Something about the hot weather just calls for a tall, cold glass of bubbling water. But, when you order, what do you call it? Seltzer? Sparkling water? Club soda? Is there even a difference? And, what about the health aspects? Remember the rumor that carbonated water eats your bones? Never fear, refreshment seekers! By the time you finish this article, you can sip your fizz in peace, a little wiser and a lot less thirsty. Seltzer, it turns out, is a whole lot cooler than you might think. And, as more Americans make the switch from sugary sodas, some would say it's also a smarter, healthier choice.
1. Seltzer Is Originally A German Thing: Given that Germany is known for its beer, it's not surprising that the country would produce sudsy water as well. It all started in the small town of Selters, which is known for its natural springs in the Niederselters district. This area became famous for its water after doctor Jakob Theodorus Tabernaemontanus touted its healing properties in 1581. Two centuries later, the town was shipping pots of the stuff around the world, all labeled Selters Water. Though the townspeople may not have produced the seltzer we think of today, this glorified water became a symbol of health. And, wealth, too, considering that only the rich could afford imported water at that time.
2. Seltzer By Any Other Name Is Still Mostly Seltzer: Yes, seltzer, soda water, club soda, sparkling water and fizzy water are basically all the same thing — carbonated water. The only real difference is where the water is sourced, which can affect the taste. Also, most club sodas tend to have added salt and minerals. Some people suggest that the additives make club soda more refreshing, and there are bartenders who complain that it alters their mixed drinks. Added salt is one reason why you will see some club sodas labeled with their sodium content. (People with heart problems are advised to avoid the stuff.) Seltzer, on the other hand, is pretty plain and simple: water with bubbles. No salt added.
3. Not All Seltzers Are Created Equal: At a time when people write tomes about what makes certain waters superior to others, it's not surprising that the same sticklers have also weighed in on seltzer. A quick Internet search reveals heated debates about the best bottles you can buy, be they Vintage, Gerolsteiner, Seagram's, Crystal Geyser or one of the other numerous brands on the market. You also have the artisan seltzer movement, which is a whole other ballgame and includes pricier bottles from San Pellegrino in Italy, Antipodes in New Zealand and Q in Brooklyn. Then, there's the old school seltzer guys who deliver glorious vintage bottles of carbonated water to homes, offices and restaurants. Though this form is slowly fading away, plenty of people still get their fizz sent to them, like the James Beard Award–winning restaurant The Slanted Door in San Francisco, which sources its bubbles from a local company, Seltzer Sisters.
4. Size Does Matter (With Bubbles, Anyway): First, how the heck do you determine bubble size? The answer is science. It turns out that the cleaner the water, the less material carbon dioxide has to hold on to. Hence, if you take out all the minerals, it's hard to have fizz. Because of this, seltzer guru Kathryn Renz of California's Seltzer Sisters says the temperature of the water is key: the colder it is, the more bubbles you get. "The other thing to consider is the quality of the bubbles," says barman Frank Cisneros of New York's The Drink. "Soda streams, which we use at The Drink for instance, make big robust bubbles, and that's fine for most of our applications." A keg system, on the other hand, can reach a higher pressure and is much colder, so you have tiny bubbles. Now, how you use them, Cisneros says, is up to the person making or sipping the drink. "You use seltzer to add sparkle and mouthfeel to a cocktail without adding more alcohol or changing the flavor," he says, adding that big bubbles are good for a punch. "The tiny ones give you more bubble per mouthful, which is really pleasant in that particular application."
5. Seltzer Can Be Healthier Than Drinking Regular Water: Especially when traveling abroad to places where contamination is common, carbonated water can come in quite handy. A travelers' guide in The New York Times recommends bubbly bottled water for both drinking and brushing your teeth. That's because the carbonation increases acid levels and kills bacteria.
6. If You Have IBS, You Probably Shouldn't Drink Seltzer: There are a lot of bad rumors about seltzer. One common fear is that it leaches calcium from your bones and weakens them, which is actually not the case. The only real health problem researchers have found with seltzer involves carbon dioxide and people with irritable bowl syndrome, or IBS. It's the release of this compound that triggers stomach aches, bloating and gas for people with sensitive digestive tracts.
7. You Can Cook With Seltzer: "We use club soda for our tempura batter and we use sparkling water for almond milk, or any nut milk," says chef David Santos at Louro in New York. "For tempura, it lightly coats so it's not heavy, which helps make the batter light and fluffy. And, for the almond milk, it helps break down the almonds when you're pureeing them." To use this beverage in cooking, the trick is to keep the water very cold. That way, very little of the carbon dioxide escapes. Tiny bubbles of air then form in the dough. Heat causes these to expand, giving fried or baked goods a buoyant texture. You can pretty much substitute seltzer for water, alcohol or beer in most recipes.
8: They Don't Make Glass Seltzer Bottles The Way They Used To: Despite the hip factor of seltzer delivery, no one in the United States actually makes the heavy glass bottles anymore. Instead, seltzer purveyors tend to use vintage bottles they find at shuttered soda water facilities or estate sales. "Some of the bottles are so old they have four-digit phone numbers on them," says Renz, who owns some 25,000 bottles that she either inherited when she bought the decades-old Seltzer Sisters business in 2002, or collected over the years. "The bottles themselves have their own history." One such vessel depicted the Golden Gate Bridge, she says, so the company donated it to the city of San Francisco as memorabilia. Of course, if you want to buy your own vintage bottle, it's easy to find them for sale online. Or, as Renz suggests, at flea markets in her hometown Brooklyn.
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