By Bianca Guzzo
Anybody who has been scrolling on TikTok and Instagram over the past two months has probably noticed the hundreds of people sharing their “water recipes” online. Flavoured water enhancers are nothing new, people have been infusing their aqua with fresh fruit and botanicals for centuries (literally). This is something entirely different. People are experimenting with combinations of powders and syrups, sometimes mixing the two together to make mystical flavours like “mermaid water” or “sour peach ring water”. Flavoured water has become a hot trend on social media but for something as simple as water, it’s surprisingly generated a lot of controversy. As more and more people are filling up their stainless steel cups with bold new combos multiple times a day, I have to wonder if all of the added ingredients outweigh the benefits that drinking plain water gives you.
As a lover of fun beverages, I can certainly see the appeal of sipping on a jug of candy flavoured water. For the most part, these powders and syrups are sugar and calorie free, making them a hot commodity among health and wellness creators, or those on weight-loss journeys. These creators market flavoured water as a “guilt-free” (ick) way to consume fun beverages without using up their daily calorie intake on drinks. The origins of flavoured water using natural botanical and fruit infusions can be traced back to the 1500s (lemon water is straight-up mediaeval BTW). Meanwhile, we can thank a couple of creators from the southern United States for the syrup and powder flavoured fad on TikTok. They started posting their “hydration hacks” to their audience following their weight-loss surgeries and it took off from there. Folks who have had this specific procedure can’t have sugary or carbonated beverages, so making their water taste like juice or a mixed cocktail is their only option to sip on something a little less boring than plain aqua. Other medical treatments like radiation can also give water a metallic taste for a while, so popping a strawberry starburst flavour pack into their water can help combat the metallic taste while helping them stay hydrated. These creators will post a couple videos a day sharing their recipes of choice and a lot of them state that they’ll fill their cups and bottles up with the recipe a few times throughout the day saying they “literally can’t get enough of it” or that it’s the best thing they’ve ever tasted.
Like anything posted online flavoured water and water recipes have had its fair share of criticisms ranging from kind of nitpicky to legitimate. Some of the more serious criticisms combat the “diet culture” these “healthy fun drinks” are rooted in. Others accuse it of contributing to an overconsumption problem that tends to run rampant in these online communities. Just typing “watertok” in the TikTok search bar will give you an abundance of videos on different “hydration stations” people have set up in their homes. Spinning acrylic organizers rammed with hundreds of single use flavour packs and shelves of different sugar free syrups. Some people have all of their coveted “Stanley” Quencher cups on display that they usually trade out to match the vibe of their daily flavour. I think we all know what will happen to them when another influencer ultimately discovers a different $50 drink receptacle that fits into cup holders better (it’s called an Owala bottle, it’s $45, and it’s already making the rounds). There’s accessories too, like dangling charms and silicone sleeves so they don’t slide or tip as easily on slippery surfaces. As much as I’m loving the commitment to leaving single use plastics behind when it comes to sipping on H2o, I have to wonder if having 15 different stainless steel cups is any better for the environment.
Collections of stainless steel drink receptacles aside, whenever I scroll past someone making an extravagant blue beverage I wonder if they’re actually getting all the benefits that regular ol’ water would give them once they’ve added their flavours and syrups to their ice-filled cups. Certain health and nutrition experts say that putting artificial flavour enhancers in your water is ok every once in a while, especially if it’s helping keeping you hydrated, but warn that consuming too much of the artificial colours, flavours, and chemicals might not be as “healthy” in the long run as these creators are selling it as. Those who speak out against the hydration trend online say it helps feed into a toxic diet and wellness culture that’s been finding newer low-key ways to infiltrate the content we consume and make it easier to slip in our busy lives. Some argue that once you add all of these flavourings and syrups to it, it can’t even be called water anymore in the same way coffee or tea isn’t called water even though that’s the first and most prevalent ingredient. In defence of these now infamous water recipes, a lot of commenters say the criticisms are a misogynist response to a trend because it’s mainly female-dominated.
I had read about it, seen countless recipe videos, and I personally wanted to see what the hype was about. Although I like water just the way it is, sometimes I find myself craving something a little sweeter without wanting to have a soda or sugar-filled juice. I opted for a sugar-free, and to my delight, aspartame-free peach flavoured drink powder. I used a single sachet in the recommended amount of water and WOW it was sweet. Totally overpowering and tasted really…fake. I found I had to wash it down with plain water just to get the residual taste out of my mouth. I couldn’t imagine how it would taste if I mixed it with another flavour packet and a couple pumps of syrup. But I really wanted to give it another shot since so many people seem to love it. I tried again only putting a bit of the powder in to dilute the mixture and it was much better. A little punch of flavour while still being refreshing. It’s not something I would personally reach for every day, but it’s a nice treat when I remember they’re in my cupboard. It doesn’t look like this trend is leaving anytime soon, with more people heading to stores to purchase flavour packs to build their own hydration stations. While I don’t think these “water influencers” deserve the barrage of hate that’s been sent their way, I’m not in any rush to try Skittles flavoured water…I think I’ll probably just stick to the plain stuff from the tap for now.