When I was growing up in Queens, New York, all the kids drank water from fountains in the park, from a garden hose, and from the kitchen faucet. It was wet and refreshing. We were thirsty from running around the neighborhood playing Hide and Seek. Water was water. Nobody thought about the source.
Everything has changed. As adults, we don’t play Hide and Seek anymore except at large family gatherings. And there have been too many awful, well-publicized stories about tainted tap water in some cities. As a result, many folks nowadays are leery about drinking tap water.
It’s no wonder the typical supermarket devotes nearly an aisle to bottled water. Sure, we’re blessed with many choices, but you may have trouble deciding which brand to buy. Maybe you haven’t spent a few hours examining all of them.
I can help. I have closely surveyed the assortment of still waters in the supermarket. Brands of carbonated water and those infused with familiar or exotic flavors like huckleberry are topics for another time. There is enough to consider about still water, including source, packaging, price, taste and whether it makes sense to buy water in the first place when beer is on sale.
Here is my penetrating analysis:
There are mainly two types of bottled water: spring water from an underground source and water from municipal systems that is purified. Glacéau says its Smartwater is made from vapor distilled from water that is pulled from the sky. I’m impressed.
Private label water bearing the store’s brand is by far the top seller in supermarkets. It is typically sourced from local municipal water systems and is “purified,” which means it is produced by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis, or other processes that require a PhD in chemistry to understand.
The next two biggest sellers in stores are Dasani from the Coca-Cola Company and Acqufina from PepsiCo. Both are well-known brands around the country because these companies know how to get their beverages on store shelves quickly and efficiently.
Dasani water from local municipal supplies is filtered using reverse osmosis. Trace amounts of minerals are added. Aquafina is also derived from local water sources. Its purification process includes reverse osmosis, ultraviolet and ozone sterilization.
The sound of municipal water sources might not quench your thirst, but Hawaiians love it. Tap water in our 50th state is rainwater that is filtered through underground porous volcanic rock. Meanwhile, the Hawaiian Isles brand of water is also purified, and Waiakea Hawaiian volcanic water originates through rain and snowmelt on the peak of the active Mauna Loa volcano. This brand is hard to find on the mainland where there are few active volcanos.
Some “designer” brands:
Fiji natural artesian water is rainwater filtered by volcanic rock and collected in a sustainable artesian aquifer.
Evian is underground spring water from the pristine French Alps.
Voss artesian water from Norway originates under layers of rock and sand, which create a natural filter, protecting it from the air and other pollutants.
A lot of water is sold in handheld plastic bottles. They are lightweight and convenient to carry around to show friends and strangers how health-conscious you are.
Most water bottles look like, well, bottles. But some water suppliers aim to stand out on the shelf by making bottles in unusual shapes. Fiji, for example, comes in a rectangular bottle tapered at the top to the spout. Voss presents its water in a very tall cylindrical bottle. It gives the brand a distinctive high-end look.
There are also flimsy plastic water bottles that literally crinkle when you hold them. I’m always afraid the water might leak out.
The price of bottled water varies widely even though it is all essentially H20. If you buy on price, pick the store brand. This water is purified. For fancy dinner parties, offer guests a designer brand and put the bottle on the table next to the vichyssoise and escargot. This water is “artesian,” which means it costs more.
I’ve sampled all the brands listed in this column. My favorites are is Fiji, which is full bodied and flavorful, and Voss, which is smooth and velvety. They are also – get ready – the most expensive. The taste profile of the other brands varied from clean and vibrant to flat. I won’t reveal my preference for other brands because I don’t want to sway your own test at home.
Let me close with some Fun Facts, which I gathered from the Internet:
Earth is covered in water, but only 2.5 percent of it is fresh water.
The average American consumes 36.4 gallons of bottled water per year.
The federal government says it requires more rigorous safety monitoring of municipal tap water than it does of bottled water.
The bottled water industry generates as much as 1.5 million pounds of bottles per year.
Plastic water bottles do not biodegrade.
Only 13 percent of plastic bottles are recycled after being discarded. Most wind up in landfills and in the ocean.
By the way, beer is largely composed of water and is a refreshing beverage. It is sold in glass bottles and metal cans.
As Ben Franklin once said: “I fear the man who drinks water and so remembers this morning what the rest of us said last night.”
Data for sales of bottled water in grocery, drug, mass market, military and select club and dollar retailers was provided by IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm (@iriworldwide).