How Drinks Are Carbonated And What Carbonation Means

Carbonation is seen when carbon dioxide gas is dissolved into an aqueous solution or in pure water. This process yields the “fizz” to carbonated water and sparkling mineral water, the head to beer, and the cork pop and bubbles to champagne and sparkling wine.

The quality of carbonated beverages including soft drinks, seltzer and beer is affected by the amount of dissolved CO2 (the gas that causes carbonation) and the amount of carbonic acid in the drink.

Carbonation can manifest as a result of natural processes: at the time when yeast ferments dissolved sugars sealed in a pressure-tolerant bottle or keg; when rainwater passes through limestone into a cave and forms a stalactite or when underground volcanic carbon dioxide carbonates well water. Or it can be done artificially by dissolving carbon dioxide under pressure into the liquid. Sometimes natural carbonation is called conditioning while the term carbonation is reserved for the artificial process.

In many consumer beverages such as soft drinks (well known examples include Coca-Cola, 7 Up, Fanta and Pepsi), carbonation is used to give “bite”. Contrary to popular belief, the fizzy taste is caused by dilute carbonic acid inducing a slight burning sensation, and is not caused by the presence of bubbles.   This can be shown by drinking a fizzy drink in a hyperbaric chamber at the same pressure as the beverage. This gives much the same taste, but the bubbles are completely absent.

Carbonation is sometimes used for reasons other than consumption for example: to lower the pH (raise the hydrogen ion concentration) of a water solution, and in the cleaning industry (Chem-Dry and Carbonated Solutions both use carbonated cleaning solutions for carpet cleaning)

In homebrewing, overcarbonation can be dangerous; it can result in bottles gushing or even exploding. Adding priming sugar or malt extract at bottling time to beer that has had its fermentable sugar content totally consumed is the safest approach to carbonation. Exceeding the said levels of priming sugar for a given recipe can turn out to be hazardous, as is using improper or inappropriate bottles capping techniques. Beer may also be force-carbonated using a keg and special bottling equipment so that the carbonation level can be carefully controlled.

Carbonated water, also known as sparkling water, and seltzer, is plain water into which carbon dioxide gas has been dissolved, and is the major and defining component of most “soft drinks”. The process of dissolving carbon dioxide gas is called carbonation. It results in the formation of carbonic acid (which has the chemical formula H2CO3).

In the past, soda water, also known as club soda, was produced in the home by “charging” a refillable seltzer bottleby filling it with water and then adding carbon dioxide. Club soda may be identical to plain carbonated water or it may contain a small amount of table salt, sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate, potassium bicarbonate, potassium sulfate, or disodium phosphate, depending on the bottler. These additives are included to emulate the slightly salty taste of homemade soda water. The process can also occur naturally to produce carbonated mineral water, such as in Mihalkovo in the Bulgarian Rhodopes.


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