Cooking Tips · Ingredients

How can water be confusing?

My wonderful husband recently made some home-made elderflower cordial. It is a concentrate and should be diluted about 4:1 with water. We like using a sparkling water and so, off to the supermarket I went. As I looked at all the varieties of water – both carbonated and noncarbonated, I was somewhat amazed. As we have well water at our home and it is very tasty well water, we do not buy any bottled water. I must admit that it was a bit confusing – leading me to share what I learned with all of you in this Cooking Tip.

On the shelf were various names – club soda, tonic water, carbonated water, sparkling water, sparkling mineral water and seltzer water. All of these are types of carbonated drinks, but they vary in processing methods and added compounds.

Carbonated water—This is a generic term referring to any water that has dissolved carbon dioxide, either naturally or introduced in an artificial manner. It can be used to refer to any of the following waters.

Club Soda – This is water that is termed “artificially effervescent” as it is carbonated by the injection of carbon dioxide gas. It is made from plain water that is sourced from anywhere and then processed into club soda. There are also commonly added minerals such as potassium sulfide, sodium chloride, disodium phosphate and sodium bicarbonate. It is also infused with mineral salts to enhance its taste and bubbles but that does give it a slightly salty taste.   It is also known as “soda water”. Many soda pop flavors are made by combining soda water with flavors.

Tonic Water – What makes this carbonated beverage is the addition of quinine as well as the fact that it is sweetened. The sugar content is similar to other sodas. Quinine is a compound isolated from the bark of cinchona trees and is what gives tonic water a bitter note. In Colonial India, the British inhabitants would generally mix quinine in water as a defense against malaria. Later, it was mixed with gin to make it more palatable. Over time, the quinine amount decreased and now it is used only for flavoring. Today, tonic water is usually used for cocktails made with gin or vodka.

Sparkling mineral water – This is water that comes from a natural well or spring. It is ready for consumption in its natural state direct from its source and draws its flavor from the minerals that are dissolved in it naturally. Some brands do, though, have additional carbonation added. To add a bit of confusion, not all mineral waters are carbonated; some are still.

Seltzer – This is a more naturally effervescent carbonated water because it is similar to most natural waters drawn from artesian wells that pass through mineral layers. There are no added salt or potassium minerals giving it a more natural water taste. Its name derives from Selters, a town in Germany that is popular for its natural springs. It entered the American market as an alternative to buying pricier mineral waters that are often imported. It is available plain or in a variety of flavors. It is also known as “sparkling water”.

Here is a chart that shows you the differences in calories and other nutritional components.

  Club Soda Seltzer Sparkling Mineral Water Tonic Water
Calories 0 0 0 124
Protein 0 0 0 0
Fat 0 0 0 0
Carbs 0 0 0 32.2 g
Sugar 0 0 0 32.2 g
Sodium 3% of the RDI 0% of the RDI 1% of the RDI 2% of the RDI
Calcium 2% of the RDI 0% of the RDI 6% of the RDI 0% of the RDI
Zinc 1% of the RDI 0% of the RDI 0% of the RDI 2% of the RDI
Copper 1% of the RDI 0% of the RDI 0% of the RDI 1% of the RDI
Magnesium 1% of the RDI 0% of the RDI 0% of the RDI 0% of the RDI

For my purposes of diluting the elderflower cordial to make a lovely, refreshing summer beverage, plain sparkling water or seltzer was the right choice. I could have used sparkling mineral water but the minerals that are added could definitely change the flavor. Since I did not want any other added components, I stayed away from either club soda or tonic water. You may have a different purpose in mind or want a different flavor. With this information, you should be able to make an informed choice.