Although Seltzer has come to be a generic term for carbonated water or soda water, it was originally a brand of naturally carbonated water which came from Niederselters, Germany. This naturally carbonated water was bottled and sold as far back as 1728. It was brought into the US by immigrants from Europe and eventually came to be a generic name for carbonated water. The natural springs in the Niederselters had high carbonation with a low mineral content and became a popular beverage.
The “Selter” springs were well-known, and highly regarded enough, as well, for soda water makers in the U.S. and Europe, who impregnated water with carbon dioxide, to make a version of “selter water” to sell to their customers, which included not only carbon dioxide but some of the minerals, such as magnesium, that were known to be in the natural spring’s waters. This helped seltzer water to eventually become a generic term for soda water, even when it only contained carbon dioxide but no added minerals.
Seltzer was never trademarked as a term, so any soda water brand can use it on their labels and there are not legal specifications as to what it should contain, or not contain, other than carbonated water. Calling soda water “seltzer” is especially common in New York.
Like many natural spring waters that contained dissolved minerals, Seltzer was originally promoted as a medicinal product, and antacid products such as Alka-Seltzer and Bromo-Seltzer traded on the name. But the taste is what brought it into the mainstream.
Another generic term for soda water is Club Soda. However, this is actually a trademarked term. The original club soda was made by Cantrell & Cochrane of Dublin, Ireland in 1877. This product, as well, was promoted as a health promoting beverage, the specific claim being that it neutralized lactic acid in the blood. Cantrell & Cochrane still own the trademark.
Seltzer, club soda, soda water, or just soda, are all used interchangeably in common usage. Originally, these carbonated waters came from natural mineral springs. However, naturally occurring water with large amounts of dissolved carbon dioxide is rare, so such soda waters were hard to come by in the old days. Attempts were made to use yeast fermentation to impregnate water with C02, but this was an unpredictable process.
Another early artificial method for producing soda water was described in 1772 by Joseph Priestly of England. Priestly published a pamphlet called Directions for Impregnating Water with Fixed Air, which explained the process of dripping sulfuric acid onto chalk, which produced C02 which was captured in a bowl of agitated water. Priestly actually thought such carbonated water was a cure for scurvy, and so proposed the process to Captain James Cook to prevent scurvy during his second voyage to the South Seas. Priestley never really realized the commercial potential of his product, but others such as Anyos Jedlik of Hungary, who opened a large-scale carbonated water factory in the 1830’s, did. Priestly went on to other scientific achievements, such as discovering oxygen. He was a controversial figure in London due to his religious activism. His soda water making apparatus influenced many to come.
In the US, a Yale chemistry professor named Benjamin Silliman had been producing carbonated water under pressure and selling it in New Haven, Connecticut since 1807. Today, carbon dioxide is forced into water under pressure and it is possible to produce your own with home units such as the soda stream.
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