Club soda, seltzer, mineral water. Are they all the same? If not, what are the differences among them? Can you use them interchangeably or do they have specific uses?
Surely, these are not the most important questions of the 21st Century. Still, they kept coming up for me this summer.
First, I noticed that my cousin Zach referred to club soda (and not seltzer or sparkling water) when he gave me his version of a Spiced Pineapple Shrub. I didn’t have any club soda at the time I made my version, so I used seltzer and gave both of them as options in my recipe.
By the time I wrote my (next) Lemon Rosemary Shrub recipe, I’d realized that mineral water was another possibility. So that recipe listed all three as alternatives. If you want to see why I went back to annotate that recipe to exclude most (sparkling) mineral waters, read on to the comparison below.
A few weeks later, I was chatting with a friend. She remarked that she always uses club soda in drinks because that’s what her mother used. She went on to say that she always buys Schweppes club soda. In fact, she swears that it tastes different, and better, than other brands.
I have always considered sparkling mineral water to be “fancy.” By that I mean, if I want to impress guests, I put out a bottle or two on the table with the wine and other beverages.
However, my beloved, with his down-to-earth roots, puts me in my place whenever I do that. When he sees the mineral water coming out, he puts wine out in a box. Of course, I counter his move with a request that he transfer the wine to a carafe, and quickly hide the box. But that’s another story. Back to my club soda, seltzer, mineral water fascination.
For a deep dive into club soda, seltzer, mineral water facts and trivia, check out this Atlas Obscura article about how the Germans are the true connoisseurs of bubbly water and this one from The Atlantic on The Medical Origins of Seltzer.
It turns out that the world “seltzer” comes from the name of a German town, Selters, near Wiesbaden. It is the site of naturally carbonated mineral springs. And a Swiss-German fellow named J.J. Schweppe was the first to sell artificially carbonated mineral water, starting in the late 18th Century.
The seltzer culture (and the love of carbonated water) came from Germany to the U.S. through German Jewish immigrants. If you’re a homemade seltzer (e.g., Soda Stream) fan, you can thank the German Jewish immigrants who made seltzer part of the deli culture, along with bagels and lox, pickles, and hot corned beef on rye.
And whatever you do, don’t confuse these sparkling waters with tonic water. Regardless of brand, tonic water always contains quinine and a sweetener.
Club Soda, Seltzer, Mineral Water – Differences & Similarities
- Club soda is water with mineral-like ingredients added, along with carbon dioxide. Which minerals and how much depends on the brand.
- Seltzer is simply artificially carbonated water. No minerals, nothing else – just water and carbon dioxide.
- Mineral water (the sparkling, not still variety) contains natural spring or well water that has minerals and salt in it, plus carbon dioxide. There are many different types of mineral waters, and they all taste different to a true mineral water lover. This description of one brand, Appolinaris, will give you an idea for how specific a true aficionado can get in caring what is in the water and where it came from. There are even different levels of “gas” or carbonation, generally described as mild or medium.
- For mixed drinks, you would typically use either club soda or seltzer. You want to add water and bubbles, but not too much of a mineral-laden taste to your cocktail or mocktail. Only use mineral water if it has an almost imperceptible taste of minerals and salts. Seltzer has the cleanest taste of all three because it has no minerals at all. Club soda is usually the next cleanest tasting, followed by mineral water.
- If you want comprehensive taste tests considering the various types and brands of all three types, Food52’s post comparing 17 types of sparkling water is a great place to start.