Tag Archives: wormwood

Absinthe USA: Still “Thujone Free”?

Absinthe Verlains

Here we have Paul Verlaine, a noted absintheur, with his glass of absinthe at the Café François circa. 1890. The distant gaze, or perhaps as The Tate describes it “stupor”, is typical of the way the absinthe drinker was portrayed at the time. When a statue was erected in this great poet’s honour there was an outcry due to the fact that the pedestal was shaped like an absinthe bottle. Verlaine described absinthe as follows:

“For me my glory is but a humble ephemeral Absinthe drunk on the sly, with fear of treason,and if I drink no longer it is for a good reason.”

Another amusing quote that I spotted recently came from Robert Lehrman, an attorney in Washington D.C

“absinthe without thujone is like Playboy without the photos”

Does USA approved absinthe have thujone or not? The answer is that nobody knows: The FDA (27 CFR 13.51) maintains that absinthe must be thujone free – so that seems clear enough. However, due to a margin of error within the TTB system it seems that absinthe with less than 10 parts per million registers as zero thujone. This means that your USA approved absinthe might have anything from 0-10 parts per million contained within it. Don’t expect the manufacturers to specify the level – as they won’t! Why that is I leave for you to work out.

Accodring to a post on a web forum there is a big difference between Lucid Absinthe & Kubler (both available in the USA). The reason why Lucid was first off the block, according to the post, is that it contains NO THUJONE whatsoever:

Lucid wasn’t just under 10ppm. It has no thujone at all. That’s why it was approved so quickly. When Lucid was approved there were calls to the TTB asking what was going on.No thujone at all and you get approved fast (by their standards).


What we do know for sure is that new scientific techniques have been suggested to eliminate the natural thujone content of the real wormwood plant. These include plant chemo-types and “superficial carbon dioxide” extraction, interesting that there is now a chemo-type of non-thujone bearing Artemisia absinthium. I suppose that Absente (absinthe redefined) which uses Artemisia abrotanum, instead of Artemisia absinthium, could start using this wormwood mutation as well? It would seem to make sense. How the manufacturers are delivering these thujone compliant absinthes from the pot is shrouded in mystery – just like the thujone content itself.

It should be noted that many high profile hyped absinthes like La Clandestine also avoid telling their consumers the thujone content. The answer given by them is “It complies with the relevant legislation in most countries” This despite Lemercier Amer d’Absinthe 72% from France having an “unusually high” thujone level of 30mg according to some websites.

Whilst some absinthe manufacturers remain shy about the thujone content of their absinthe the following can be used as a guide : “Horka Lihovina”,“Amer aux Plantes d’Absinthe” or “Bitterspirituose” in Czech, French and German respectively. These are the designations for absinthe with greater than 10mg thujone/l.

I fail to see why manufacturers can’t simply specify the level – consumers want to know. What’s the reason? Care to hazard a guess anyone?

Here’s the USA thujone free definition if that helps at all:


We approve the use of the term “absinthe” on the label of a distilled spirits product and in related advertisements only if the product is “thujone-free” pursuant to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulation at 21 CFR 172.510. Based upon the level of detection of FDA’s prescribed method for testing for the presence of thujone, TTB considers a product to be “thujone-free” if it contains less than 10 parts per million of thujone. However, should the FDA set a new standard for “thujone-free,” in accordance with 27 CFR 13.51, COLAs that are not in compliance with that revised standard will be revoked by operation of regulation.

Source: Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau

Wormwood School

A new method of punishment has come to light – perfect for punishing those that disobey the edict: “Thou shalt not set fire to thine absynth” (Song of Gwydion Verse III) It dates back to the absinthe era and so passes muster with the traditionalists. You have been warned.

The school district of East Lichfield is aroused because of the discovery that one of the country school teachers has abandoned the old methods of chastisement and has been compelling disobedient pupils to eat herbs, wild turnip, boneset, and wormwood.

The teacher is a spare the rod advocate, and her method, she says,was to stop the boys plugging the chimney, releasing mice and hard shell crickets, and throwing pepper on the stove.

First she had three recesses a day instead of two and worked other innovations to cement friendships. This failing to take the children’s attention from mischief,she tried the new one, and now the parents are angry.

(New York Post 1907)


Eating wormwood? Actually wormwood is used in the kitchen. It is used as stuffing for various meats – lamb, pork and mostly famously goose. According to one source it is also “used with turnips” to make them more exciting 🙂

The Problem of Thujone in Modern Absinthe



Today’s manufacturers face the problem that they have to generate a distinctive wormwood taste, without exceeding the thujone maximum limit of 35 mg/kg. The selective enrichment of the bitter and flavor compounds, while keeping the thujone concentration low, was extensively investigated (45).

Tegtmeier et al. (46) compared a water extraction to an alcohol extraction method By the percolation with water or alcohol (30%vol) no thujone could be extracted, because the solubility of thujone in water is poor. Only by the application of ethanol 90%vol, it was possible to extract 0.18 mg thujone per g wormwood herb. When the method of digestion with ethanol 30%vol was applied, 0.17 mg thujone per g wormwood herb could be extracted. The largest yields were obtained, whenever the macerate of the wormwood herb was distilled (0.24 mg thujone/g). The use of hot and highly concentrated alcohol for the extraction should therefore be avoided to obtain extracts with a low content of thujone. Because the percolation with pure water might lead to a loss of microbiological quality, the percolation with ethanol 30%vol is regarded as the method of choice. This method is described as being easy to handle and economic. Gambelunghe and Melai (47) verified these results. Wormwood macerated with ethanol 20%vol for 30 days contained only 0.2 mg/I of thujone, while the maceration of wormwood with ethanol 95%vol for 6 months contained 62 mgll of thujone. The consequence for the absinthe manufactures is that traditional recipes and methods have to be modified, in order to avoid thujone contents, which exceed the limit. The maceration should be done with low concentrations of alcohol and the wormwood herb should be separated before the distillation.

A possibility for the continuation of traditional recipes is to remove the thujone from the wormwood herb before the maceration. Stahl and Gerard (48) observed, that the extraction with liquid or supercritical carbon dioxide provides a fast, selective and quantitative method for the separation of thujone from the wormwood herb. Absinthin, which is responsible for the high bitter value of wormwood, remains in the herb. It is therefore possible to generate nearly thujone free wormwood herb and to use it for the manufacturing of absinthe. However, the application of this method for the manufacturing of spirit drinks was never described.

The most elegant alternative to avoid the toxic thujone may be the use of thujone-free wormwood herb, which is available in certain cultivation areas,IO.16 and appears to be perfect for the use in the spirit drink producing industry. With those chemotypes, it would be possible to produce absinthe with wormwood quantities on the basis of the traditional recipes, without the manufacturer facing the risk of exceeding the thujone limit.

Lachenmeier, D. W., S. G. Walch, S. A. Padosch, and L. U. Kroner. 2006. Absinthe–a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 46:365-77.