Everyone enjoys a little fizz in their drink – but how familiar are you with the science behind those delightful bubbles?
Not to worry, today we’re exploring your most burning questions about carbonation (and maybe even a few you haven’t thought of). Of course, the only thing better than reading about carbonation is drinking something bubbly, so feel free to sip along as you quench your brain’s thirst for beverage facts!
1. What Is Carbonation & How Does It Work?
Carbonation is the result of a solution of carbon dioxide gas (CO2) dissolved in liquid, which creates carbonic acid. In beverages, the gaseous CO2 in the headspace of the can or bottle and the carbonic acid in the drink itself exist in chemical equilibrium when sealed under pressure – that’s why you don’t see any bubbles in a new bottle of soda.
It’s only when you release the pressure by breaking the seal that the bubbly magic begins. Once opened, the ratio of CO2 in the liquid versus the air is no longer equal. This causes the carbon dioxide in the liquid to begin rising out of solution in the form of fizz in an attempt to re-establish equilibrium – that’s how you get left with a flat coke!
Once opened, factors such as the shape of the drink’s container and the rate of bubble formation will impact how quickly your beverage loses its signature fizz. The more surface area at the top of your cup, the more bubbles that will be released. Within the cup, bubbles are formed through a process called heterogeneous nucleation; essentially, a phase change from liquid to gas that occurs at microscopic, pre-existing points. In a drink, these little gas pockets are formed by tiny imperfections in the container or by pieces of microscopic debris stuck to its insides. The more of these pockets, the more bubbles you’ll get.
The temperature of the liquid at the time of carbonation will also determine the intensity of the bubbles. If your drink was carbonated while cold, then you’ll get more fizz. Because cold liquids tend to hold more CO2, warmer will result in a lighter sparkle.
2. How Are Drinks Carbonated?
Carbonation generally occurs in a finished product, though it may be combined with the liquid at an earlier stage, depending on the drink. As mentioned previously, the temperature of the liquid must be carefully controlled since CO2 solubility increases as the liquid’s temperature decreases; so many carbonators are equipped with cooling systems.
Most soft drinks and sparkling waters are made by using forced carbonation methods. This involves using pressure to forcefully dissolve CO2 into a liquid. The amount of CO2 added to a product depends on the beverage type and specifications for that unique drink. For example, fruit drinks will require less carbonation than mixer drinks like tonics, which are meant to be diluted with other liquids.
Regardless of the beverage category, drinks are typically slightly over-pressurized to account for loss of carbonation due to movement into storage tanks and, ultimately, to the filler machine.
Because carbonation is already a byproduct of fermentation, many alcoholic drinks become naturally bubbly in their bottle or can. The fermented beverage kombucha is a perfect example. Of course, there are some beers and sparkling wines that are enhanced further by forced carbonation methods. There are few guidelines regarding carbonation levels, so while soft drinks like sodas tend to be highly carbonated, champagne products can often be up to 1.5 times stronger!
3. Why Are Drinks Carbonated?
Carbonation is a great way to add unique texture and flavor to otherwise simple beverages.
The process of carbonating a drink gives it a slight acidity. As mentioned previously, when CO2 is dissolved in a liquid, it forms carbonic acid. Not only does carbonic acid provide a mild antibiotic effect that can prevent bacterial growth in a liquid, but this weak acid also gives fizzy water a sharp, tangy taste along with the small bite that consumers crave.
There’s also more to the refreshing sensation on the tongue that assist in enhancing the overall experience: as rising CO2 bubbles carry aromatic compounds up to a consumer’s nose, it creates a heightened perception of flavor – smell is a big part of how we taste, after all!
4. Are Carbonated Drinks Bad For You?
Carbonation in and of itself isn’t bad for you. Really, it’s about what else is in your carbonated drink of choice that determines how good or bad it can be for your health.
Soft drinks can contain a lot of sugar and artificial sweeteners which can contribute to weight gain, sugar addiction, and other problems. But it turns out that seltzers can be just as hydrating as regular water. Pay attention to the ingredients in your drink and you’ll be able to make an educated decision about whether or not it’s right for you and your health.
It’s important to note that carbonation can contribute to gas and bloating. There are also mixed results over whether carbonated drinks curb or increase appetite: one study found that drinking fizzy drinks – even water – can make you feel hungrier by increasing the “hunger hormone” ghrelin; but another found that people who drank sparkling water felt fuller than those who only drank water. The best thing to do is pay attention to how you feel after drinking carbonated drinks and adjust accordingly.
How Carbonation Continues to Change What the World is Drinking
While soft drinks like cola might be the first to come to mind when you think about fizz, carbonation has made its way into everything from energy drinks and juices, to teas and even coffee. But perhaps the biggest indicator of the power of bubbles has been the rapid rise of carbonated waters.
That’s right, even as consumers move away from high-calorie, high-sugar soft drinks, they haven’t given up on their craving for carbonation. Fueled by health trends and innovation in the flavor and functional sectors, alcoholic and non-alcoholic waters have quickly become favorites. Seltzers and sparkling waters offer a guiltless way for consumers to get their fizzy fix – and it helps that they taste great too!
Got a great idea for a bubbly beverage? The development experts at Flavorman can help you bring it to life. To get started, just fill out this web form or give us a call at (502) 453-0152.