The Pork Chop is Deep Fried

 porkchop

Pork Chop – an American slang term. Origins here.

Amongst the more knowledgeable within the international absinthe community, thujone -a principle chemical constituent in wormwood- is affectionately referred to as The Pork Chop.

Thujone has erroneously been blamed throughout history for a condition known as ‘absinthism’.It has also been disingenuously used in the modern era to promote absinthe, primarily ‘absinth’ coming from the Czech Republic (though not exclusively), as a veiled allusion to the potential for hallucinations and other mind altering experiences. Part of this arises from the claim that ‘pre-ban’ absinthe contained high levels of thujone, in the hundreds of mg/L, and was responsible for the tightrope between toxicity and ‘tripping the green’.

In turn, modern Neanderthals have taken it upon themselves to abuse absinthe consumption, engage in less than socially responsible activities, and then blame the drink and thujone for their “completely out of character” behaviour.

There is still a debate as to whether there is any ‘secondary effect’ arising from absinthe – some support this, some deny this, some say it is more the effect of +65% alcohol content, some may suggest there is a subtle chemistry arising from the distillation of the herbs typically mixed in absinthe production. Many herbal liquors started life as medicinal tonics, to stimulate hunger, to be good for what ails you and so forth. So while there may be a foundation for some pharmacological effects arising from herbal ingredients with potential medicinal qualities, this is not the same as the formulation of herbal ingredients for extreme psychogenic effects.

And more to the point, the promotion of absinth(e) in the context of its thujone content being in some simple dose-response relationship with the potential for a mind altering experience, either suggested or actively stated, is blatantly false and totally misleading… and there are no shortage of proprietors in Australia who are actively engaging in such behaviour as part of their marketing strategy. They are, in effect, ‘carrying on like a pork chop’ everytime they mention thujone, and charging you, dear consumer, for the privilege of an over-promoted snake oil.

There is even one Australian importer who continues to suggest on their website that thujone is structurally similar to tetrahydrocannibol found in cannabis, and thereby suggesting a similar effect. This has been thoroughly disproven, and yet such proprietors continue to peddle these myths in order to make a buck.

Thankfully, a scientific paper has now been published that will hopefully put much of this debate to bed. Authors Dirk Lachenmeier, David Nathan-Maister, Ted Breaux, Eva-Maria Sihnius, Karl Schoberl and Thomas Kuballa have just published ‘Chemical Composition of Vintage Preban Absinthe with Special Reference to Thujone, Fenchone, Pinocamphone, Methanol, Copper and Antimony‘ in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.

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To quote the abstract from the paper:

Thirteen samples of authentic absinthe dating from the preban era (i.e., prior to 1915) were analyzed for parameters that were hypothesized as contributing to the toxicity of the spirit, including naturally occurring herbal essences (thujone, pinocamphone, fenchone), methanol, higher alcohols, copper, and antimony. The total thujone content of preban absinthe was found to range between 0.5 and 48.3 mg/L, with an average concentration of 25.4-20.3 mg/L and a median concentration of 33.3 mg/L. The authors conclude that the thujone concentration of preban absinthe was generally overestimated in the past. The analysis of postban (1915–1988) and modern commercial absinthes (2003–2006) showed that the encompassed thujone ranges of all absinthes are quite similar, disproving the supposition that a fundamental difference exists between preban and modern absinthes manufactured according to historical recipes. Analyses of pinocamphone, fenchone, base spirits, copper, and antimony were inconspicuous. All things considered, nothing besides ethanol was found in the absinthes that was able to explain the syndrome “absinthism”.

The full paper and press release can be viewed here.

Before you get too excited, thinking that an absinthe with up to 33-50mg/L of thujone may have an ‘effect’ not experienced with typical commercial absinthes (which have a limit of 10mg/L), be aware that ‘bitters’ are permitted under the Australian New Zealand Food Code to have up to 35mg/L of thujone, while sage stuffing can have up to 250 mg/L equivalency.

So… when was the last time you had an hallucinogenic effect from overindulging in Christmas Turkey?

Jonathan Apr 19th 2008 02:25 pm History,News,People,Regulations No Comments yet Trackback URI

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