Europe explores how to define the "green fairy"

Fri Mar 8, 2013 12:39pm EST
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By Teddy Nykiel

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - It's the green-hued fuel that has fired flights of poetic fancy since the 1800s, but now the European Union is examining whether to change how absinthe is defined.

The intensely alcoholic spirit, dubbed "la fee verte" (the green fairy) by Parisian writers in reference to its reputed psychoactive properties, has been a fixture amongst artists and Europe's bohemians since the 1850s, with Oscar Wilde and Charles Baudelaire among the famous devotees.

Efforts to regulate the concoction, blamed for causing intense drunkenness and visions, have come and gone over the decades and vary widely. Now the European Parliament is to debate a new, common definition of what constitutes it.

The discussion, which will come to a head at a meeting of the parliament in the French city of Strasbourg next week, focuses on the amount of the naturally occurring chemical thujone that must be present in the drink, if at all.

Thujone, whose Latin name is Artemisia absinthium, is a toxin extracted from wormwood plants that some EU lawmakers worry is too harmful, especially in higher concentrations.

Under current EU regulations, absinthe does not have to contain any thujone to justify the name, but also must not exceed a maximum of 35 milligrams of thujone per kilogram.

In order to standardize the content, the European Commission has proposed that anything labeled "absinthe" must have at least 5 and maximum of 35 milligrams of thujone per kilogram.

As is often the case in the European Union, the Germans and the French are on opposite sides of the debate.   Continued...

A customer at Buchans Bar in London takes a sip of Absinthe, December 10. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty