Our tasters wanted prominent bubbles and a clean, crisp flavor. Which products fell flat?
Published June 10, 2019. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 20: The Chicken or the Egg?
Sparkling water is having a moment right now. Sales of bubbly water have nearly tripled over the last 10 years, and trendy brands such as La Croix have used clever branding and beautiful packaging to give this relatively simple beverage a whole new life. Gone are the days when supermarket sparkling water options were limited; now you can buy your water in enticing flavors such as coconut, peach pear, pineapple pomelo, or even “mermaid songs” and “unicorn kisses.”
Beverages become bubbly when there is gas in the liquid—usually carbon dioxide—which either comes from natural sources or is added artificially. Many mineral springs are a source of naturally carbonated mineral water; the gas that forces the water through the ground lends it an effervescence. All artificially carbonated water is made by injecting pressurized carbon dioxide into the water. At the supermarket you’ll find sparkling water sold under a number of different names: sparkling mineral water, club soda, and seltzer.
For this tasting we left out club sodas because they have prominent flavor compounds and are most often served as cocktail mixers. We focused on sparkling mineral waters and seltzers, which have a more mild flavor and can be used as an ingredient for providing lightness to battered foods like tempura or fried fish. We selected six nationally available, top selling mineral waters and seltzers. Though many of the brands we tried also offer flavored products, we opted to sample their plainest product so that we could best focus on the natural flavor and effervescence of the water, and because plain sparkling water is what we use in our recipes. Our lineup consisted of three sparkling mineral waters and three seltzers priced from $0.03 to $0.09 per ounce.
Though none of our waters had any added flavorings, we still noticed an array of flavors in them—from saltiness, to acidity, to a slightly sweet aftertaste. The three mineral waters had the most pronounced flavors by far. Many tasters were able to identify them in our blind tasting because they had a characteristic salty and sometimes sulfurous, almost eggy flavor. While manufacturers aren’t required to disclose the type and amount of minerals in their water, our science editor explained that two common compounds found in mineral water are sodium and sulfites, which can lend salty and eggy flavors, respectively. Tasters were split on the more pungently flavored mineral waters. Some loved the distinctive earthy taste, while others found the flavor too prominent. Ultimately, most mineral waters landed at the bottom of our rankings; our tasters preferred cleaner, more neutral options.
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