Carbonated water in the US has exploded (well, not literally) - but the past five years has seen a 42% increase in sparkling water sales, with almost 170 million gallons of the effervescent aqua being consumed each year by Americans alone. New innovations for the product continue to strike the market - such as the addition of CBD, a chemical lauded by the New York Times as “the new avocado toast”.
But beyond CBD-infused sparkling water, carbonated water holds a rich and often overlooked history that actually predates humanity.
Naturally occurring mineral springs create carbonated water on their own. They accomplish this ancient feat by fusing the liquid with a range or sodium and potassium minerals, some of which are used to artificially carbonate “flat” water for consumer use today. These minerals include sodium chloride, sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate just to name a salty few.
Mineral springs were popular religious sites for early man and continue to be utilized for health benefits today, both by consuming the water and by using it in spas.
In fact, the word “Spa” comes from the mineral spring-rich town of the same name in Belgium. Likewise, “seltzer” water has a very similar etymology. Niederselters is the name of an old town built around mineral springs in Germany. It became renowned for its sparkling mineral water and “selters” water was born - Americanization of the word coming later.
Mineral water had been a popular beverage for centuries, but when chemistry started taking foot in Europe, innovative humans decided they needed a source of carbonating water independent of far-off springs.
William Brownrigg of the Royal Society is thought to be the first to have artificially carbonated water in 1740, although he didn't seem to leave much evidence.
Just a few years later in 1767, Joseph Priestley discovered another method of infusing water with carbon dioxide by accident. Priestley did, however, redesign and patent that mechanism for carbonated water production, and in 1772 he published a paper (perhaps humorously) entitled “Impregnating Water with Fixed Air”.
Sadly for Joseph Priestley, his invention was rather poorly conceived and required animal skins in the process - which produced predictable and unfortunate results. The Grammar Professor-turned-Chemist made no money off of his design, but modifications from other inventors were soon conceived.
Just 20 years after Priestley published his findings, advancements to his original design would facilitate the industrial manufacturer of carbonated water for the first time ever.
As the popularity of carbonated water continue to flourish throughout Europe, innovations for home production soon became commonplace - at least among wealthier classes.
The “Gasogene” or “Seltzergene” was one such artifacts that once denoted wealth and status and is notably featured in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.
The device consists of two glass globes wrapped in wicker or steel wire (as they had a tendency to explode from pressure). The Gasogene utilized a mixture of tartaric acid and sodium bicarbonate, which, when combined, created carbon dioxide in one globe that would be forced into the second globe (and fluid) and pressurize the spout.
Carbonated water continued to rise in popularity and saw its Hay Day in the Prohibition of 1920. The local pharmacy popularized the “soda fountain” - a carbonated water dispenser that would mix Coca-Cola syrup (and others) into the fizzy beverage. And almost overnight the unlikely pharmacy became the go-to place - not only kids with a sweet tooth, but teens and young adults looking for an affordable and unimposing date.
What followed was almost a century of carbonated water being used in such a manner to produce sugary soft drinks that are still popular today. Interestingly, though, it seems the health fads of the last few decades have finally caught on in the consumer consciousness and soft drink sales - even diet and sugar free sodas - are plummeting, leaving investors scratching their heads at the staggering rise of carbonated water. Some speculate that Millennials are to blame for the shift in product sales, but whatever the motivation, carbonated water sales have boomed in recent years posting a 42% growth in just the last half-decade, with Americans consuming 170 million gallons per year.
With this dramatic shift in the market, it's understandable that major soft drink companies (some with impressive ties to other corporations) have fought back against the effervescent tide with a little bit of media scare tactics. In particular, the claim that carbonated water is bad for your teeth.
Despite the frightening graphs that you might find on popular media outlet websites or television shows, it all boils down to a misdirected campaign. A red herring, as it were, swimming in carbonated water. (Was Admiral Akbar a Herring, or probably a catfish descent?)
The propaganda campaign revolved around one claim - that carbonated water contains carbonic acid, and that can be bad for your teeth.
In fact, the science shows (and even all of the negative press admits in the fine print) that carbonic acid is only detrimental to your teeth if combined with citric acid - a very common ingredient in soft drinks.
One very recent innovation in the realm of seltzer water is the infusion of the cannabinoid CBD into the beverage. CBD is a naturally occurring plant compound shown to relieve stress, arthritis and an incredible host of other ailments and it sold over the counter across the US. Sparkling CBD water and soda products are all naturally vegan, gluten free and has no GMOs or preservatives.