Earth’s most popular medium of life has recently experienced exponential growth in options at the grocery store. Sparkling, tonic, seltzer … there are likely a dozen more versions of H2O, but how do they differ from one another? On top of that, there are several extra elements that can drastically change your drinking experience.
Let’s start with the titles:
Sparking, also referred to as club soda, might be the most palpable and refreshing, as it is carbonated with carbon dioxide (CO2). This very minor addition of gas has some very noticeable changes to your perception. As you take a sip, you are experiencing phase change as the liquid state of CO2 moves to a gas, with bubbles voraciously bursting on the surface of your tongue. This bliss is effervescence, my friend. The burst also contributes to enhancing flavors that might be present.
This dissolved gas contributes the acidity because it helps form carbonic acid. This acid is weak, in a chemical sense, and the pH of many sparkling waters is right around 3, which falls in the middle of the pH range of other beverages such as juice, tea, and soda.
You may have heard recently about links between sparking water and impact on oral health. This study was conducted on extracted teeth and started off with a minimum of thirty minutes of drink exposure. Why does this matter? If your drinking habits are similar to mine, you likely go from bottle to gulp in seconds, meaning exposure time is significantly reduced compared to this study.
Another unique difference between extracted teeth and the ones in your mouth is a process called remineralization. This natural body process is continiuously carrying calcium and phosphate to your teeth, rapidly replacing enamel loss from all acidic foods. Extracted teeth are incapable of undergoing this process, but thankfully your teeth are experiencing it at this exact moment. Any acidic beverage has the potential to contribute to some form of enamel loss. On to the more specific variants of sparkling water.
Tonic water is sparkling water with the addition of quinine. Quinine? This compound adds a bitterness to your drink and is thought to enhance citrus flavors, making it an excellent mixer. It was originally added because of its antimalarial properties. (The famous tippler Winston Chruchill once said, “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.”) Tonic water has since transitioned to a popular consumer product.
Then there is seltzer water. Seltzer is essentially another name for sparkling, and the two are often used interchangeably. Some use it to denote the addition of sodium, which can add a crispness to the flavor. The name originates back to the Selters spring in Germany, which has a very high mineral content. Now that we have some of the more apparent characteristics, let’s take a look at what else can impact your drinking experience.
Location of your water source can greatly influence quality. There is a reason companies highlight natural spring sources or water from the melted snow on mountains. Each source is unique, and the environment dictates what dissolved components might be present, for better or worse.
Next time you are at the grocery store, be confident in determining the difference in bubbly water options. I personally drink a watermelon-flavored one that helps me overcome the boredom associated with staying hydrated.
Stay thirsty, my friends.