It Tastes Like Wa­ter

An in­for­mal panel picks top choices from 11 brands of bot­tled H2O

RSWLiving - - Features - Gina Birch is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor, a lover of good food and drink, and a well-known me­dia per­son­al­ity in South­west Florida.

Wa­ter is not only an im­por­tant part of the en­vi­ron­ment in which we live in South­west Florida, but it’s also vi­tally im­por­tant for life—for our bod­ies to func­tion—no mat­ter what area of the coun­try our bod­ies re­side in.

It’s rec­om­mended that the av­er­age per­son drink eight 8-ounce glasses of wa­ter a day. How­ever, that amount can eas­ily in­crease based on a va­ri­ety of fac­tors. And what is the main source of your drink­ing wa­ter: tap, home fil­tra­tion sys­tem, de­liv­ery ser­vice or bot­tled?

Ac­cord­ing to bot­tled­wa­, the web­site of the In­ter­na­tional Bot­tled Wa­ter As­so­ci­a­tion, in 2016, bot­tled wa­ter sur­passed car­bon­ated soft drinks to be­come the largest bev­er­age cat­e­gory by volume in the United States. While reg­u­lated by the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion, not all bot­tled wa­ter is cre­ated equally:

Spring wa­ter comes from an un­der­ground for­ma­tion with wa­ter that nat­u­rally flows to the sur­face of the earth.

Arte­sian wa­ter comes from a well that taps a con­fined aquifer. Pu­ri­fied wa­ter can come from any source orig­i­nally and then goes through dis­til­la­tion, deion­iza­tion, re­verse os­mo­sis or sim­i­lar pro­cesses.

No min­er­als can be added to min­eral wa­ter. It’s nat­u­ral wa­ter that must con­tain a min­i­mum amount of dis­solved solids. (Min­er­als give wa­ter fla­vor and are of­ten added to bot­tled brands.) But the big ques­tion is: How do they taste? Af­ter hear­ing a friend de­scribe him­self as a “wa­ter snob,” I de­cided to host a wa­ter-tast­ing event and put him to the test. I’ve done sim­i­lar events with wine and var­i­ous spir­its—yet re­cruit­ing a panel for this one wasn’t nearly as ex­cit­ing or easy as that for adult bev­er­ages.

At­tempt­ing to keep the com­par­i­son as equal as pos­si­ble, I pur­chased a va­ri­ety of non-sparkling wa­ter in plas­tic bot­tles from two ma­jor re­tail­ers in close prox­im­ity to one another. How­ever, I had no in­di­ca­tion of how they were shipped or stored—mean­ing heat ex­po­sure, which can af­fect qual­ity.

We tasted the wa­ter at room tem­per­a­ture, out of glass­ware, and all bot­tles were in brown bags so the la­bels would not in­flu­ence us. Of the 11 bot­tles we tasted, hands down the top two were Evian and Fiji, fol­lowed closely by Ze­phyrhills and then Dasani.

Evian is nat­u­ral spring wa­ter from the snow and rain of the French Alps. Man­u­fac­tur­ers say it takes 15 years for the wa­ter to make its way through moun­tains, rocks and glaciers be­fore reach­ing its un­der­ground source. It tastes soft and has a slight bit of salin­ity. It’s a brand that is com­mit­ted to re­duc­ing its car­bon foot­print.

Fiji wa­ter starts in the rain­for­est of the Pa­cific is­land and is fil­tered through vol­canic rock. It, too, is soft, clean and oh-sofresh. Owned by The Won­der­ful Com­pany, Fiji claims to be the No. 1 im­ported bot­tle wa­ter in the U.S.

Af­ter hear­ing a friend de­scribe him­self as a “wa­ter snob,” I de­cided to host a wa­ter­tast­ing event and put him to the test.

As far as do­mes­tic brands, for more than 50 years Ze­phyrhills has been bot­tling wa­ter sourced from five springs in cen­tral and north Florida, and it tastes nat­u­ral, not ma­nip­u­lated. It was an in­de­pen­dent brand un­til 1987 when pur­chased by Nestlé Wa­ters North Amer­ica.

Spring wa­ter was much pre­ferred by our tasters, but Dasani ranked high for a pu­ri­fied brand. Coca-Cola Co. uses re­verse os­mo­sis to pu­rify lo­cal wa­ter for this brand. The min­er­als were no­tice­able in the wa­ter, but they were not as overt as some of the oth­ers.

Our panel was able to iden­tify al­most ev­ery bot­tle of wa­ter that had gone through a re­verse os­mo­sis or sim­i­lar treat­ment by how it smelled in the glass; such as starch, static cling or an ion­izer. By and large it was un­ap­peal­ing com­pared to the spring wa­ter.

Since sev­eral of the wa­ters we tasted make claims of “per­fect” pH lev­els and/or al­ka­lin­ity, I dipped a few pH strips into them—just for fun.

The ver­dict is still out on the health ben­e­fits, if any, of higher al­ka­line wa­ters. Some health pro­fes­sion­als sug­gest that re­duc­ing acid­ity lev­els in the body cuts the risks of ill­ness and pro­motes well­ness. A pH of 7 is neu­tral and gen­er­ally thought to be good. How­ever, the pH of ev­ery or­gan in the body is dif­fer­ent. Suf­fice to say, it’s com­pli­cated.

I’ve done sim­i­lar events with wine and var­i­ous spir­its—yet re­cruit­ing a panel for this one wasn’t nearly as ex­cit­ing or easy as that for adult bev­er­ages.

Of our top four, all were highly al­ka­line—ex­cept for Dasani. It took a bit of a dive. The brand called 365 Al­ka­line claims to have a 9.5 pH and came close. Although it had that ion­ized smell, our panel liked its taste and “mouth feel.”

Core and Qure wa­ters claim to have “per­fect” or “near-per­fect” lev­els but didn’t come close in our pH test and were not pop­u­lar in taste. With no sci­en­tific ev­i­dence that drink­ing higher al­ka­line wa­ters is bet­ter for your health, the pur­chas­ing de­ci­sion for many peo­ple boils down to price and fla­vor.

Our group was gen­er­ally made of peo­ple who value fla­vor and unanimously agree that even though Fiji and Evian carry slightly higher price tags than all but a cou­ple of our sam­ples, they are worth it. And as for the self-pro­claimed “wa­ter snob,” he guessed the big brands and wa­ter cat­e­gories with im­pres­sive ac­cu­racy. Ev­ery­one has a tal­ent.

Eleven bot­tled wa­ters were tested, and pH strips were dipped into the wa­ter to test the al­ka­lin­ity.

Wa­ter may look the same, but of course in­di­vid­ual brands dif­fer in taste.

Evian and Fiji tied for first place. The ver­dict is still out on the health ben­e­fits, if any , of higher al­ka­line wa­ters such as Core and 365 Al­ka­line.

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