Sunday, August 01, 2010

specimens of the literature of Sweden - bottle of Ramlösa

I've extended my obsessive researches (typically collected in one week of every year) to include artefacts.

An everyday item, this: a bottle of Ramlösa, a famous naturally-effervescent mineral water ("kolsyrat naturligt mineralvatten") from a spring (Hälsobrunn) in Helsingborg in Skåne.

Mineral analysis:

Natrium (Sodium) 210mg
Kalcium 3mg
Kalium (Potassium) 2mg
Magnesium 0,5mg
Vätekarbonat (Bicarbonate) 520mg
Klorid 21mg
Sulfat 6mg
Fluorid 2,7mg

Names of the elements. Swedish compared with English uses some element names that better match the symbols (Kalium, Natrium). But it has a different name for carbon: "Kol", which also may mean coal or charcoal, though these can also be distinguished as "stenkol" (stone-coal) and "träkol" (tree-coal) respectively.

It also has a different name for hydrogen - "Väte". From my parochial English viewpoint this came as a surprise. After all hydrogen was not discovered until 1766 (Henry Cavendish, London) and was given its name by Lavoisier (1743-94) from the Greek, meaning water-generator. But the Swedish word is cognate with a range of terms in other European languages, e.g. German "Wasserstoff", Finnish "vety", Polish "wodór", Czech "vodík" etc.

"Kolsyrat" - literally carbon-soured, meaning "carbonated". This refers to carbonation, i.e. dissolved carbon dioxide in the water, making it effervescent. A very small percentage (0.2-1%) of this CO2 reacts with the water(H2O) to produce carbonic acid (H2CO3). ("syra" also means acid). This is why it's sometimes been claimed that fizzy water can damage your teeth - but the effect is said to be negligible (hundreds of times less) compared to the sugar in a soft drink.

This water's natural carbonation has probably a direct connection with its high bicarbonate content, though bicarbonate is a negative ion (HCO3-) found in still mineral waters too (e.g. Evian, 360mg). ("Natural" carbonation is a term with nuances, e.g. Perrier water is not bottled just as it comes from the spring but is a recombination of gas and water extracted separately.)  Anyway, here the philological question is about English: why do we call it BIcarbonate? The term arose because it takes twice as many bicarbonate ions (HCO3-) as carbonate ions (CO3--) to neutralize an acid. This term is now deprecated. Instead, it's recommended to use the term hydrogencarbonate (cf. "vätekarbonat" in Swedish).

[Note (2012): I now have a bottle of Still Ramlösa. The mineral analysis is:

Ca 72mg
Na 11mg
Mg 9.6mg
K 3.5 mg
HCO3 213mg
SO4 31mg
Cl 26mg
F 0.3mg

Completely different, in other words. This is because it comes from a different spring, known as "Jacobs källa". Whereas the carbonated water comes from "Döbelius källa". Johan Jacob Döbelius was the 1707 founder of the health spa around these springs.]

Anyhow, there's not much poetry in this. I bought this bottle at Skavsta airport when I was flying home. Airports are where I usually find those iconic things like Dala horses and bottles of Ramlösa - Once off into the country, these things are seen to be mere dots clustering around the tourist concourses. But the hoarse, slightly tangy water sustained me through many small hours. I got to Stansted OK, picked up my van at midnight and found the M25 East was closed, so I drove unsteadily all the way round the west of London to get to E.Sussex, where I was to spend what was left of the night. I never saw so many cones in my life.

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I forgot to mention one more thing about this bottle (labels are much more complicated spaces than poems). It's this:

PANT
1 KR

Yes - in Sweden you get a deposit back by returning plastic bottles. (1 krona = about 10p.)

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When we no longer value the authentic, office-water-cooler-collectors will seek out Borg & Overström product (which has nothing to do with Scandinavia) with the same enthusiasm that we currently buy Superdry clothing (which has nothing to do with Japan).

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[Other mineral waters that you find in Sweden:
PREMIER - Saxhyttans källa i Jeppetorp (Västmanland) - weakly mineralised. Some people like their water weakly mineralized, e.g. the Norwegian Isklar (glacial) or the Spanish Bezoya. I think they're nice cold (especially Isklar), but at room temperature I definitely prefer the bite of a water with plenty of carbonates, e.g. Evian.
AQUAD'OR - the spring is in Brande in Jylland (Denmark) - hydrogencarbonate 120 mg/litre, an averagely mineralized water. Widely sold. ]

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