The results of most blind taste tests indicate no difference between the taste of tap water and that of bottled water. I have carried out my own blind taste tests, and my results have shown that there is no difference in taste.
Interestingly, however, the results are different in non-blind taste tests.
When blind tests are conducted, the taste buds really don’t seem to think that bottled water tastes better than tap water. In 2001, ABC’s Good Morning America conducted a blind water taste test. The viewers’ preferences were as follows:
- 12 percent Evian
- 19 percent O-2
- 24 percent Poland Spring
- 45 percent New York City tap water
Yorkshire Water, the water department in Yorkshire, England, found that 60 percent of 2,800 people surveyed could not tell the difference between the local tap water and UK bottled water.
The hosts of Showtime’s television series Penn & Teller: Bullshit conducted a blind taste test comparing waters. The test showed that 75 percent of New Yorkers preferred city tap water to bottled waters. The hosts of the show conducted another test in a trendy Southern California restaurant. A water sommelier handed out water menus with extravagant prices to the patrons. The patrons had no idea that all of the fancy bottles of water were filled with the same water from a water hose in the back of the restaurant.
Patrons were willing to pay $7 a bottle for “L’eau du Robinet” (French for “tap water”), “Agua de Culo” (Spanish for “ass water”), and “Amazone” (“filtered through the Brazilian rainforest’s natural filtration system”). The fancy bottles and exotic names was enough to convince the taste buds that they were experiencing pure bliss.
So then, why does bottled water taste better?
It taste better because we expect it to taste better. Generally, when participating in non-blind taste tests the tasters have decided which water they like better before tasting. What would happen if we poured tap water in different branded bottles, or we poured a specific brand of water in a different brand bottle, and then asked tasters to pick their favorite?
I have used this testing protocol on numerous occasions. The results have always been the same — people can’t tell which water they are drinking.
Hale, J. (2010). Should I Eat the Yolk? Separating Facts From Myths To Get You Lean, Fit and Healthy. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press.
Penn & Teller. The truth about bottled water. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdvJOF-2mm0 (accessed September 7, 2009).
Shermer, M. Bottled twaddle: Is bottled water tapped out? http://mail.colonial.net/~rpavlik/pavlikweb/pdf/handouts/water/bottledwater.pdf- Link, no longer exists (accessed September 7, 2009).