There are some peculiar backstories, hidden histories, strange mysteries and even the origins of urban legends hiding in your bars and cupboards. Take a look back in time at cocktail cures, poisoned candy and the off-label uses for popular breakfast cereal.
Raise Your Spirits
Gin and tonic
This good old British beverage
— a splash of lime, herby gin and bubbly tonic — has been a staple in bars for
about 100 years. But what are the murky origins of this drink? Well, the
popular mid-range gin Bombay Sapphire answers part o f that question. One look
at the label and you will notice the hallmarks of the imperial British rule,
down to its India-inspired name and stark portrait of Queen Victoria.
The G&T was created by the
British East India Company during the occupation of the country in the
nineteenth century. It was a tasty way for the colonist Brits to safe-guard
themselves from malaria.
Tonic water was originally
created not as a mix for your favourite clear booze, but as an antimalarial
treatment. The “tonic” portion of the water comes from dissolved quinine, a
bitter substance that’s found in cinchona tree bark used to treat malaria for
centuries. Mixing it in water was a better way to consume the terrible tasting
drug. A splash of gin and a squeeze of lime made it even more palatable.
The tonic water we consume today is still made with
quinine, but in much lower doses. It won’t protect you from malaria, but if
you’ve ever drank the stuff under a black light you will see that it glows
bright blue — the UV light makes the quinine fluoresce.
G&Ts aren’t the only
medicinal drink of the past — plain old whiskey has a long history of being
used to treat cold and flu symptoms. The hot toddy, which is lemon and honey
‘tea’ with a splash of bourbon, is still a popular comfort drink to get you
through your latest respiratory illness.
But in the early 1900s,
medicinal whiskey was a popular item during prohibition and could be purchased
with a prescription from your local pharmacist.
In 1918, when the Spanish flu
hit North America, medicinal whiskey and other alcoholic drinks were hailed as
a way to keep the disease at bay. Pharmacists in Saskatoon handed out up to
eight ounce prescriptions. This idea of medicinal alcohol may have been
attributed to an on-campus incident during the pandemic. The University of Saskatchewan
was quarantined during the influenza outbreak, and it is reported that two
pharmacy students drank cocktails of methyl alcohol, poured from the chemistry
While whiskey’s medicinal benefits are up for debate, there is no doubt that methyl alcohol will seriously mess you up. One of the students died and the other lost his sight. It is said that to avoid scandal, University President Walter Murray convinced the young man’s father and the coroner to document the official cause of death as influenza.
Other tonics of interest
Coca-Cola and 7 Up were
Coca-Cola was created by
biochemist and wounded confederate soldier John Pemberton, who found himself
addicted to morphine after the Civil War. “Nerve tonics” were all the rage then
and Pemberton was determined to create a drink that would help him kick the
narcotics and improve his health. This is where the “cocaine” in Coca-Cola
story rings true — cocaine was considered the wonder drug of choice in the late
Originally, 7 Up was known as Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Sodas and the name gives away its secret medicinal ingredient — lithium to “raise the spirits.” Lithium is still a commonly used medication to effectively treat bipolar disorder. It was removed from the drink in 1948.
Beer has a long history that
dates back to antiquity, but one of its most interesting historical facts
comes from the Middle Ages, which may be our origin story for contemporary
witches. Brewing was traditionally a woman’s work, and in the 1300s, they were
referred to as alewives. Often single or widowed, these women brewed beer over
black cauldrons, wearing tall black hats to advertise their beer and stand out
of the crowd.
Alewives often owned
alehouses, a place where their brews were made and served. To signal that they
were open for business, they would hang a broomstick outside the doorway.
The brewing and drinking
business picked up after the Black Death devastated Europe, when people began
to gather more frequently at alehouses. Men saw an opportunity for a lucrative
career in brewing and began to slander the alewives, pushing them out of the
business. Larger pubs opened up and men solidified themselves in the business.
Somewhere along the way, the classic cartoon witch adopted the alewives’ uniforms.
A Poisoned Past
Each year, we hear about
poisoned Halloween candy, but these stories rarely, if ever, materialize into
something concrete. Where does the fear of poisoned candy come from?
Well, it may have something to
do with the Bradford sweets poisoning seeping into our collective consciousness.
On Oct. 30, 1858, in the village of Bradford, England, nearly 200 people fell
ill and 21 died after a deadly mistake was made in the candy-making process of
shop owner Humbug Billy’s most popular treat.
Instead of 12 pounds of a
filler known as ‘daft,’ 12 pounds of arsenic was added to the batch of
peppermint candies. The arsenic wasn’t labeled properly and was grabbed by
mistake during a supply purchase.
As children began to fall ill,
it was thought that they were dying of cholera, but it soon became apparent
that many in the town had been poisoned.
Each sweet contained enough arsenic to kill two people.
Snow White falls into a deep
sleep after taking a bite of a poisoned apple. While this fairy tale fruit was
delivered by the Evil Queen, disguised as a wicked witch, apples have a deadly
secret at their core.
Cyanide, one of the most
famous poisons in recent history, hides inside the tiny innocuous apple seed.
Now, the dose is what makes the poison — meaning that an apple seed isn’t going
to harm you. But 200 seeds or 40 apples may be enough to strike you down.
Apples aren’t the only ones. Most stone fruits — peaches, plums and cherries — contain cyanide in the pit. A single cherry pit contains enough cyanide to knock you down if the pit is cracked open and eaten. In 2017, a man in the UK cracked open and ate the “almond-like texture” of three pits. He had to be treated in hospital for cyanide poisoning.
A wholesome breakfast
Kellogg’s Corn Flakes have
been a breakfast staple for generations, but this crunchy cereal got its start
as the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a turn-of-the-twentieth-century medical spa.
Imagine the movie A Cure for Wellness but with less tentacles.
John Harvey Kellogg was the
head of this wellness retreat and wanted a bland digestible breakfast item that
would be easy for his guests to digest — improving their health. The corn flake
Kellogg didn’t just think that bland food was good
for your physical health, he thought that it would benefit your spiritual
health as well. Staunchly against masturbation, Kellogg thought that bland
foods, like corn flakes, would stop this “sinful” activity.