The essence of effervesces

Why does it feel so natural to crave for carbonated beverages when the weather is hot? Or any kind of bubbly drinks in that matter. Be it after a good run, (in my case after any heavier exercise than sitting or wandering in the house,) or just because it’s hot out, we long for that tingly fizziness: an icy pop from a convenience store around the corner, spontaneous homemade soda cocktails, or a nice chilled sparkling wine on the patio. Let’s put on the music and forget about dinner…

There seems to be no scientific proof to show why carbonated drinks appear to be more refreshing than otherwise; actually I know of people who won’t prefer anything gassy regardless of the situation – with me being one of them when I was a kid. I recalled feeling those distasteful tinkles in my throat and how I had to gulp down miserably if I was forced to drink a pop. But who would have to force a kid to finish a pop these days when they don’t seem to get enough of that sugar!

Just so you are wondering: I still don’t drink pop. I can drink it like a normal person if you want, but honestly I don’t enjoy that syrupy aftertaste that’s everlasting in the back of throat. Good sparkling wines and decent cocktails (i.e. professionally prepared; not those martini-glassed, artificially sweetened drinks with some random alcohol) are another story though. Here, my confession. Phew.

Carbonated drinks traditionally give an unhealthy image especially when the word “kids” appears in the same sentence. You must have heard stories about how pop could melt a tooth or cleanse a dime if it’s left in the drink for long enough. “No more pop for you, you have had enough!” says the parent, fearing of his/her kid’s forthcoming sugar high. Deep down we all know it’s the sugar (or the acid, caffeine, colorings or 50 other things) not the bubbles that is the bad guy.

Think about it. The whole thing becomes so adult if it’s an innocent soda water you find in the fridge, in which you add some vodka from the freezer, maybe? Squeeze some lime or lemon juice if there happens to be half of a fruit left from cooking. Throw in a handful of ice cubes, then kick back and relax…

The preferences for carbonated drinks apparently vary by region, too. From personal observation, North Americans prefer heavier bubbles and sugar, while Europeans like to keep the sparkles plain, sugarless or low in sugar, and offer choices such as manufactured or from natural sources. Japanese, like their tendency toward food, would consciously aim for the balance and make their drinks constrainedly sugared and carbonated. Also like everything else sold in local convenience stores, the products are heavily marketed when anything new comes out, like, every other day!

The comeback of carbonated drinks reminds me of the home carbonation machines that hit the Japanese market a couple years ago. While maker of the machines, a NASDAQ-listed UK company, is over a hundred years old and is known across Europe, the home carbonation culture in Japan only started of late. I suppose it is due to the boom of adult-focused carbonated drinks in the market?

According to the Japan Soft Drink Association (全国清涼飲料工業会), the sudden surge in carbonated drinks production began in 2006 (ca. 2,700,000 kl) and had carried on to 2014 (ca. 3,700,000 kl), showing roughly 37% growth in the period. The sharp turn in 2006 is graphically outstanding when sided by the consistent -10% downslope from 1995 to 2006.

Some say that the 2006/2007 production upsurge was the result of the “Zero War” (“ゼロ戦争”) that began with Suntory’s debut of Pepsi NEX Zero in 2006 and Coca Cola Japan’s Coca Cola Zero in 2007. Then came Kirin with its big hit, Mets Cola, a Food for Specified Health Uses (FOSHU; 特定保健用食品) product in early 2012 that claims to be able to reduce the body’s intake of fat if it is consumed during meals. Suntory followed with Pepsi Special later in the same year, sparking what is called the “FOSHU War” (“トクホ戦争”) that is still seen in the convenience store fridges today.

Now that the depressing calories of traditional pop are out of the way, and are even muffled by new functions such as oppressing intake of fat – haven’t we achieved the ultimate goal already? Those who are appearance-conscious don’t need to shy away from drinking sodas anymore; some might even think drinking more can boost their dieting!

But you can call me a skeptical; I don’t think we are in that future yet. Years down the road, “studies” are going to show the not-so-cheering health effects resulted from drinking these one-time favorites for how-many years. Simply look at the milk controversy in the US and studies on milk's health effects of recent.

Going back to the breezy bubbles, we aren’t sure why we love them and especially on a hot sunny day, but we do see advocators (i.e. marketers) shout loud about the usefulness of carbonated water. They say you can use it to improve blood circulation, cook greater tasting food, cleanse your pores better and of course our all-time favorite, help with dieting by occupying your stomach before meals.

Sticking to my skeptical self, I ponder the intention of such rosy promotion. There might be some truth about it, who knows? But like I say all the time, nothing good will come out of anything that’s overdone.

That said, time for something refreshing. Let’s see, how about some soda cocktails? It’s OK, dinner can wait.

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