Tonic Water vs Sparkling Water: What's the Difference?

Written by Abigail Jolly
July 03, 2024 | Reading time 6 minutes

What's the difference between tonic water vs sparkling water?

Tonic water and sparkling water differ primarily in their ingredients and taste. Tonic water is commonly used as a mixer in cocktails, especially with gin. Although both are carbonated, tonic water contains added ingredients that alter the taste and nutritional value.

Despite their bubbly appearance, tonic water and sparkling water differ greatly in ingredients, taste, and usage.

In this blog, we'll delve into the key distinctions between tonic water and sparkling water, guiding you to make an informed choice for your next drink—whether you're crafting a cocktail or simply savoring a refreshing sip.

There are a variety of carbonated waters on the market so knowing the facts is key!

Table of contents

  • Ingredients in tonic water
  • Sparkling water compared to tonic water
  • Nutritional differences
  • How it is made: Sparkling water vs tonic water
  • Key takeaways

Ingredients in tonic water

Understanding the ingredients in tonic water can help you appreciate its unique flavor and how it complements various cocktails. Unlike sparkling water, tonic water includes several added components that contribute to its distinctive taste and characteristics.

Let's delve into what exactly makes up tonic water:

  • Carbonated water
  • High fructose corn syrup (sugar)
  • Citric acid
  • Quinine
  • Natural flavors
  • Sodium benzoate
  • Sodium citrate

As you can see, there is far more than meets the eye in the tonic water you find on supermarket shelves. Knowing these ingredients can help you make informed decisions on use and time and place for tonic water vs sparkling water.

To fully understand these ingredients, let's break down each further individually.

tonic water vs sparkling water

Carbonated water

The foundation of tonic water is carbonated water, which gives the drink its delightful fizz. This carbonation imparts a refreshing sensation, making tonic water an ideal mixer for a variety of spirits.

High fructose corn syrup

Tonic water often contains high fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners like cane sugar. This addition gives the water a slight sweetness, balancing the bitterness from other ingredients.

It's important to note the calorie content associated with these sweeteners, making tonic water less suitable for those monitoring their sugar intake.

Citric acid

Citric acid is introduced to give tonic water its tangy and slightly sour flavor. This acidity not only enhances the overall taste but also serves as a preservative to prolong the shelf life of the beverage.


Quinine is the ingredient that sets tonic water apart from other carbonated drinks. Derived from the bark of the cinchona tree, quinine gives tonic water its characteristic bitter taste.

Historically, quinine was used to treat malaria, but in tonic water, it's present in minimal amounts for flavor rather than medicinal purposes.

Natural flavors

Natural flavors are added to tonic water to enhance its overall taste profile. These can include botanical extracts like lemongrass or cucumber, providing subtle flavor notes that can elevate the drinking experience, especially when used in cocktails.

Sodium benzoate

Sodium benzoate is a preservative used in tonic water to inhibit the growth of bacteria, yeast, and fungi. Its inclusion ensures that the tonic water remains safe to drink over time, even after opening.

Sodium citrate

Sodium citrate is employed to regulate the acidity of tonic water, counterbalancing the tartness of citric acid. It maintains the desired pH level, ensuring a consistent and enjoyable flavor with every sip.

Related read: Tonic water vs club soda: What's the difference?

tonic water vs sparkling water

Sparkling water compared to tonic water

  • Sparkling water is much simpler in composition than tonic water. It generally consists solely of carbonated water, with no added sweeteners, preservatives, or flavorings. This simplicity makes it an appealing option for those seeking a natural and unadulterated beverage.
  • The taste of sparkling water is clean, crisp, and devoid of any additional flavors or sweetness. Unlike tonic water, sparkling water does not have the bitterness imparted by quinine.
  • Sparkling water is often viewed as a healthier alternative to sugary sodas and other sweetened beverages like tonic water.
  • While tonic water is predominantly used as a cocktail mixer, sparkling water is more versatile in its applications. It can be enjoyed straight from the bottle, used as a base for mocktails and cocktails, or combined with fruit juices and herbal infusions for a refreshing drink.

In summary, while both tonic water and sparkling water share the common trait of carbonation, they are distinct in their ingredients, taste, and common uses.

Related read: What's the difference between seltzer vs sparkling water?

Nutritional differences

Understanding the nutritional values of tonic water and sparkling water can help you make healthier choices based on your dietary needs and preferences.

Sparkling Water

Sparkling water is known for its simplicity and minimal nutritional content. Here's a basic breakdown:

  • Calories: 0
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Sodium: 0mg
  • Other Nutrients: None

As you can see, sparkling water is a calorie-free, sugar-free, and sodium-free option, making it an ideal choice for those looking to stay hydrated without added calories or nutrients.

Tonic Water

Tonic water, on the other hand, includes several additional ingredients that contribute to its nutritional profile. The numbers below are per 8 fl oz (240mL):

  • Calories: Approximately 83
  • Sugars: 21.5g
  • Carbohydrates: 22g
  • Sodium: 20mg
  • Other Nutrients: Contains small amounts of quinine

Tonic water's added sugars and calories make it a less suitable choice for those monitoring their calorie intake or trying to reduce sugar consumption.

In summary, while sparkling water provides a straightforward, low-calorie hydration option, tonic water offers a more flavorful but higher-calorie and higher-sugar alternative.

How it is made: Sparkling water vs tonic water

Production process of sparkling water

The production of sparkling water is relatively simple and straightforward. Industrially, it begins with the purification of water to ensure it’s free from contaminants. The clean water is then carbonated by injecting it with carbon dioxide gas under high pressure.

This carbonation process can vary slightly depending on whether it is naturally occurring, as in some mineral waters, or artificially added.

For those interested in making sparkling water at home, it can be easily achieved using a soda maker, which carbonates water by infusing it with CO2 from a replaceable cartridge.

tonic water vs sparkling water

Production process of tonic water

The production of tonic water is more complex due to additional ingredients and steps. High-quality water is sourced, much like in sparkling water production.

Various ingredients are then combined in precise proportions, including carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners, citric acid, quinine, natural flavors, and preservatives like sodium benzoate and sodium citrate.

Quinine, derived from the bark of the cinchona tree, is added to give tonic water its distinctive bitter taste. Carbon dioxide is infused into the mixture to create the fizz.

Finally, the tonic water mixture is bottled or canned, ensuring that the carbonation and flavors are well-preserved.

Key takeaways

  • Sparkling water is a simple, unflavored carbonated beverage, calorie-free, and suitable for those seeking a natural hydration option.
  • Tonic water is a flavored carbonated drink with added sugars, quinine, and other ingredients, making it less suitable for low-calorie diets.
  • Both beverages share carbonation but differ in ingredients, taste, and common uses; sparkling water is versatile, while tonic water is typically used in cocktails.
  • Sparkling water is straightforward to produce, often just water and CO2, whereas tonic water involves a more complex process with multiple added components.
  • Understanding the nutritional differences can help consumers make healthier choices based on their dietary needs and preferences.

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