Food & Culture

What's the Difference Between Club Soda, Seltzer, Tonic, and Sparkling Water?

While La Croix is soaking up all the fizzy-beverage glory these days, it's not the only carbonated water on the block. What's the deal with the tonic water in your gin and tonic? Or the sparkling water at your local fancy restaurant? What even is seltzer?!

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Water You Drinking?

Let's start with the bottom line before things get too confusing: Club soda, seltzer, sparkling water, and tonic water are all different types of carbonated beverages. That much information will help you choose the type of water you want to drink at a restaurant or which cocktail to order at a bar. But let's dig deeper because they all have different processing methods and added minerals that may make you prefer one to the other.

Sparkling Water

You can call it sparkling mineral water if you want to be extra fancy. This stuff is naturally carbonated, as it comes from springs or wells with fizzy carbonation courtesy of Mother Nature. According to the FDA, mineral water must contain at least 250 parts per million dissolved solids from the source where it was bottled to be considered legit. Some of these trace minerals may include things like sodium, magnesium, and calcium. Depending on where it came from, one bottle of sparkling mineral water can taste much different than sparkling mineral water from another brand. According to the Huffington Post, you'd typically drink this stuff as-is rather than mixed in a cocktail, due to the taste and slightly higher price point.

Seltzer Water

This stuff is just water that has been artificially carbonated. Nothing but carbonation is added here, so there are no minerals or other additives that lead to taste differences. Seltzer is basically a blank canvas, making it a good option for mixing in flavors, like fresh lemon or lime. (La Croix is most likely seltzer with flavoring, by the way.) It gets its name from the German town of Selters, which was known for its natural springs. When European immigrants came to the U.S., they brought the popular drink over with them. It's a cheap alternative to real sparkling mineral water.

Club Soda

Just like seltzer — but unlike sparkling water — club soda is artificially carbonated water. But unlike seltzer, club soda does contain added minerals to enhance the flavor. The two are similar enough to be used interchangeably in cocktails, though. Club soda often contains minerals like potassium sulfate, disodium phosphate, sodium chloride (aka table salt), and sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda). These give the club soda a slightly saltier, tangier taste than the other waters.

Tonic Water

This one is the oddball of the list. Just like club soda, tonic is both carbonated and contains added minerals. But you'd never mistake the taste of tonic for any of the others. The biggest difference with tonic water is that it contains quinine, a compound isolated from the bark of cinchona trees. The compound was added to water centuries ago to prevent malaria. Because quinine is so bitter, someone along the way added sugar and carbonation to help the drink go down a little easier. Ta-da! That's the gin-friendly tonic water we have today. It's the only drink on this list that contains calories, mostly from the sugar.

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Speaking of mixers and drinks, use your new water knowledge with "The Ultimate Bar Book: The Comprehensive Guide to Over 1,000 Cocktails." We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto May 25, 2018

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