Why is Sparkling Water Bitter?

Sparkling water in a glassYou may be craving your favorite bottle of sparkling water, be it a seltzer, club soda, or tonic water. On a hot sunny day, especially when the bubbling beverage cools you and refreshes you. Surprisingly, you may not be thirsty since a thirsty person craves pure drinking water. You may just be yearning for the bitter-sweet, savory sensation of sparkling water. Air bubbles bursting on the surface of the tongue bring a sweet sensation. But why does carbonated water taste bitter?

History of Sparkling Water

Joseph Priestly, an Englishman, discovered carbonated water, albeit accidentally, in 1767. He had left a bowl of water suspended over a vat in a brewery next to his home. Priestly was curious about the strange gas that the brewery gave off and decided to conduct some studies. He later wrote a paper about the odd satisfaction he drew from drinking carbonated water. Only in 1781 did companies start bottling manufactured mineral water and producing carbonated drinks on a large scale.

At first, people were very cautious as everybody does not trust new things. New is bad. You could only get a bottle of your favorite sparkling drink in an apothecary shop. New inventions in methods of production followed. The addition of additives such as sweeteners and colors to increase the taste birthed soft drinks.

Other than artificial means of productions, sparkling mineral water can be sourced from nature. Several natural springs produce your favorite seltzer or club soda. Sparkling natural water may have a sour taste since it contains mineral salts, for example, magnesium, calcium, and sodium. It may also contain sulfur compounds. Mineral salts bring the taste variation. You have to taste various brands before settling on what you like best.

Why is sparkling water bitter?

Sparkling water is a delightfully refreshing drink for many people. However, some people find them repulsive. So, why is sparkling water bitter? Is it the mineral salts or the added carbon dioxide? Various theories have been put forward to try and explain the bitter flavor.


One theory attributes the bitter taste to the fizzling sensation. Carbon dioxide is infused under high pressure into the plain water, producing air bubbles that make the drink fizzle. The theory proposed that bursting air bubbles on the surface of your tongue may produce an unpleasant feeling in some people or a burning sensation if you had a mouth sore.

Recent studies have proved the theory wrong. Sparkling water was left to go flat then given to several volunteers. The test subjects reported a bitter taste even with flat carbonated water.

Taste Receptor Research

The second theory proposes that you can taste the carbon dioxide in the water. Scientifically humans may have evolved a unique gene over time. It is a survival mechanism to keep you from not eating bad food and getting poisoned.

According to a study published in the journal Science, researchers discovered that the sour taste receptors also respond to sparkling beverages. They implanted electrodes in the nerves connected to taste receptor cells of mices’ tongues. Club soda and even carbon dioxide gas stimulate the taste cells for sour.

Typically, there are five taste receptors in the human tongue; bitter, savory, sweet, sour, and salty. Those mice who had their sour taste receptors removed showed indifference to carbonation, suggesting a direct link between carbonation and sour taste receptors.

These taste receptors labeled Car4 hold an enzyme that helps to split carbon into bicarbonate ions and protons. Since bicarbonate does not stimulate the taste receptors, protons should be responsible. Protons bring a bitter taste.

Acidity in Carbonated Water

The last theory associates the bitter taste with the acidity in carbonated water. Injecting pressurized carbon dioxide into the water creates weak carbonic acid. Carbonated water usually has a pH of 3 or 4, indicating acidity. Acids have a bitter taste to some individuals and stimulate the sour taste receptors.

Is it Possible to Remove the Bitte Taste in Carbonated Water?

You cannot completely remove carbonated water’s bitter taste. What you can do is neutralize or hide the taste like a soft drink. The oldest way to mask the bitter taste of carbonated water is to add syrup. You can easily do this at home.

There are many natural sweeteners and flavoring agents. You can get one and add it to your carbonated water. Also, soda water is an essential additive when mixing non-alcoholic cocktails. Some bartenders use soda water instead of plain old water to attract your taste buds.

Is it Safe to Drink Sparkling Water Daily?

There are different variations of sparkling water, such as seltzers and club soda. Taking plain carbonated water regularly or daily does not have any negative effects on the human body. But there have been concerns about the added sugar and flavorings, which have been associated with many lifestyle diseases. Bubbly water comes in many brands and tastes, each one having different amounts of flavorings and sweeteners added to neutralize the bitter taste. If you don’t add any artificial or natural sugar, you can drink it at will.

Other concerns have been raised over acidity. Get this. Injecting pressurized carbon dioxide into the water brings about the sparkling action. Small amounts of carbon dioxide dissolve in water to form weak carbonic acid. Some have raised an issue over this acidity, claiming that it destroys teeth enamel. This claim that weak carbonic acid can destroy the teeth enamel has since been disproved, with studies showing that drinking carbonated water did as much damage to the teeth as drinking plain water.

Bottom Line

Sparkling water is probably as old as nature since there have been natural wells bubbling with carbonated water. Joseph Priestley though, only discovered sparkling water in a brewery in the 18th century. There are several theories trying to explain why sparkling water is bitter. Some have associated the bitter taste with the bursting of bubbles, others with the taste of carbon dioxide and the weak carbonic acid.

It is completely safe to drink as much of your favorite soft drink as possible if it does not contain added sweeteners, artificial or natural.