They’re all clear. They’re all bubbly. And they’re all water. So you’d be forgiven if you thought club soda, seltzer, tonic water, and sparkling water are all the same thing. But the four carbonated beverages are in fact, totally different drinks.

How do you know which one to drink when, and even which ones you want to drink? Let’s dig deeper:


Sparkling Water

Sparkling water, or sparkling mineral water if you’re trying to be fancy, is naturally carbonated. It comes from carbonated springs or well, courtesy of Mother Nature. According to the FDA, mineral water mist contain at least 250 parts per million dissolved solids from the water source to be considered the real deal.

Trace minerals in sparkling water may include sodium, magnesium, and calcium. The flavor can vary depending on where it came from, so sparking waters from separate springs can taste much different.

When to drink: Sparking water usually has a higher price point that other waters so you would likely just want to drink this stuff as-is.

Examples: Perrier, San Pellegrino, Voss Sparkling, Gerolsteiner


The difference between sparkling water, seltzer water, club soda and tonic water

Seltzer Water

Seltzer water is currently the fizzy favorite thanks to brands like La Croix that have made it the cool kids’ beverage of choice. Seltzer water is simply water that has been artificially carbonated. Nothing but carbonation is added here — no other minerals or additives that could cause taste variations.

Seltzer gets its name from the German town of Selters, which is renowed for its natural springs. European immigrants brought the drink with them to the U.S. when they settled.

When to drink: Because its basically a blank carbonated canvas, it’s great for mixing with flavors like fresh lemon, lime, or berries. It’s a cheaper alternative to sparkling water so sip away as part of an alcoholic concoction, mixed with fruit, or an artificially flavored product.

Examples: La Croix, Schweppes seltzer, Vintage, Bubly


The difference between sparkling water, seltzer water, club soda and tonic water

Club Soda

Like seltzer water, club soda is also artificially carbonated, but unlike seltzer water, minerals have been added for enhanced flavor. It also has mineral-like add-ins like sodium bicarbonate, sodium citrate, and potassium sulfate.

When to drink: Club soda has no flavor other than a slightly mineral-y essence, so it’s a great cocktail mixer. Also noted, while it’s sold as a beverage, it also has other uses including stain remover on clothes and carpets, particularly when they come from red wine, coffee, Kool-Aid or other difficult stains, though evidence on how well it works over plain water is mixed.

Examples: Canada Dry club soda, Fever Tree club soda, Schweppes club soda


The difference between sparkling water, seltzer water, club soda and tonic water

Tonic Water

While it’s a clear, bubbly water, you’d likely never mistake tonic for any of the others on this list. Tonic water contains quinine, a compound isolated from the bark of  cinchona trees. In the 17th century, quinine was used to treat and prevent malaria, but because it had a bitter taste, it was commonly mixed with sugar to make it easier to drink. And that’s the same beverage we drink today. Thanks to the added sugar, it the only one of the four clear fizzy drinks that contains calories.

When to drink: It’s most commonly mixed with gin for everyone’s favorite summer drink G&T. Also, tonic is fluorescent, so the next time you find yourself under blacklight, order a gin and tonic and check out the fun blue glow.

Examples: Q Tonic water, Zevia, Fever Tree tonic soda

 

Also see: What’s the difference between apple cider and apple juice?


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Meghan is a full-time writer exploring the fun facts behind food. She lives a healthy lifestyle but lives for breakfast, dessert and anything with marinara. She’s thrown away just as many meals as she’s proud of.