Scented Seltzer: A Portal to Time and Place

To quote Helen Keller, "Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived."

Beverage marketers have bottled this insight into bubbly water, free of calories, void of sugar and artificial sweeteners. I don't mean plain club soda or sugary pop. I mean seltzer that comes with an essence of suggestive flavor, infused in effervescence, that you can sniff upon twisting off a bottle cap or popping the tab of a can.

The aroma is subtle but clearly present. A mere whiff can transport you to another place or time and do so without the presence of mind-altering drugs or booze. Hard seltzer need not apply.

Generic store brands are often on sale at three one-liter bottles for $2. Adjacent on the shelf will be a more well known brand that goes for a dollar a liter. In either case, these beverages are bargains in terms of the pay off to your memories.

One of a dozen types of scented seltzers from Stop & Shop / Giant Food Stores

My tale of scented pomegranate goes back to my first visit to Turks & Caicos, where our tour guide, Marvelous Marvin, handed me a piece of low-hanging fruit he picked and lopped off the top with a machete (top image). I did not know what to do with the seeds. It was here that I learned to suck. So now, whenever I pour a glass of pomegranate-scented seltzer, I'm taken back to a former slave plantation in the islands where this fruit still grows.

Scents can also remind you of your rum-soaked young adulthood (without actual liquor). Perhaps you were in your twenties. Pouring a bottle of pineapple-coconut-scented seltzer is suggestive of imbibing a calorie-free piña colada, mon.

The right scent can take you back even further, to childhood when you drank cream sodas at the deli or bought Creamsicles from the Good Humor man.

Long before they reached your grocer's freezer, these pops were mobile, brought to you in a truck with a freezer that the driver reached into at your instruction; you, a kid, issuing a retail order. How grownup!

Nostalgia is a powerful marketing tool used to manipulate us into buying things, like seltzer and sparkling water they call "flavored" but I deem "scented" since it has none of the stickiness or aftertaste of a full-flavored Coca-Cola or Sprite. If anything, I'd call it water with bubbles. The effervescence moves the scent along, a form of push-osmosis, targeting the brain, triggering neurons, accessing deep memory.

The lack of calories is a good thing. Not adding them to our girth is a plus. So is the dearth of sweeteners of any sort and their possible ill effect. As a purist, I'll stay with the essence, the splash.

I love vanilla seltzer. Some might see it as watered-down cream soda. But imagine a can of Dr. Brown's 180 calories full strength versus Polar brand Vanilla Seltzer with zero calories. One thing you'll find as you grow older is that, eventually, all you need is the essence. Vanilla-scented seltzer takes me back to Brooklyn every time, when washing down a corn beef or pastrami sandwich with a milky egg cream wasn't kosher, but a cream soda was.

Full strength or essence of vanilla? The wiser choice is the no-cal experience,

Some of you may interject, “What about Dr. Brown’s Diet Cream Soda?” That has no calories, too, yet the beverage is closer in taste and robustness to a regular calorie-rich cream soda than seltzer scented vanilla can ever be. To those who have acclimated to Diet Dr. Brown’s, I say, drink up, but think of it as training wheels. After weaning yourself off sugar, the next step is to leave behind the artificial sweetener.

My runner-up in the realm of suggestive seltzer is orange vanilla. Its scent has me hailing the Good Humor truck, an igloo with a bell meandering down East 8th Street. The scent takes me back to the sidewalk where I'd remove the waxy wrapper, eager to bite through the rim of orange ice to the cream within. Heaven on a stick.

The thing about scent is that it transcends age. If you're as young as this century, 22 and doe-eyed, the taste for life you have now could be resurrected in a memory 50 years from now when you're 72 and triggered by a familiar smell. And nothing says déjà vu better or healthier than scented seltzer.

This soda jerk hasn't served drinks in decades. But that doesn't mean he and his counter can't be conjured up today by the right scent added to what my dad termed belch water.

Share this post