Munich. Germans drink around 140 l of mineral water per capita and year. According to a current TÜV SÜD survey, mineral water tops the list of the most popular thirst-quenching drinks – particularly in summer. TÜV SÜD's food experts explain the various qualities available and give tips for hot weather.
In TÜV SÜD's survey to identify the most popular summer beverage, mineral water (65% of respondents), hot beverages (37%) and tap water (27%) scooped the top three places; the survey allowed multiple answers. In Germany, the demand for mineral water has increased continuously, particularly over the last four decades. Today’s consumers are spoilt for choice; over 500 different types of mineral water are on offer.
In Germany, the legal definition of mineral water is provided in the Mineral and Table Water Ordinance. According to this ordinance, only water that is naturally pure, comes from underground springs and is bottled directly on site may be sold as natural mineral water. But no two types of mineral water are the same. In Germany there are over 200 wells that supply water of very different mineral contents, which influences both the taste and the characteristic ”fizz”. As the law does not prescribe any minimum content for minerals, consumers can choose according to their preferences. Water high in sulphate, for example, has a slightly bitter touch, whereas sodium and sodium chloride leave a subtly metallic or salty taste respectively. Germans’ favourite types of mineral water are sparkling waters that are high in carbonic acid.
Yet mineral water may also include undesirable substances; the maximum levels of these substances are frequently limited by legal regulations. The dissolution of mineral deposits, for example, may cause traces of the radioactive heavy metal uranium to get into mineral water. However, the uranium content of mineral waters in Germany is generally well below the maximum reference value of 15 µg/l defined by the WHO. Mineral waters to be used for the preparation of infant food, on the other hand, must comply with special requirements and may contain a maximum of 2 µg/l of uranium.
Throughout Europe, mineral water may only be produced from officially licensed springs. The competent State Research Institutes regularly conduct microbiological and chemical control analyses. Up-to-date analysis results can be obtained directly from the licensed bottler.
Mineral water is bottled in glass or PET. Disposable PET bottles are a particularly frequent subject of controversial discussion, as chemical substances may find their way into the water. For example, PET bottles release acetaldehyde. According to the Federal Institute of Risk Assessment in Berlin, the acetaldehyde levels measured are significantly below the legal limits of 6,000 µg/l. In addition, the substance would be noticeable even in much lower concentrations (its smell is reminiscent of wine as the substance is also a by-product of alcoholic fermentation). However, PET bottles do not include softeners such as phthalates and bisphenol-A. As carbonic acid may leak out of the PET packaging over time and odour and taste may change, water in reusable PET bottles has a use-by date of 1 year while water in single-use PET bottles should be used within only 6 to 9 months. Given this, water in PET bottles should be stored in a cool place well away from light. While the law likewise requires water in glass bottles to have a use-by date (generally two years), it is virtually non-perishable as long as it has not been opened. By choosing water from a regional spring and thus avoiding long transport distances, consumers can help to protect the environment.
For consumers, chilled mineral water is a zero-calorie alternative to other refreshing drinks. Drinking mineral water makes particularly good sense in the holiday travel season and the height of summer, as it compensates for mineral losses and dehydration on hot days without any additional intake of sugar or sweeteners. Sensitive individuals such as children should drink mineral water with little or no carbonic acid. "Fancy" mineral water is currently in fashion, but may include artificial fruit or tea flavours and preservatives. Sometimes this flavoured mineral water can be sweetened, bringing it up to 200 kcal/l . If natural mineral water is too bland, thirst-quenchers are better advised to add a dash of fruit juice, slice of lemon or a few mint leaves for more taste.