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What’s the Difference Between Club Soda, Seltzer, and Sparkling Water?

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They all sparkle. They all bubble. And they’re all water. But club soda, seltzer, and sparkling water are not interchangeable. Here’s what you need to know the next time you reach for one.

CLUB SODA

Club soda is just water with a few add-ins: carbon dioxide for carbonation and “mineral-like” ingredients such as sodium bicarbonate, sodium citrate, and potassium sulfate. It’s unflavored, other than the slightly mineral-y taste, which is why club soda is a great cocktail mixer.

Why is it called club soda? According to Culinary Lore, the beverage was once called Club Soda (note the proper noun). The water was—and still is—trademarked in Great Britain and Ireland by Dublin-based beverage company Cantrell & Cochrane. In 1896, C&C lost a lawsuit against a Jamaican company that had used the term “club soda,” which is probably why it remains a generic term everywhere else.

By the way, there's not much truth to the idea that club soda is a champ at getting stains out; plain water typically works just as well.

SELTZER

Like club soda, seltzer is also just plain water with carbon dioxide added for carbonation, but without the mineral additions. Unlike club soda, seltzer can be sweetened and flavored, often with citrus or other fruits. Interestingly, seltzer was also once a trademarked product, this one sold in Germany as far back as 1728. European immigrants brought it with them when they came to America, and the term eventually became used more generically.

SPARKLING WATER

Sparkling mineral water usually comes from a natural spring or well, which may provide natural carbonation. There’s also sparkling water that isn’t mineral based and doesn’t come from a spring; it's simply carbonated water, sometimes flavored.

BONUS: TONIC WATER

Tonic water is also—wait for it—carbonated water. The big difference is the addition of quinine, an ingredient found in the bark of the South American cinchona tree. Quinine was originally used as malaria medicine; according to legend, British soldiers started mixing the bitter stuff with soda water, sugar, and gin, to make it go down easier. It’s also fluorescent, so the next time you’re enjoying a gin and tonic, find yourself a black light and revel in its blue glow.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Food
United Airlines Has Gotten Rid of Tomato Juice, and Customers Are Freaking Out
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Lovers of tomato juice are a small camp, but a vocal one. And they're furious that United Airlines has replaced their beloved Mott's tomato juice with Mr. and Mrs. T Bloody Mary Mix on all flights under four hours, which includes most of its domestic runs. United said these changes are part of efforts to “streamline” its food service, the Chicago Business Journal reports.

The stealth substitution has fueled a rebellion among loyal tomato juice fans, as The Week points out.

There is some truth to the claim that tomato juice tastes better on flights. One study revealed that the noise level on an airplane affects our perception of taste, making savory or umami flavors more delicious. Another industry-funded study said the air pressure and humidity levels make bolder drinks seem more appealing.

Premium and economy passengers flying United can also say goodbye to Sprite Zero, Jim Beam, Courvoisier, and Amaretto, which were cut from the menu. And although airlines are not exactly known for their cuisine to begin with, passengers will likely start to see a difference in the types of meals being offered. The Chicago Business Journal writes:

"The reduction in food being offered in many instances in first-class and business-class cabins is not insignificant. Hot breakfasts are being replaced on some routes with only fruit plates and muffins, and more substantial lunches are being switched out for wraps and chocolate slabs."

The airline has said it is "monitoring customer feedback."

[h/t The Week]

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Big Questions
Why Do People Drink Mint Juleps at the Kentucky Derby?
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Whether you plan to enjoy the race from Churchill Downs or don an elaborate hat in the comfort of your own home, if you're watching the Kentucky Derby, you may find yourself sipping on a refreshing mint julep this weekend. But, why?

The drink—a cocktail traditionally composed of bourbon, sugar, water, and mint—has been a Kentucky favorite since long before Churchill Downs came into play. In fact, in 1816, silver julep cups were given as prizes at Kentucky county fairs (a change from the stuffed animals they offer today). And before that, a “julep” was considered medicinal, “prescribed” for stomach problems and sore throats.

Though mint juleps have likely been enjoyed at the Kentucky Derby since the beginning—legend has it that founder Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., planted mint for cocktails when he founded the track in 1875—the cocktail wasn’t declared the “official” Derby drink until 1938.

It was just a few years ago that the Derby switched to a more “authentic” version of the mint julep. For almost two decades, the 120,000 mint juleps served at the races were made with Early Times. Based on the aging process, Early Times isn’t considered bourbon (just “Kentucky whisky”) in the U.S. In 2015, they switched to Old Forester, which is also owned by the Brown-Forman Corporation.

Even with the switch to “real” bourbon, what most revelers actually get is the Old Forester Ready-to-Serve Cocktail mix, not a handcrafted mint julep—unless you’re willing to pony up $1000. For the past 13 years, Brown-Forman has served a special version of the drink made with Woodford Reserve small batch bourbon. It’ll set you back a grand, but hey, you get to keep the pewter cup—and proceeds benefit the Jennifer Lawrence Arts Fund (yes, that Jennifer Lawrence). In 2016, the Oscar-winning actress—and Louisville native—founded the organization "to assist and empower organizations that fulfill children's needs and drives art access to positively impact the lives of young people."

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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