While many people assume that one bottle of water is just like any other, that’s not exactly the case. These days, there are almost as many different kinds of bottled water as there are brands of popular sodas. In fact, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has a whole code of regulations that dictates exactly what can be considered “bottled water” at all.
Beyond that, there are certain things that have to be taken into consideration to figure out what “kind” of water it qualifies as in terms of the FDA’s guidelines. Here we’ll explore some of the most popular kinds of bottled water on the market and explain the differences between their informational labels.
Spring water is about as natural as it gets and, as the telltale name implies, is generally sourced directly from a natural spring. According to FDA regulations, a certain list of qualifications must be met in order for bottled water to bear the “spring water” badge. Namely, it must either be collected directly from the spring, or from a borehole that allows the water to flow up from its underground source.
Not only is spring water free from artificial chemicals, but it’s often also rich in natural nutrients like calcium, potassium, and fluoride. These nutrients can even affect its taste, making legitimate spring water a bit easier to recognize once you get the taste for it.
Mineral water is actually a type of natural spring water. According to the FDA’s guidelines, spring water becomes mineral water when it contains a “constant level and relative proportions of minerals and trace elements at the point of emergence from the source.”
Translation? The water source is naturally rich in various minerals. The FDA also specifies that you can’t just add minerals to regular tap water and slap a “mineral water” label on it. In order to qualify, it has to be naturally minerally rich — without human tampering.
Artesian and Glacier Water
Artesian water comes from a well that’s sourced by something called a confined aquifer — an underground layer of rock or sand that contains water. As a result, artesian water often has a high mineral count and, as such, tends to have some health benefits. Glacier water is not necessarily a term used by the FDA, but, nonetheless, it’s exactly what it sounds like: runoff from a melting glacier.
Sparkling water tends to be pretty easy to recognize due to its carbonation, which results in bubbles and fizz. That said, sparkling water has a few subcategories of its own, including:
Sparkling Water: In its purest form, sparkling water is mineral or spring water that’s bubbly due to a process of natural carbonation from its source. If it comes from a spring that’s naturally high in minerals, it may qualify to be known as “sparkling mineral water.” Some manufacturers infuse it with extra carbonation to make it even more bubbly.
Club Soda: Water that’s been carbonated with carbon dioxide gas or CO2 is known as club soda. Usually, it’s also infused with added minerals like potassium sulfate, sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, and disodium phosphate.
Seltzer Water: Like club soda, seltzer water has also been carbonated, but it doesn’t have those added minerals.
Tonic Water: Another form of carbonated water, tonic water contains added minerals and quinine, a natural alkaloid that was used for centuries to treat diseases, like malaria. It’s also what gives tonic water its recognizably bitter taste.
Purified water is any type of water that’s been through a filtration process designed to remove its impurities. It may have originated from an underground water source, but it might also be derived from tap water. Its classification ultimately depends on the purification process it has undergone.
Distilled Water: Water that’s boiled and then condensed back into its liquid form. The idea here is that when the water boils, all of its impurities are removed. On the downside, the process also tends to remove the minerals too. To counteract this, distilled water tends to pull minerals from anything it touches, including your body. That said, the amount of minerals it will leech from you isn’t necessarily harmful as long as you eat a healthy diet. Depending on where you live, distilled water may be a much cleaner option than tap water, but don’t count on it for your daily mineral intake.
Deionized Water: As its name suggests, deionized water, aka “demineralized water,” is water that has had all of its ions removed. This is usually done by exposing it to high-purity resins that leave the water in its purest form. Deionized water is very similar to distilled water, but it tends to be much cheaper and easier to make.
Municipal Source Water
Because the FDA requires water bottle manufacturers to make it clear where their water is sourced from, you may see terms like “community water system” or “municipal source” on some labels. In essence, bottles that bear those labels contain tap water that’s been purified.
Aquafina water, for example, starts out as regular tap water and is purified through a series of processes, including reverse osmosis, ozone sterilization, and an ultraviolet-related process. So, while it may be purified, it’s not the most natural product on the market.
Flavored or Nutrient-Added Water
Flavored and/or nutrient-added waters are often advertised as a healthier alternative to sodas and, in some cases, they are a better bet. As the straight-forward names suggest, flavored waters are simply waters — usually sparkling waters — that have an added taste, while nutrient-added water has been infused with various vitamins or minerals.
While these types of waters still have to adhere to certain FDA guidelines, it’s important to make sure that you read the nutrition labels, as some companies tend to go a little heavy on the sugar in order to make their water flavorings taste better, while others “essence” their waters with flavor, making them sugar-free, healthier options.