Ask for sparkling water in a restaurant and you’re bound to get a follow-up question on exactly what kind of bubbly water you want. Perrier? Club soda? Seltzer? Mineral water? Or do you want tonic? You can hardly blame your waiter—artificially carbonated water first became available in the late 17th century, and we’ve been confused about effervescence ever since.
It’s time to clear up the confusion about carbonated drinks once and for all! Here’s the only guide to bubbles, fizzes and sparkling drinks you’ll ever need:
These are all general names for water with carbonation in it.
A brief science lesson:
Carbonated water forms when you dissolve carbon dioxide (CO2) in water (H2O) via high pressure, creating carbonic acid (H2CO3) in the process. Carbonic acid is why fizzy water has that tingly “bite” to it.
A can or bottle of bubbly water goes flat the longer it’s left open because the carbon dioxide gas escapes into the air.
The colder your water is when you add carbon dioxide to it, the fizzier it will get. This is because colder liquids take in more gas. So drink your carbonated water of choice at an extra cold temperature for the fizziest mouthfeel.
Today, experts often champion sparkling water as a healthy alternative to soda, its sugary sister in carbonation, according to ABC News. In addition to being calorie-free, sparkling water is also better for your teeth than cola. So pop open another La Croix!
Now for some more specific sparkling water terms.
Today “soda water” is used interchangeably to describe seltzer or club soda.
Seltzer water by its definition is carbonated water. Full stop. No added salt or other minerals, just pure fizzy water. So when you’re using your SodaStream to add bubbles to tap water, you’re making seltzer. And long before SodaStream, there were seltzer bottles for your bar cart.
You might know that club soda is: a) bubbly and b) your mother’s favorite emergency stain fighter. But how is it different that seltzer?
Unlike seltzer (plain bubbly water), club soda is carbonated water with artificially added solids and minerals, like sodium chloride (aka salt), sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda), and other sodium and potassium salts. These additives counterbalance the acidity in fizzy water caused by the carbonic acid we talked about up top. They also imitate the mineral flavor that exists in natural mineral water.
The name “club soda” was trademarked in Britain in 1877 by beverage company Cantrell & Cochrane. It’s trademark free outside of the U.K.
The Food and Drug Administration defines mineral water as coming from an underground water source with “at least 250 parts per million total dissolved solids.” The water’s minerals must exist naturally and not be added later.
Mineral water can also have natural fizziness (examples: Perrier or San Pellegrino) or be still (example: Acqua Panna).
Tonic water gets its slightly bitter taste from quinine. Quinine, an alkaloid extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree, was an early treatment for malaria. That’s why this bubbly water got its “tonic” label. But you probably know it best from ordering a gin and tonic.
Curious about the different types of bottled water? The FDA has a good summary.