Jump to content
Oxygenee

Major new thujone article.

Recommended Posts

Chemical Composition of Vintage Preban Absinthe with Special Reference to Thujone, Fenchone, Pinocamphone, Methanol, Copper, and Antimony Concentrations

 

By Dirk W. Lachenmeier, David Nathan-Maister, Theodore A. Breaux, Eva-Maria Sohnius,

Kerstin Schoeberl, and Thomas Kuballa

 

Published in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, April 2008

 

PDF available at Thujone Info here: http://www.thujone.info/thujone-absinthe-39

 

I'm very pleased to announce the publication today by The American Chemical Society in their peer-reviewed "Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry" of our long awaited article on the chemical analysis of vintage absinthe, with special reference to thujone concentrations.

 

A collaborative effort between Dr Lachenmeier of the University of Karlsruhe, myself, Ted Breaux, and several other researchers, this is the fruit of several years work, and for the first time provided certifiable, detailed and comprehensive analysis of a wide range of vintage absinthes.

 

It's hoped that with the publication of this article, many of the old myths relating to thujone and to pre-ban absinthe will now finally be laid to rest.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's a (slightly modiified) version of the press release accompanying the article:

 

The Thujone Concentration of Vintage Absinthe - Some Definitive Answers.

 

Absinthe is an alcoholic aperitif made from alcohol and distilled herbs or herbal extracts, amongst them grand wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and green anise, but also usually including 4 other herbs: petite wormwood (Artemisia pontica), fennel, hyssop, and melissa (lemon balm).

 

The most popular misconception about absinthe is that it is an illicit drug, or at least similar to a drug in effect. This is not true. The hysteria surrounding absinthe in the early 20th century fueled the misconception that absinthe was a powerful intoxicant, caused hallucinations that drove men mad, threw them into epileptic fits, and made van Gogh slice off his ear.

 

The truth however, is both more interesting and less sensational. The story centers around a substance called thujone, which is a natural constituent of wormwood, and regarded as its 'active' ingredient. Thujone was said to be hallucinogenic and/or harmful, causing the distinct syndrome 'absinthism'; this is why there's been a widespread ban on absinthe all these years.

 

Scientists from the USA, the UK and Germany have now uncovered the truth about thujone in absinthe by, for the very first time, analyzing the actual thujone content of a representative sampling of original vintage absinthes. Their study has recently appeared in the American Chemical Society's peer-reviewed Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry but is already available on the internet. The full text can be accessed for free at: http://www.thujone.info/thujone-absinthe-39.html

 

Perhaps surprisingly, samples of absinthe made in France and Switzerland before the ban survive today. Still-sealed intact original bottles of the famous elixir emerge from the dust of history from time to time. In an extensive international effort, more than a dozen samples of authentic vintage pre-ban absinthes were collected, from bottles found in France, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and the USA. Only bottles of unquestioned authenticity were used (e.g. intact wax seals, original corks and labels).

 

In total, thirteen pre-ban absinthes, including many of the largest and most popular brands, were analyzed for thujone as well as for further parameters that have been hypothesized as contributing to the toxicity of pre-ban absinthe, including naturally occurring herbal essences (e.g. pinocamphone, fenchone), methanol, higher alcohols, copper, and antimony.

 

The results of the analysis show quite conclusively that the thujone concentration of pre-ban absinthe has been grossly over-estimated in the past. Papers published in the 1980's and 1990's postulated thujone concentrations as high as 260 mg/L, on the basis of purely theoretical calculations, not actual analysis. It's already well known that modern absinthes made according to historical recipes don't have anything like these levels of thujone ' now, this new study has shown that the original absinthes of the Belle Époque also had only very moderate levels of thujone. The total thujone content of the 13 pre-ban samples was found to range between 0.5 and 48.3 mg/L. Contrary to ill-informed speculation, the average thujone content of 25.4 ± 20.3 mg/L fell within the modern EU limit of 35 mg/L.

 

All other constituents were also toxicologically inconspicuous. Nothing besides ethanol was found in the absinthes able to explain the so-called syndrome 'absinthism'. In other words, the entire historical demonization of absinthe is based on a false premise ' that it is a thujone-rich drink. It isn't.

 

It is now increasingly clear in fact that well-made absinthes following authentic traditional recipes seldom have thujone levels much in excess of the EU limit. It seems that irrespective of the quantity of wormwood used, relatively little thujone makes it through the distilling process into the final distillate. The significance of this finding can't be overstated. Many herbs, including those commonly used in cooking, contain substances that if consumed in enormous quantities are potentially harmful. But common sense tells us that they are safe to use, because in practice these substances are only present in miniscule amounts. Likewise with absinthe ' yes it contains thujone, yes thujone is potentially harmful, but the quantity of thujone actually in a bottle of absinthe is extremely small.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm seeing the link to this article getting a lot of use as we all continue to spread the word. Thanks for the diligent and thorough job.

 

When might the printed version of the article be available? I'd love to buy a few copies...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

From what little I know of this green world, this work seems to be a solid vindication. Excellent stuff, Oxy and all who contributed.

 

Point 9 on the second page makes me wonder: what sort of poor quality absinthes were available in the day, and what did they contain? I've heard of copper sulfate as an additive and fondly remember the heady young high school chemistry days of hiding a beaker of it in my bedroom, complete with dangling string to 'grow' the crystals.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Point 9 on the second page makes me wonder: what sort of poor quality absinthes were available in the day, and what did they contain?

Well, in an earlier thread, old news paper archives were discussed. I had posted that...

I've been reading through some of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle articles featuring absinthe and found some interesting info. In the Feb 24, 1880 issue on Page 1, it's written that absinthe is sometimes colored with blue vitriol (copper sulfate). It goes on to say that chloride of antimony is another adulterant but this is reportedly denied. Later in the August 29, 1886 issue on page 15, the editor was asked how absinthe is made. Within the editor's answer he writes,
The liquor thus prepared constitutes the genuine article, and it has been maintained, on high medical authority, that the genuine extract of wormwood does not produce the terrible physical results which are attributed to it, but that these are due to deleterious adulterations. In adulterated absinthe the green color is usually produced by tumeric and indigo, but the presence even of cupric sulphate (blue vitriol) has been frequently detected. Commerce recognizes two varieties of absinthe--the common and the Swiss. The Swiss absinthe is the best and most trustworthy.
Does that help answer your question?

 

I read the entire journal article and there are some general notes on the survival of vintage absinthe. Essentially, the stuff that's being found today is found in wine caves and cellars that belonged to individuals who were affluent enough to have had that kind of long-term storage available to them and also could afford to buy the better stuff. The cheap stuff was bought by folks who were lower on the socioeconomic ladder and didn't have space for long-term storage. The bottom line is no samples of the adulterated brands have been found to confirm or refute the presence of adulterants...yet. :g:

 

I thought it was a fascinating read; kudos to the collaborators :thumbup: :cheers:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One might also assume that people that were poor enough to have to buy the cheap stuff would drink it once they got it home. One would think that saving a bottle of booze for later months (let alone future generations) would be the furthest thing from their mind.

 

This article is just plain old amazing. It is great to have proof. Thanks to all involved.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Does that help answer your question?

 

Yes, thank you. And Poor's logic makes perfect sense. I couldn't see a cheap ass whisky surviving 100 years, so same goes for absinthe.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wonderful! My SO who is a bench chemist and works with GCMS daily is so excited to read this (as am I, although my understanding will be less technical than hers.) :thumbup:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The paper is great.

 

But since Oxy and Ted were involved it's not credible. [/snark]

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wow very impressive. Great work on presenting very credible, measured research that very succinctly dispells so much of the misinformation out there about absinthe. Congrats.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Unfortunately I have yet to really sit down and read through it but it looks like a good paper.

 

Also a note on the cheaper bottles, the French ban was right on the tip of WW1 and France offered an absinthe buy back to help the war effort program where bottles where bought back and the alcohol used to process gun powder.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It wasn't a buy back for individual bottles, it was an offer for distillery owners with large quantities of unsold alcohol and absinthe en vrac.

 

The reason so-called low quality brands don't survive today is quite simple: they weren't brands, and they generally weren't sold in bottles. Absinthes like this were distributed directly in barrels, and dispensed over the counter in bars, either for consumption on the premises, or to take away, in which case customers brought in their own empty bottles for filling. This is the kind of absinthe that Van Gogh etc probably drank. Anything that was properly bottled and labelled - ie anything that we would recognize as a bottle of vintage absinthe if found today - was already quite high up the quality ladder.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great work and a great read, science vs superstition and hype/tripe. Don't see any way back for the kos thujone brigade in the face of this piece de resistance. One can only ignore reality for so long. Congratulations and thanks for the hard work! :cheers:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Rotgut absinthe out of the cask, or taken away in growlers?

 

What a concept, it's sooo 'Gangs of New York'.

 

Thanks for that elucidating tidbit, Oxy! :cheers:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes--I enjoy learning bits and pieces of its history quite a bit. It's a big part of the pleasure of absinthe, though I'm preaching to the choir here. Especially interesting to learn that the adulterated stuff wasn't bottled by its manufacturers, and how it was disseminated.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Very interesting article that I look forward to reading more carefully.

 

Upon a quick read, one excruciatingly minor quibble that I have and that I hope doesn't upset the apple cart here (it shouldn't) is that the total thujone contents reported for the preban, postban, and modern legal absinthes are not statistically, normally distributed (perhaps due to the relatively small sample sizes involved, which can also result in low statistical power, i.e. our statistical ability to reject null hypotheses that are false). This violates the assumptions of the ANOVA (analysis of variance) that was performed in this study. The data could have first been transformed (e.g., natural logarithm) and if normality in the distribution of the data is achieved, one can proceed with parametric statistical tests like ANOVA. If not, nonparametric statistical tests can be employed. Because I was curious about this, I quickly ran a nonparametric Kruskal-Wallis test (= nonparametric version of the ANOVA, which makes no assumptions about the underlying distribution of the data) in the statistical program JMP 7.0, and it did yield a significant p value of 0.03 indicating that postban thujone levels were significantly lower than preban or modern legal products (which did not differ).

 

I apologize for the mini "lecture" and statistically-stuffy verbiage (I am an empiricist and a biologist at a university and just can't help myself sometimes :)). I guess that the most important point here is that even with a more appropriate statistical test, the total thujone contents of preban and modern products are relatively low and not statistically significantly different.

 

My heartiest congratulations to those involved in this study. :cheers:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I saw the same--front page on Yahoo! I let out a hearty (yet corny) "Hells yeah!!!!" when I saw it.

 

Double cheers to Oxy et. al. for the article, as now there is something concrete that will bring better reportage (as we seem to be seeing) about the issue.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now

×