I recently did some research to find out the differences between soda, club soda, sparkling water and the like. This was sparked by the desire to own a SodaStream. (They come in various price points on Amazon, and soda siphons are even cheaper. Plus, how nice does an old-fashioned seltzer bottle look?) I had visions of fruit sodas and simple syrups, things you’d find in a book like The Artisan Soda Workshop Cookbook, for example, or at Brooklyn Soda Works. Blueberry lavender? Cranberry, orange and ginger? Hibiscus, cinnamon and ginger? Strawberry and basil? Concord grape and fennel seed? Red currant and shiso? Anything with real vanilla? The sky is the limit!
I had seen, years ago, a device that allowed one to squirt carbonation into any liquid or even solid, like berries. I assumed that’s how soda makers worked, but everything I read says that the carbonation must only be added to water, which is then mixed with flavorings (and sweeteners). So I decided that I had to find out exactly what plain carbonated water tastes like, since I tend not to like sparkling mineral water and similar beverages and mixers. (That being said, the owners of Brooklyn Soda Works say it’s fine to carbonate fruit juices directly, as long as you clean the siphon thoroughly afterwards.)
What’s confusing is that there are a lot of different terms that are often used interchangeably by people, even though they really are different. Here’s a little glossary I’ve come up with, for those of you who are interested:
- Sparkling water / Carbonated water: water to which carbon dioxide has been added
- Seltzer (water): naturally carbonated mineral spring water from Selters, Germany (it was originally a trademark, but is now used as a generic term for sparkling water)
- Club soda: essentially sparkling water with sodium salts
- Soda water: effervescent water that contains bicarbonate of sodium, which has a distinctive taste
- Soda (pop): carbonated water with flavoring and sweeteners
- Tonic (water): carbonated water in which quinine is dissolved; known for its bitter taste
(By the way, you should really take a look at this awesome party trick found via Pinterest: it turns out that quinine glows under a black light, so you can use tonic water to make things like glow-in-the-dark cupcakes!)
I then bought sparkling water and tried two soda recipes: a honey herb soda from Not Without Salt (honey thyme, in my case, as I have plenty of thyme in the garden) and a ginger ale with fresh mint from Bon Appétit (again, with mint from the garden). While both syrup bases were delicious, it turns out that carbonated water does have a distinctive, bitter taste. According to Wikipedia, this is because the pH of carbon dioxide is acidic, and the addition of an alkaline salt can balance it out. This would suggest that I’d have better luck with soda water than sparkling water, but I didn’t know that at the time. I actually thought it was the mineral taste I didn’t like, but it was the carbon dioxide all along! This came as a surprise to me, because I love sparkling drinks (sodas or fruit juices), but I guess that’s because there’s enough sweetener in there to mask the bitter taste. I must say, though, that I now drink mostly carbonated fruit juices instead of naturally sweetened sodas, because less sugar is better, and I very rarely have “regular” sodas like Coke. It used to be that the only sparkling juice out there was Ocean Spray (in either cranberry or blueberry-pomegranate), but now V8 fusion has joined the fun with flavors like tangerine-raspberry, black cherry-pomegranate and strawberry lemonade. I feel like the fruit juice pulp separates from the carbonated water a bit and I don’t really like that, but the flavors themselves are good, and the Engineer is actually a big fan.
So in conclusion, I will not be buying a SodaStream. While I enjoy the varied flavors of soda I can make at home, I think it’ll suit me better if I can buy a carbonated mixer I like, or just use plain water, and enjoy the flavors of the homemade syrup.
Now that the SodaStream is crossed off my list, though, I wonder if I could justify the extra space taken up by a VitaMix 300… Or a new attachment for the KitchenAid stand mixer…