Tonic, Sparkling, Seltzer: What Are the Differences Between the Fizzy Waters?

Ever find yourself before a cooler of beverages at the grocery store, eyeing a dizzying array of different types of fizzy waters wondering what the difference is? Sure you know that tonic pairs well with gin, and a refreshing sparkling water adds a little bubbly to your day, but do you know what the real differences are between these four types of fizzy beverages?

If you can't figure out soda from seltzer when it comes to these carbonated drinks, we can help you set your sips straight. We've served up a complete guide to seltzer versus soda versus mineral versus tonic water below.


Simplicity is the formula for seltzer: H20 + C02 = carbonated water. Unadorned apart from carbonation, seltzer is flavorless, but refreshing. If you're looking to add some bubbles to your cocktail of choice but don't want to interfere with taste, seltzer water is the choice for you.

Homemade seltzers from carbonation kits like SodaStream are popular amongst the do-it-yourselfers out there.

Flavored Seltzer

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Plain old seltzer is delicious on its own (and in your favorite cocktails), but sometimes you wanna shake that drink up with some flavor.

Although typically fruit-based, flavored seltzer comes in a huge variety of tastes. Polar brand, in particular, is known for its bizarre seasonal offerings. Polar's 2016 lineup featured ambiguously named flavors like Unicorn Kisses, Mermaid Songs, and Yeti Mischief.

Club Soda

Club soda takes one step further than seltzer by adding salt to the carbonationThe addition of this base pH element, typically Sodium or Potassium Bicarbonate, mimics the taste of mineral water and balances out the acidic effect of carbonation.

You'll find an array of club soda brands in your average grocery store; Schweppes and Canada Dry are two popular national brands. Most chain grocery stores sell their own brands, as well. For those with more discerning water palates, artisanal club-sodas marketed specifically as cocktail mixers can often be found in liquor stores.

Sparkling Mineral Water

This is the broadest category, but also the only one with explicitly stated criteria. The FDA defines mineral water as "containing not less than 250 ppm total dissolved solids that originates from a geologically and physically protected underground water source".

Mineral water includes both flat and carbonated varieties. While carbonation is a naturally occurring process in some underground springs, most sparkling mineral waters have carbonation added pre-bottling.

Mineral waters are the only sparkling water with a natural flavor. Each underground spring's unique mineral composition results in a slightly different taste. Generally speaking, mineral water possesses an earthier, baser quality than other sparkling waters.

Perrier and San Pellegrino are two of the most well-known sparkling mineral water brands. Topo Chico, a mineral water largely exclusive to Texas, is a regional and bartender favorite.

Tonic Water

Not water in the strictest sense, tonic water has as much in common with beverages like Coke or Pepsi as it does with the other sparkling waters on this list.

Traditionally sipped as cure for malaria disease, quinine has since found enduring use as a mixer in cocktails. Don't count on your gin and tonic healing anything that ails you other than thirst, however. The quinine in your cocktail is diluted significantly

If you've ever accidentally taken a swig of tonic water expecting club soda, you definitely noticed your mistake. Tonic water has a distinctly bitter taste that is often masked by sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.

Watch: The Natural Water Infusions to Kick Your Soda Habit

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