By all accounts, we shouldn’t like carbonation.
The defining sensation is pain. It’s what we call the ‘bite’ that’s felt when the carbon dioxide bubbles dissolve into acid in the mouth and tweak pain centers in the brain. Scientists believe that this reaction is a gift of evolution that’s meant to keep us from drinking carbonated beverages because carbonation in nature is associated with the toxicity of rotten food. It’s meant to repel us for our own safety and animals will almost never touch the stuff.
But the bubbles do refresh.
Carbonation diminishes our ability to taste sweetness (that’s one reason why sodas are loaded with sugar), and that enhances the astringent clean-mouth feeling of fizzy drinks. Carbonated beverages also seem colder than they really are. The bubbles don’t lower the temperature but they increase our perception of coldness.
Carbonated soft drinks are traced back to the publication of an 18th century scientific paper titled Impregnating Water with Fixed Air.
Beer and sparkling wine, which carbonate naturally during fermentation, had been enjoyed for a century when an Englishman figured out how to infuse water with gas. The first fizzy drinks were made by dripping sulfuric acid onto chalk to produce carbon dioxide gas, and then dissolving the gas in a bowl of distilled water. Early commercial uses for the discovery were medicinal, but within a few decades effervescent waters were being sweetened and flavored with fruit and herbal extracts, and by the 1830’s the general public was bellying up to soda fountains.
Soda is the past, club soda is the future.
Sugar-sweetened soft drinks are associated with obesity, tooth decay, low nutrient levels, and a long list of weight-related diseases including diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and elevated blood pressure. They’re linked to kidney stones, skeletal weakness, and troubling levels of caffeine, benzene, and alcohol. Diet soda cuts the sugar but not the health risks. There’s little evidence that removing the sugar helps with weight loss, and the artificial sweeteners are themselves problematic. That’s why more and more consumers are reaching for carbonated water—sales are up by nearly 60% in just the last five years. No sugar, no alcohol, no caffeine, it’s just water with bubbles. It won’t put cellulite on your thighs, leach calcium from your bones, or rot the enamel on your teeth. Sparkling water hydrates and refreshes with the characteristic ‘bite’ of effervescence that you’re looking for on a hot day. Barring a medical condition that precludes carbonated beverages, there’s no reason not to drink up.
All fizzy water is not created equal.
Seltzer is just plain water with added carbonation.
Club soda is seltzer with added minerals like potassium bicarbonate, potassium sulfate, sodium bicarbonate, and sodium citrate. It’s got the slightest hint of salt and mineral flavor.
Sparkling mineral water contains naturally occurring minerals because the water comes from a well or underground spring. Depending on the source, the carbonation can also occur naturally from gases in the water or be added at the time of bottling. Minerals like sodium and sulphur tend to give the water a weighty feel and distinctive taste.
Tonic water has added carbonation and quinine, a powdered substance that comes from South American tree bark, and usually a sweetener and citrus flavoring. Tonic water started life as a medicine due to to anti-malarial qualities of quinine. It was widely prescribed in the 19th and 20th centuries in Britain’s tropical colonies where gin was used to mask its bitter and medicinal taste.