Italy is among the leading producers, exporters and consumers of mineral water in the world with over 250 brands of Italian mineral water on the international market. Italy produces about 12% of the world's mineral water, however they consume far more than their fair share - over twice the European average. This is with good reason since Italy is a country known since ancient times for great tasting fresh water even among its municipal water systems. The very finest of Italy's spring waters are bottled at their source after spending years absorbing important minerals underground. Even though normal Italian drinking water (Acque Potabili), flowing through fountains and water spigots does not get the special attention of the bottled waters, it is still of very high quality noticeable to many travelers.
Italian Mineral Water: The Sources
Mineral water, like spring Water in the United States, must come from an underground source by law. In Italy the legal definition of Mineral Water falls under law D.L. 25/1/1992 n 105, which states mineral water is: "water that comes from one or more underwater sources and has features that are favorable to heath."
These waters spend years if not decades or centuries trapped underground, absorbing nutrients and minerals as they pass through rich soil, limestone, or volcanic rock. It is this process of absorbing dissolved solids that give them their unique tastes and healthy attributes, often listed on the label as TDS - Total Dissolved Solids. Each source touts it own specific health benefits from drinking their waters, often in conjunction with the local thermal spa treatments. Regardless of whether these trace amounts of dissolved minerals actually contribute to health, there is no question that it makes an enormous difference in taste.
Italian Mineral Water: Varieties
When finally released to the surface, Italian mineral water comes from the ground either still or in some cases, naturally carbonated. However even most of the still mineral waters are later carbonated artificially to some extent. There are plenty of Italian mineral waters sold without carbonation, but it seems that Italians prefer at least some bubbles in their water if not naturally present. In Italy when you sit down at a restaurant, the waiter will normally ask if you would like your water liscia, gassata or leggermente gassata (flat, carbonated or slightly carbonated). What water you choose depends upon how much carbonation you like as well as the specific taste or health qualities you enjoy. Many Italian mineral waters have a devoted following, with drinkers only drinking their favorite brand.
Italian Mineral Water: Popular Brands
Outside of Italy, most think of San Pellegrino when they think of Italian mineral water. Within Italy itself however, there may be over 600 brands of bottled mineral water, many of these are local varieties but there are also extremely popular national brands. Not only do travelers in Italy get to try hundred of varieties of regional wines, they also get to enjoy the different tastes and health benefits of the regional mineral waters as well.
Some of the well known mineral waters: Acqua Panna is a still mineral water from Tuscany with a low mineral content that is available outside of Italy. San Benedetto is a worldwide brand bottled near Venice known for its low mineral content that comes in both still and carbonated varieties. San Pellegrino was a favorite of Leonardo DaVinci while in Milan and this heavily carbonated mineral water has since gained worldwide popularity since.
However considering that these brands are available worldwide, you may want to sample what the locals are drinking when in Italy.
Ferrarelle, is one of the naturally fizzy Italian mineral waters that has a very devoted following, especially in the Naples area. Levissima is an alpine mineral water and is Northern Italy's most popular bottled water. Sole is classified as a "premium" mineral water, with a heavy mineral content, a sweet taste and offered in still or slightly carbonated varieties. Suio has been popular in Lazio since the time of Emperor Nero and is a clean tasting, heavy mineral water offered in all three varieties of carbonation.
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By Justin Demetri