Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What's Absent from Absinthe?

(Thujone image from Wikipedia)

Absinthe is the green alcoholic drink that produced rhapsodies in Bohemians from Van Gogh to Poe. I was taught that it contained a hallucinogenic compound derived from wormwood called "thujone." They even had a picture of the compound in the textbook and everything. Had to be true, right?

Unfortunately, that nice little story is wrong. Some analytical chemists reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that they looked and looked for thujone in old bottles of absinthe, and couldn't find hardly any. In fact, there doesn't seem to be much chemically special about absinthe: it's a green, 140-proof liquor. So, for example, when Canadian songwriter Bruce Cockburn got a bottle for himself and wrote a song as a result ... he was just buzzed.

Genius does not come in bottled form. So much for better life through chemistry!

Here's a blog summary of the findings:

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