How Is Seltzer Water Made?
If you’ve ever sat down for dinner in a restaurant and tried to order sparkling water, or wanted to tap into the fizzy water scene, you’ve likely wondered, “how is seltzer water made?” After all, there are dozens of varieties, and on their face, they all seem the same.
So what is seltzer water actually, what differentiates it from the crowd, and how is it made?
What Is Seltzer Water?
First, a definition. Seltzer water is very simply water with carbonation added.
Carbonation can be added using any CO2 machine; companies even make them now for the countertop in consumer homes.
Seltzer water is differentiated from soda water, which is seltzer water with minerals such as sodium bicarbonate, sodium citrate, disodium phosphate, and sodium chloride added. The two are mostly indistinguishable from each other.
Sparkling water is another relative to the above two. It is similar to seltzer but it also has dissolved solids like potassium, sodium, and magnesium, which is why you will commonly hear sparkling water referred to as mineral water or sparkling mineral water.
It is sparkling water that is most popular on market shelves today, with various brands that offer a wide range of flavors.
Finally, tonic water is seltzer water with quinine and sugar added. This one began as a remedy for malaria as quinine is a preventative for the disease, but because quinine is so bitter, sugar was added.
The beverage became so popular that it simply stuck and began to be sold globally.
And make sure you distinguish between seltzer water and hard seltzer, which is produced, just like beer or wine, via a fermentation process. If you’re a brewer looking to expand your product range, check out these articles for more information on what hard seltzer is:
A History of Seltzer Water?
What does all of this have to do with beer and brewing?
Well, seltzer water was discovered, or invented, depending on how you look at it, by a brewer.
Joseph Priestley suspended a bowl of water above a beer vat using a bladder placed between the generator and the absorption tank to regulate the flow of carbon dioxide in 1767.
Of course, there were those who came before him; the first person to aerate water with carbon dioxide was William Browinrigg, a British Doctor, in 1740, and Henry Cavendish, an English chemist, used a similar apparatus to that of Joseph Priestley in 1762.
And there were many who came after Priestley.
It would not be until 1781 that a factory was built by Thomas Henry of Manchester to mass produce seltzer water for the public, and Henry used a large bellows instead of a bladder.
Since that time, various appliances and approaches have been taken to make seltzer water both commercially and at home.
The soda siphon was a typical bottle with a valve and spout. It was a common sight in bars and restaurants as well as middle class homes. It came pre-charged with water and gas and could be refilled when empty.
Today, we have countertop soda makers, or countertop carbonators, that carbonate water with multiple-use carbon dioxide canisters.
Commercially, seltzer water is made by chilling filtered plain water to 46 degrees Fahrenheit or below, adding sodium or potassium to neutralize the acid created with carbonating water, and then pressurizing the water with carbon dioxide.
How Is Seltzer Water Made?
Chemistry tells us that the combination of high-pressure gas and low temperature water causes carbon to dissolve in water, creating carbonic acid. As the temperature rises, or pressure is released, the carbon dioxide creates bubbles and escapes from the seltzer.
All-Natural Seltzer Water Recipe
Don’t have a carbonator or a CO2 tank?
There is an easy way to make seltzer water using simple ingredients.
All you need is vinegar and baking soda.
You see, the combination of vinegar and baking soda produces carbon dioxide. Do be mindful that residue from your ingredients will show up in your water, so your seltzer will not be completely flavorless.
You will need:
- 2 Plastic soda bottles
- Food grade tubing
- Baking soda and vinegar
- Toilet paper
First, remove the caps from your soda bottles and drill a small hole in each cap.
Insert the each end of tubing into the drilled bottle caps. The tube should be long enough to reach the bottom of the bottles and provide some space between the two bottles when they are closed.
Using a funnel, pour your very cold, filtered water into one of the bottles, leaving a couple of inches at the top of the bottle. Then screw the cap on the top with the tube sticking into the bottle and out of the cap.
Using a funnel again, fill 1/3 of your other bottle with vinegar. Lay down a double sheet of toilet paper and place 1 tablespoon of baking soda on top. Roll the toilet paper up and drop it into the vinegar and screw the cap on quickly so no CO2 escapes.
Grab the bottle with the water and shake it like crazy. You will notice bubbles arriving from the vinegar bottle into the water bottle. Continue to shake until no more bubbles are transferring through the tube.
Let your water sit for a minute or two.
Transfer both of your bottles to the sink, pinch the tube, and open your water bottle slowly. Then, bring your vinegar bottle to the sink and open the top of that one.
Now you can enjoy all-natural seltzer water!
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