I Can’t Shut Up About #WaterTok

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I Can’t Shut Up About #WaterTok

Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photos: Retailers

I Can’t Shut Up About: Deep dives into my online obsession of the week.

Everyone wants to believe they’re open minded until a new food trend emerges on TikTok. The latest concoction to test the patience of our collective For You page? Recipes for water.

If you have yet to be indoctrinated into #WaterTok, a self-ascribed title for a community of beverage enthusiasts, the words “water recipe” may seem absurd, even oxymoronic. (A whole recipe? For water??) And as someone who has spent hours scrolling through #WaterTok, I can assure you: It is. Still, there are dozens upon dozens of earnest TikToks where people — usually women, often southern — demonstrate how to make water that tastes like Jolly Ranchers or birthday cake or a banana split, and they each have hundreds of thousands of views. It begs the obvious question: Why, though?

A water recipe may seem straightforward—step one: Add water. Step two: … Drink it? — but that’s only to the untrained eye. First, there is the vessel of choice: a 40-ounce Stanley water cup, Like the Hydroflasks and limited-edition Starbucks tumblers before it, a Stanley cup the size of a chihuahua is the latest drinkware status symbol. Its popularity is fairly self-evident; the cup is massive but still fits in cupholders, and it keeps water cold for a long time. And I suppose if you’re going to go through the trouble of concocting a water potion, you might as well make it in bulk.

Then, there is the ice. If TikTok is to be believed, a water recipe is best when it is just a few degrees above freezing. Nugget ice à la Starbucks is ideal. Some have even gone as far as getting bags of ice from sonic specifically for their flavored water. However, a scoop of plebeian ice cubes will also work. Then, there’s the titular water, which is often, though not exclusively, filtered water or bottled water, (The irony of bottled water being poured into a reusable water cup has not been lost on the comments section.) But, again, your putrid tap water will do.

Finally, there is the flavoring process, equal parts art and witchcraft. Most recipes use a combination of powdered flavor packets (eg, Crystal Light) and flavored syrups. Jordan’s Skinny Mixes syrups are a favorite among WaterTok, in great part due to their range of unique and confusing flavors. (eg, Vanilla Chai, Cinnamon Roll, Unicorn Syrup). Still, their spread pales in comparison to the wealth of powdered flavor packets that exist and are probably currently on the shelves at your local grocery store. Did you know Skittles sells powdered flavor packets? So do Starburst, Jelly Belly, and Nerds. The common denominator among these powders and syrups is their sugar content, which is typically zero. They’re always low- or no-calorie, sweetened with things like sucralose (aka Splenda).

The words “water recipe” reek of diet culture but feels par for the course with celebrities boasting about extreme dieting and the recent Ozempic frenzy. Although the primary appeal of these viral flavored waters seems to be that they’re sugar- and calorie-free, many TikTok creators insist it’s simply a way to encourage themselves to drink more water. Some creators say their flavored-water recipes are a way to wean themselves off soda or an alternative to Liquid IV when they’re hungover. And there are others still who use flavored waters as a way to get caffeine in lieu of coffee or tea. (Yes, caffeinated-water recipes exists.)

Much of the negative reply (and responses to that response) revolves around whether this is any different than drinking juice. TikTok’s flavored waters have been dubbed agua fresca for white people and bougie Kool-Aid, and its classification both as a “recipe” and as “water” have been called into question. However, #WaterTok shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who lived through the celebrity status of vitamin water, Or the Propel and SoBe era of the early ’00s. Or the Silicon Valley-ification of Hint flavored water. Or the current and continued rise of sparkling water. The claims that these flavored waters taste “just like” dessert are no more dubious than those of dirty soda or healthy Coke. As a concept, it’s no more absurd than luxury ice orinternal showers, If anything, these water recipes are merely the chewy cousin to the more sophisticated mocktails that have recently risen in popularity.

Admittedly, the drinks look pretty! And it’s fun to have a pretty drink!! I loosely followed “recipes” for strawberry-shortcake water (pink Starburst powder with vanilla and almond syrup) and Creamsicle water (Sunkist orange and vanilla syrup). I also tried to make something with a packet of Jelly Belly Berry Blue, but it was so bad I’m legally obligated not to share it. The most palatable drink for me was the strawberry shortcake. It tasted like a watered down, melted snow cone. Not offensive, but not something I’d consider making again. Ever the scientist, I tried to create my own concoction, adding a little French vanilla syrup to a can of lemon seltzer. This was the best by far but no better than a can of LimonCello LaCroix. Ultimately, I can’t get past the overwhelming taste of Splenda, which exists in the uncanny valley of sweetness.

Regardless, I can see the appeal of these extravagant flavored waters if you like sweet drinks, mixing potions, and don’t mind the taste of sugar-free sugar. Personally, I will stick to the flavors the LaCroix overlords have given me.

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