Sparkling Water vs. Soda Water vs. Seltzer: What’s the Difference?

Polar brand seltzer water

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There are so many terms for carbonated water. It seems that every brand follows a different set of rules when classifying their products. That can make it difficult to discern the differences between sparkling water vs. soda water, seltzer water vs. club soda, and sparkling mineral water vs. sparkling water.

It can get confusing, so people often assume these beverages are the same. And for the most part, they’re not wrong.

Sparkling water, soda water, and seltzer are essentially the same product: carbonated water that is aerated artificially and may contain added minerals. Alternatively, sparkling mineral water is naturally carbonated and usually features significant natural mineral content.

If you have a bubbling desire to learn more about the differences in origin, flavor, best uses, and popular brands of sparkling water, read on.

Bottle of sparkling water

Sparkling Water, Soda Water and Seltzer

A common misconception is that sparkling water is naturally carbonated and contains minerals naturally, while soda water is manufactured and contains added minerals. However, this is simply not the case.

Soda water, club soda, seltzer and sparkling water are generally interchangeable terms. They all typically refer to water that has been carbonated artificially. They may or may not contain added minerals or flavoring. However, seltzer traditionally does not contain added minerals.

Different beverage brands choose to refer to their products by different names for marketing purposes, though they are essentially the same type of beverage with minor variations. LaCroix refers to its products as sparkling water, yet they carbonate their water artificially. Polar Seltzer describes its products as seltzer, and they manufactured it in much the same manner as LaCroix.

Defining these beverages using the name ascribed to them for marketing purposes is a fool’s errand. Beverage companies are not required to label their products as seltzer in once instance or sparkling water in another. In the eyes of the United States Food and Drug Administration, these terms are essentially the same.

Why Are There Different Names for Sparkling Water?

Over time, terms for sparkling water have fallen in and out of popularity. When the beverage was first manufactured, people referred to it as “soda.” The name caught on because sodium was the mineral that people added most commonly. Manufacturers added it to help improve flavor and maintain carbonation over time.

Later, terms like club soda and seltzer came into use. The word Seltzer originates from a German town called Selters, known for its natural mineral springs. It became a widespread term for carbonated water in the United States in the early 1900s as seltzer bottle delivery services began to gain popularity.

In the 2020s, the term seltzer has become more commonly used as shorthand for alcoholic seltzer beverages – hard seltzer. However, people still also use the term to refer to traditional non-alcoholic seltzer water.

Likely following the lead of beverage giant LaCroix, many modern brands like Waterloo, Spindrift, and Bubly call their carbonated water beverages sparkling water. While not a rule, manufacturers seem to use the term most often for fizzy water that is flavored – often with fruit.

Regardless of whether companies use sparkling water vs. soda water, they are essentially the same product with minor variations in flavoring, mineral content, and carbonation.

Flavor and Best Uses

Flavor can vary greatly between different brands. This is a result of differing mineral contents, water sources, carbonation levels, added flavors, and even artificial sweeteners. Just as the water from your tap tastes different from tap water 1000 miles away, so too do brands of sparkling water canned in different locations.

Sparkling water, soda water and seltzer are extremely versatile. Carbonated water can be refreshing on its own, with a squeeze of citrus juice, or as a base for a variety of cocktails.

Because sparkling water is inherently low or no-calorie, it’s a popular choice for those looking to curb a soda habit or maintain a healthy lifestyle. While you probably shouldn’t replace flat water with carbonated entirely, sparkling water is a great choice for staying hydrated.

People have come up with other interesting uses for sparkling water that don’t involve drinking it. For example, washing your face with sparkling water has become a trendy practice in some circles of the beauty and skincare world.

Popular Brands of Sparkling Water, Soda Water and Seltzer

There are hundreds of options to choose from when it comes to sparkling water. Try some of the following brands and see which ones you prefer. But remember – this list excludes beverages that we would designate as sparkling mineral water.

  • LaCroix
  • Spindrift
  • Bubly
  • Polar
  • Waterloo
  • AHA
  • Canada Dry
  • Schweppes
San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water

Sparkling Mineral Water

The myth of natural carbonation being the defining feature of sparkling water likely stems from the similarity between the terms sparkling water and sparkling mineral water. While sparkling mineral water and sparkling water may taste similar, they are not the same thing.

Sparkling mineral water refers to naturally carbonated sparkling water with notable natural mineral content. Minerals in sparkling mineral water vary greatly in type and amount – depending on the natural source of the water. Total dissolved solids (TDS) is the metric we use to measure the mineral content of mineral water.

The FDA defines mineral water as water that comes from an underground source and contains at least 250 parts per million total dissolved solids. The minerals must come from the source. The bottler cannot add additional minerals (as is often done with club soda). However, many bottlers often cleverly circumvent this rule by combining mineral water from different depths of the source to produce the best tasting mineral balance.

Common minerals in sparkling mineral water include:

  • Sodium
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Zinc
  • Copper

There is a reason for the similarity in flavor between sparkling mineral water and sparkling water. Manufacturers of sparkling water often attempt to improve the flavor of artificially carbonated water by adding minerals to the beverage.

People have been drinking sparkling mineral water since at least 323 BCE – the days of the Greek Empire. More likely, we’ve been drinking it for far longer than that. Natural sources exist all over the globe, so it’s possible there is a sparkling mineral water spring near you.

Flavors and Best Uses

The flavor of sparkling mineral water can vary greatly, because it is dependent on the unique mineral profile of the water. If a mineral water contains few minerals, the taste of carbonic acid may dominate, leading to a sour flavor. Higher sodium content will make water taste saltier, while higher sulphate content may make the water taste bitter.

Sparkling mineral water is known for having carbonation that can be described as more fizzy than bubbly — leading some to perceive it as being more carbonated. For this reason, many people prefer it over artificially carbonated sparkling water.

Most connoisseurs will tell you that sparkling mineral water is best cold and without any flavoring additions. This will allow you to taste the natural mineral flavor profile. If you do not enjoy the flavor, it may not be worth it to purchase sparkling mineral water. The beverage is usually significantly more expensive than sparkling water.

Many people like to drink mineral water for health benefits associated with the minerals it contains. However, any health benefits of mineral water can be achieved separately through food or supplements – without the need to drink mineral water.

Popular Brands of Sparkling Mineral Water

There are dozens of brands to choose from when selecting sparkling mineral water. The exciting part of sparkling mineral water is the uniqueness of each brand. Minerality will differ greatly from one to another, making each option distinct.

Most of the following are imported to the United States from abroad. These popular brands should be available in stores across most of the country, or online:

  • San Pellegrino
  • Perrier
  • Gerolsteiner
  • The Mountain Valley
  • Topo Chico