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How Fizzy Carbonation Tablets like Alka-Seltzer Work

For a seminar on Prehistoric Cocktail Technology that I gave at Tales of the Cocktail in 2015, I explained how self-carbonating tablets work. I also conducted a lot of home experiments with various fizzing ingredients. 

Let's look a the ingredients in common fizzing tablets.

Alka-Seltzer: Citric Acid and Sodium Bicarbonate. 

Alka seltzer

Berocca: Citric Acid, Magnesium Sulphate, Calcium Carbonate, Magnesium Carbonate, Sodium Carbonate

Berocca ingredients

 

NUUN (an electrolyte tablet that's great for hangovers): Citric Acid, Sodium Bicarbonate, Sodium Carbonate, Potassium Bicarbonate, Magnesium Sulfate

Nuun ingredients

 

Bonne O Carbonators (These act like giant Alka Seltzer tablets used in a home carbonation machine, which create gas but you don't actually drink the tablets): Citric Acid, Potassium Bicarbonate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Potassium Carbonate

BonneO carbonator ingredients

 

Baking Powder: Sodium Bicarbonate, Sodium Aluminum Sulfate, Monocalcium Phosphate

Baking powder ingredients

 

Volcano Science Experiment from Grade School: vinegar (acetic acid), baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)

Volcano

 

 

So what we have is a combination of acids and carbonates/bicarbonates, and when they get together they create Carbon Dioxide.

 

Acids

Carbonates

Citrus Juice/Citric Acid

Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate)

Lactic Acid/Lactart

Potassium Carbonate/Bicarbonate

Tartaric Acid

Calcium Carbonate

Vinegar/Acetic Acid

 Magnesium Carbonate

Acid Phosphate

 

 

I futzed around with all these ingredients in various combinations at home to try to find a combination that tasted best. Unfortunately, when they come together you often get something that tastes super powdery with a layer of powder on top of the drink; or something super salty. 

I would suspect that is why the manufacturers of these products use a variety of them in their formulations. 

It would be cool to create a cocktail that self-carbonates but I failed at it.

For now, you can just add vodka to your NUUN and call it breakfast.

 

 

Comments

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Joe Meredith

Hey Camper,
This is a cool idea! I am a chemist and suspect that it could work, but the amount of acid and base would need to be carefully matched so that there wasn't any extra flavor left over from either of them. This is harder than it sounds, since the rest of the drink ingredients are probably somewhat (or very) acidic. A pretty simple chemistry lab apparatus could be used to bubble the CO2 produced in a separate container through the drink prior to serving, but this is kind of what carbonating machines already do, I guess. Anyway, cool idea! If I get around to doing my own experiments and have any luck I will report back :-)
Joe

Dylan Durdle

Would be nice if we knew the right mix of Citric Acid + Baking Soda to use in the carbonation chamber of a Bonne O. The cost of a tablet is 55 cents which is insane when you can get 500g of baking soda + citric acid < $2.

Camper English

Truth!

Dylan Durdle

Apparently Bonne has a patent on it as I found a filing of a very long document highlight the design of the tablet but it is generic enough that they don't list the grams of each ingredient.

Dylan Durdle

Here's the patent - http://www.google.ch/patents/WO2014131101A1?cl=en

Camper English

Makes sense- The printer/ink business model can be very profitable.

Dylan Durdle

Ah, spoke too soon. Here's the exact chemistry:

In one example, a carbon dioxide source tablet 3500 weighing about 45 grams has a composition including about 16.9g citric acid, about 22.2g bicarbonate, about 3.9g binder, and about 2g lubricant.

Camper English

Nice find!

Bryan

I have been dabbling with the same idea.
The packets you add to bottle water to make a drink.. they have crush orange but its flat with no carbonation which makes it less satisfying.

To create a tablet that could drop into a standard 19oz bottle of water along with your favorite flavor and wala instant carbonated beverage just like from the soda machine.

In your experience NUUN was the closest you got to this outcome?

Camper English

@Bryan - Yep, closest of fizzy tablets I've tried - but even still the fizz doesn't last for very long. Alka Seltzer is fizzier and lasts longer if I recall correctly, but it's medicinal and tastes like it (from what I remember last time I tried it years ago).

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