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Absinthe inaccuracies
Posted by Jonathan
on 07/13/06

As we've mentioned before, bad information about absinthe abounds, both on the Web and in print. Even many of the web sites you find that sell absinthe and fake absinth (sic) products push inaccuracies as a way to sell bad stuff to unsuspecting buyers. Any site selling absinthe that makes a big point of thujone content is immediately suspect and shouldn't be used. All respectable absinthes have almost no thujone content, and not nearly enough for any effect. Even drinking those terrible Czech concoctions which push their "100mg" of thujone does not actually get you enough for hallucinations to set in before the high alcohol content takes over.

We here at InAbsinthia like to search out and destroy this bad information. Drop us a line if you come across any in your electronic or print journeys. Even respectable pages like The Columbia Encyclopedia are rife with misinformation. Check this out :

absinthe. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05
absinthe, an emerald-green, toxic liqueur distilled from wormwood and other aromatics, including angelica root, sweet-flag root, star anise, and dittany, which have been macerated and steeped in alcohol. It was invented by a Dr. Ordinaire, a Frenchman who lived in Switzerland. Genuine absinthe is 70% to 80% alcohol. Because of the harmful effect it has on the nerves, it has been banned in most western countries.

How bad is this? Let us count the ways:

  1. "toxic" - absinthe in not toxic, as your faithful writers here at InAbsinthia can attest. There has been no reputable study that would indicate otherwise.
  2. "liqueur" - a common misconception, absinthe is not a "liqueur" (a sweetened, flavored, low alcohol digestif). It is a "liquor", as it is not sweetened, it has a very high alcohol content and is usually an aperitif.
  3. "angelica root, sweet-flag root, star anise, and dittany" - While there are many different recipes for absinthe, I'm not sure where they got this list of ingredients. As discussed here, nearly all good absinthes use green anise, not star anise (anise gives it the licorice flavor, although more sophisticated palates than ours have said there is a difference between licorice and anise flavors). And the other main ingredients in absinthe are fennel and hyssop. So the list of ingredients found in the definition are unusual, to say the least.
  4. "macerated and steeped in alcohol" - while this is one method for producing absinthe, it is not considered a "good" one. Most respectable absinthes are distilled like normal liquors, and the herbs are used in the flavoring process.
  5. "invented by a Dr. Ordinaire" - this story is pretty much discounted by every absinthe historian. It was used as a nice myth to give absinthe some respectability. Jad Adams, in his book "Hideous Absinthe" explains why a myth surrounding a French doctor living in Switzerland was used over the more probable creation by the Swiss medicine woman Henriette Henriod:
    Several cultural functions were served when Ordinaire and not Henriod was seen as the originator of modern absinthe: it meant the drink was a product of science rather than folk medicine; it became the creation of a man, not a woman; and if it had been made by a Frenchman only staying in Switzerland then it could be claimed as French, not Swiss. This creation of a culturally acceptable myth was characteristic of the whole long history of absinthe, in which the green fluid accepted whatever desires were projected onto it and combined with them in an opaque, cloudy mix.
  6. "70% to 80% alcohol" - while some may reach these dizzying heights, most are more like 60% to 70%.
  7. "harmful effect it has on the nerves" - again, this isn't true in the slightest, despite repeated claims. Absinthe was a victim of the nascent Prohibition movement and became an easy target for bad science and while thujone in very high amounts is bad for you (as are many things), it can't happen via absinthe.
  8. "banned in most western countries" - it is neither banned nor in most western countries. These days, it is actually legal in many western countries (including all of the European Union), and even where it is controlled, like in the United States, calling it "banned" is an exaggeration. It can't be sold, but it can be possessed, unlike say marijuana or machine guns.

Phew! Wow, makes you wonder exactly how many other bad entries are in this encyclopedia, doesn't it?

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