Absinthe has made a dramatic comeback in the 21st century after being banned for almost a century in most of the European Union and North America. Absinthe is an alcoholic beverage that is primarily made of wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and other herbs. Absinthe is also known as the green fairy was first formulated in Switzerland by a French doctor Dr. Pierre Ordinaire in the 19th century as a digestive tonic.
In the nineteenth century, absinthe was the most popular drink in France. It was supposed to act as a creative stimulant and was patronized by great writers and painters such as Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway and Oscar Wilde. The beginning of the twentieth century saw absinthe being banned in most European countries and the United States. Herbs such as green anise, wormwood, and Florence fennel are the main ingredients. Many other herbs such as Melissa, hyssop, angelica root, sweet flag, dittany leaves, star anise, veronica and other mountain herbs are also used in making absinthe.
The finest absinthe is made using natural herbs and does not contain any artificial colors or flavors. The herbs are ground and absinthe is extracted by the distillation process. The pale green color of typical absinthe is due to the chlorophyll present in the herbs. The herb wormwood contains a very mild neurotoxin called thujone. The thujone content may differ in different brands of absinthe. In some brands of absinthe, the quantity of thujone is negligible while in others it may be as high as 35mg/kg. International standards require alcoholic beverages to contain no more than 10mg/kg of thujone. Bitter spirits can contain up to 35mg/kg of thujone.
A good quality absinthe drink will show louche effect when water is added to it. Good quality absinthe will show gradual turbidity or opaqueness as ice cold water is added to it. The louche effect is the result of precipitation of essential oils present in the herbs. Absinthe has high alcohol content and it is never taken neat. It is to be diluted with ice cold water and sipped slowly.
There are traditional and non-traditional ways to prepare the absinthe drink. The traditional method is called as the absinthe ritual. In the French absinthe ritual an ounce of absinthe is poured in a glass and a special absinthe spoon is kept on the glass. The absinthe spoon is flat and perforated, a sugar cube is place on the spoon and then ice cold water is dripped over the sugar cube, as the cube of sugar dissolves in the water it falls in the glass through the perforations in the spoon. Once the sugar cube is completely dissolved, ice cold water is added in the glass, the drink stirred with the spoon and then sipped slowly.
The Czech ritual is more fun and interesting. Absinthe is poured in a glass, and then a sugar cube is place on the absinthe spoon. The spoon along with sugar cube is then dipped in the glass so that the sugar cube absorbs absinthe. The spoon is then kept flat over the glass and the sugar cube lighted. As the sugar caramelizes and melts, it falls in the glass through the perforations in the spoon. Ice cold water is then added to the absinthe, stirred with the spoon and the absinthe drink is ready.
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