Researchers from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU), University of Sheffield, Innovate UK, and WET Group have found that by increasing the pH level of water helps to tackle obesity and health problems caused by sugary content in drinks.

The research team has found a way to create drinks that do not require sugar or other additives.

Researchers first looked at why sugar is added to drinks and found that Reverse Osmosis (RO), which is a water purification process, can help reduce the liquid’s pH level to values of 6.1 or lower, when compared to water’s neutral pH level of 7.

Through the RO process, dissolved salts and unwanted bacteria get removed from drinking water through a semi-permeable, thin membrane with tiny pores that prevents larger molecules and other impurities from passing through.

The scientists, however, found that this process causes the liquid to be more acidic through uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide, leaving a salty, bitter taste. Sugar is therefore added to drinks to overcome this adverse flavour.

DMU professor of bio-analytical chemistry and chemical pathology Martin Grootveld said: “Sugar is being used to disguise the acidity in drinks, rather than improve the flavour, and actually adding sugar causes the pH value of water to decrease even further – we found some drinks had a highly acidic pH level of 2.5.”

Water treatment techniques currently used cannot change the pH value of RO-treated water. However, water enhancing technology services provider WET Group has created its patented AES technology for drinks and beverage businesses.

WET Group’s AES machine turns source water into alkaline water through a process of filtration, re-mineralisation and alkalisation. This water, with a stable pH of 10.5, was proven to maintain the alkalinity even after adding the flavours.

WET Group director of research and development Dr Ahmed Abbas Mohamed said: “Realising that sugar is not used for flavour but to cover up the loss of flavouring due to extreme acidity was a big step, which set us on the path to developing the AES machine to solve the issue.”

The research also indicated that the water treated by the AES facility retained a pH value greater than 9, even after adding the flavours.