidentally ingest some and get the lining of their stomach frozen.
If you frequent some really hip establishments, you may have seen black cocktails or drinks listed as having “infusions” of some kind. Those nifty opaque black beverages are made using activated charcoal, which isn’t poisonous but highly absorptive. It can mess with the medications you’re taking, including heart medication, antidepressants and even birth control. And those “infusions” can contain botanicals like cinchona and wormwood (which can contain toxic thujone), or possibly tobacco. Some bar owners use tobacco to make bitters and tinctures — like for Manhattans or Old Fashioneds – but the amount of nicotine in these types of infusions is likely much higher than what you’d get from lighting up a cigarette. Ingesting too much tobacco this way could be a one-way ticket to nicotine poisoning.
That’s not all though. Uncleaned citrus peel, elderberries, grapefruit, nutmeg and floral garnishes are possible cocktail ingredients that can turn a fun night of drinking into a less fun night at the emergency room. Most places will put warnings about these ingredients on their menus, but let’s be honest, how many of us are going to read all that when we just want to get a drink and go hang out with our friends?
Still, this isn’t to say you should avoid these ingredients entirely – just that you should be aware of them and how they could possibly affect you. These items aren’t always dangerous, especially if you’re careful and the establishments you’re drinking at know what they’re doing. In fact, most other cocktail ingredients aren’t dangerous at all.
If you’re ever in doubt, you can check the safety of an ingredient for yourself using two FDA databases: The Generally Recognised as Safe (GRAS) list, and the Everything Added to Food in the United States (EAFUS). Obviously the second list is more applicable in the US, but Australians might still find it useful. For you at-home mixologists out there, you can learn more about these sometimes-dangerous ingredients, and how to use them safely, here.
This story has been updated since its original publication.