From single malt scotch to pizza, water is often hailed as the foundation for many of the world’s culinary wonders. Purists will point to the terroir of water, its composition and salinity or sweetness as having a distinct influence on its flavor.
Over the past decade, restaurants and food manufacturers alike have raced to both drive and adapt to the consumer fascination with high-end water. Introducing features such as water sommeliers and specialty water menus, restaurants have found themselves as targets of internet mockery, while also seeing boosts in sales. Ray and Stark’s, which offered a whopping 44 page water menu with detailed descriptions of 20 types of water, posted sales increases in the category of 500 per cent in its water sales. This rise is certainly not a bad feat for a part of dining out that customers are used to getting for free.
On the manufacturing side, the splash from vitamin enhanced or smart water products soaked celebrities and grocery store shoppers alike, becoming a new opportunity for branding and consumption. Entrepreneur Craig Zucker went so far as to bottle New York tap water under label Tap’d New York in 2009 with the cheeky tagline “No glaciers were harmed in making this water.”
As to the wonders of New York tap water, Vogue food writer and noted deep dive fanatic Jeffrey Steingarten took his usual scholastic approach in The Man Who Ate Everything. Writing of its glories back in 1991, Steingarten observed, “If New York City water were not treated with chlorine, it would taste as delicious as anything from a bottle, and even with recent ecological threats to the city’s upstate reservoirs, tasters from all over the world seem to concur.”
Perhaps Steingarten would be gratified to learn about a new system, almost three decades later, that purports to “molecularly replicate any region’s source water”. The New York WaterMaker “functions as a commercial water filter and replicator of the exact hardness, molecular structure, and chemical composition of a specific location’s water, with a key focus on replicating New York City water,” according to a release from the company. On the WaterMaker’s website, the company points to the foodservice applications of replicating specific water composition, such as ensuring consistency across chain franchise units.
Such a minute level of detail may be lost on the casual diner — and even the experts, as an experiment from Serious Eatsshowed when a taste test of culinary luminaries Ed Levine and Adam Kuban, along with Steingarten and Food Lab’s J. Kenji López-Alt, concluded. “Lesson learned? As far as pizza goes, use whatever water you want,” wrote López-Alt. “Clearly, the small differences that arise naturally in the course of making a good pizza by hand far outweigh the minor differences that water could make.”