Science & Experiments

What gives water its flavor?

As a kid, one of my least favorite things about road trips was the taste of the water. Every place we stopped at, the water flavor different. It was so frustrating! I reasoned that it is the same stuff so it shouldn’t taste funny. Little did I know that there are many things in water that impart flavor. 

Water in pure form is two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. But pure water is incredibly hard to come by (it has to go through several purifying steps) and tastes really odd. In nature, water has minerals and other stuff in it. What is in water depends on where the water comes from. Spring water can have all sorts of junk in it because it is open to the environment. Animals, plants, dirt, and bacteria all come in contact with it. The further from the source of the spring, the dirtier the water gets. Well water is cleaner because it comes from a more closed off environment. Actually, some well water is incredibly clean because rock can act as a filter system as water seeps through.

In the US, drinking water goes through a thorough cleaning process at a water treatment plant before it ever gets to us. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets a minimum standard for water safety and cleanliness but states and cities also have their own water standards. These regulations are one reason water tastes different from place to place. Debris and harmful microorganisms are taken out of water across the nation, but not all minerals are. Some elements are even added.

One factor that differs is the amount of chlorine put into the water at the end of the treatment process. Chlorine is an antimicrobial agent. It keeps the water free from new growths of microorganisms as the water travels from the treatment plant to your house. Some states require higher levels of chlorine than others.

Fluoride is typically added to water. Fluoride is found naturally in water in some locations but not all. So it is added to water because it helps prevent tooth decay.

Some other minerals that can be in water are calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, copper, and sulfate. This is not an exhaustive list. With all these different components in different concentrations, it is no wonder water doesn’t taste the same everywhere.

Photo by: Jonas Hansen

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