Water, amirite? Who would have thought that our world’s most plentiful element would be so important to our everyday life? Besides the health benefits and amazing things the stuff does for your skin, it’s just good. Name a better feeling that chugging a bottle of cold water after a long run -- I’ll wait. And none of this “I don’t like water” business.
There’s no denying that some water is just inherently better, though. I drink well water at my parents’ house and city tap water the rest of the time, and there’s definitely a difference. Likewise, smartwater is going to taste a little different than Poland Spring. But water is water, or so I thought.
At least an expert exists to answer all of our burning water questions. Turns out, there’s such thing as a mineral water sommelier -- even if there are only 100 in the world and a single individual in the United States that holds the title. Martin Riese put it straight up when talking to Cooks Illustrated: “There are so many varieties of water. When people say, ‘Oh, it’s all the same,’ that’s not really correct.”
So, OK, but what makes waters different from each other? Why was a British Columbia town found to have the best-tasting water last year?
Think of water like wine: Its age, origin and distillation process all plays a part in what the resulting flavor will be like.
Simply put, depending on where the water comes from and what it travels through, it’ll pick up different minerals and compounds that add slightly different tangs. Whether it comes straight from the ground, through a river or by way of pipes, it can be infused with various soluble ingredients. Well water, for example, typically passes through layers of limestone, which gives it a bit of a chalky taste; drinking water close to the coast will have a tinge of sulfur due to some microbes in groundwater. Even leaves falling into rivers can give the resulting drinking water an earthy kick.
Certain minerals produce different tastes as well: calcium will make water taste milky and smooth, and magnesium creates a bitter flavor.
“Every person can detect differences in water,” Riese said. “Everyone can taste the difference. I see it on a daily basis. People are always amazed at how different water can taste.”
The only time you won’t really notice a taste, Riese reasons, is when water has been distilled to the point of removing any minerals that may have dissolved in it -- in that case, the water will taste “totally boring, like nothing, dry in your mouth.” Bleh.
Bottled waters will usually be filtered or purified to various points, adding or removing things like electrolytes to change the taste. So, yes, your Fiji water will be a little different than plain ol’ Aquafina.
And some cities even credit their water for their unique, local craft. New Yorkers will swear that it’s the water that makes their bagels and pizza so good, and Kentuckians attribute their good bourbon to the water.
Makes you want to spend your paycheck on every different kind of water bottle you can get your hands on, huh?