Does chicken tonic make you smarter?


Bangkok subway display ad for liquid chicken essence.


Patrick Winn

If you're already paranoid that Asian "Tiger Moms" are churning out a class of unstoppable super geniuses, then you're not going to like this at all.

In Asia, go-getter students have access to an inexpensive tonic that eliminates study fatigue and aids short-term memory. It's not Red Bull, though Asians invented that too.

It's a distilled liquid made from boiling down chickens.

One of the leading purveyors of this tonic, a company called Brand, claims it has research to prove its brain-boosting benefits. I noticed an ad recently in Bangkok's subway with a Thai pop star grinning cheekily and pinching a bottle of tonic between his fingers.

Nothing unusual there. What surprised me was that the display's footnotes: a listing of scientific studies "proving" the tonic's ability to kill fatigue and improve concentration. (An abstract of the research is posted here.)

The stuff is hugely popular. Day in and day out, Thais are barraged with TV ads of kids in crisp school uniforms chugging chicken tonic. While completing their homework, a jumble of cartoon math equations swirls above their head and -- boom! -- the answer comes in a flash and furious pencil scribbling commences. One Brand advertisement depicts the ideal mother, rescuing her harried son with a bottle of chicken tonic. "Fight on, my son!" she says and he looks up to smile adoringly from his desk.

Are the mental benefits legit? I'm not sure. Even if chicken essence does make you smarter, I'm not sure it's worth it. The brown-black tonic tastes almost as bad as it looks.