“Flat or sparkling?” Anyone who has dined out has been asked that question before, but if that’s the only distinction you’re aware of when it comes to water then prepare to have your mind blown. All types of bubbly water owe their effervescence to carbonation, a chemical reaction that occurs when high-pressure conditions cause carbon dioxide gas to dissolve in water. But what’s the difference between the many times of fizzy water (and which one’s the best)? Read on for all the information you need to settle the club soda vs. sparkling water debate.
Club Soda vs. Sparkling Water: A Carbonation Crash Course
- Ingredients: Water, carbonation and minerals like sodium bicarbonate and potassium sulfate
- Carbonation method: Added by the manufacturer
- Common uses: A glass of club soda can be enjoyed on its own, but this bubbly water is also commonly found as a mixer in cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks alike. The minerals added to club soda vary by brand, but sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda) is almost always on the ingredient list, which explains why club soda can be used for more than just sipping. Try using some of this stuff as a stain-remover or as a substitute for baking powder in recipes for baked goods. Club soda can also be used interchangeably with seltzer to make a light and airy tempura batter for fried foods.
- Flavor: The addition of sodium bicarbonate gives club soda a distinct, somewhat bitter flavor.
- Ingredients: Water and carbonation
- Carbonation method: Added by manufacturer
- Common uses: Seltzer is most commonly enjoyed on its own as a refreshing (and addictive) substitute for plain water—and seltzer fans will tell you that it’s way easier to get the recommended 64 ounces of water a day when you have some fizz in your glass. Of course, if you want to slow your roll, you can also turn a glass of white wine into a spritz by adding some seltzer. In cooking, seltzer can be used to make a delicate batter for deep-frying and if you add a splash of the stuff to beaten eggs, you’ll be rewarded with the fluffiest scrambled eggs you’ve ever tasted (seriously.) Another reason you might consider always having a bottle of seltzer handy? Much like club soda, the bubbles in this beverage do a bang-up job at removing stains.
- Flavor: Per the experts at Sodastream, seltzer is set apart from both sparkling water and club soda because it contains no minerals—it’s just plain old water that has been infused with carbon dioxide to make it sparkle. As a result, Sodastream says that “many people find that seltzer tastes much more like ‘natural spring water.’” In other words, the flavor profile of this fizzy water is clean and crisp.
Sparkling Mineral Water
- Ingredients: Water, carbonation and minerals like salts and sulfur compounds
- Carbonation method: Naturally occurring
- Common uses: Sparkling mineral water is different from the other beverages on the list in that both its carbonation and mineral content are naturally-occurring. According to the Sodastream pros, sparkling mineral water “contains calcium, sodium, and magnesium...minerals [that] could be an excellent addition to your dietary plan.” Sparkling mineral water doesn’t make its way into the recipes all that often, namely because its softer carbonation doesn’t provide the same aggressive fizz required for fluffing up things like tempura batter and scrambled eggs. That said, sparkling mineral water is all the rage in the beauty world, where it is touted as a miracle face wash and can be found in a plethora of high-end skincare products.
- Flavor: The flavor of sparkling mineral water comes from the minerals it contains, but the number of minerals (and the flavor) can vary from brand to brand depending on where the manufacturers sourced the water. Discerning palates may detect salty, tangy, or even earthy notes from various brands.
- Ingredients: Water, quinine and sugar (or corn syrup)
- Carbonation method: Added by manufacturer
- Common Uses: Unlike the other sparkling waters, tonic is one that you probably won’t enjoy on its own. (Note: With an ingredient list that includes quinine and sweetener, it’s also the least healthy of the bunch.) Instead, this bubbly beverage boasts a distinctive flavor that pairs well with booze. While tonic water is most famous for being gin’s better half in the classic gin and tonic cocktail, it also makes a nice addition to a host of other adult beverages. (Raspberry-lime Champagne punch, anyone?)
- Flavor: Tonic water has a decidedly bitter flavor, owed to the quinine present in the drink which is somewhat offset by the addition of sweeteners—just not enough to make tonic water palatable on its own.
Which One Is Best?
So now that you have the full scoop, you might be wondering how to sift through all the information and pick a favorite. When choosing bubbly water, the ‘best’ one will depend on what you’re using it for. If you want to restock the mini bar, club soda and tonic water are both good choices. For a hydrating carbonated drink you can enjoy on its own, opt for either seltzer or sparkling mineral water, depending on how neutral you like your water to taste and how bitingly bubbly you want your beverage to be. Cheers.