What is Root Beer?

Root beer is a sweetened brown fizzy carbonated non-alcoholic drink flavoured with extracts of roots (such as sarsaparilla, sassafras, Quillaja ) and herbs (such as wintergreen) or artificial flavourings. It is popular in the United States and Canada and is thick and foamy like beer, when poured.

Traditional Root Beer 

Root beer was traditionally made by fermenting an infusion of roots, barks, and herbs with sugar and yeast, and using plants such as Sarsaparilla, Sassafras, Spruce, Wild Cherry, Spikenard, Wintergreen and ginger.

The yeast acted on the sugar to give a slightly exhilarating quality resulting from the small percentage of alcohol produced and effervescence from the carbon dioxide.

Sassafras is banned by the FDA due to a presence of a compound called safrole, which is claimed to be carcinogenic. (McGill University)

Commercial Root Beer 

What is Root Beer? myfavouritepastime.com

Commercial Root Beer is generally a dark brown,  sweet foamy carbonated non-alcoholic drink flavoured with artificial flavourings and coloured with caramel colour. A safrole-free extract of sassafras is now available on the market but you would have to read the the label to know exactly what ingredients are added to your root beer.

Soybean protein is sometimes used to create the foamy quality, and caramel colouring is used to colour the beverage brown.

There is no standard recipe for root beer but modern root beer is generally made of filtered water, sugar and artificial sassafras flavour or other flavours.

Common flavourings may include any of the following: vanilla, wintergreen, cherry tree bark, liquorice root, sarsaparilla root, nutmeg, acacia, anise, molasses, cinnamon, sweet birch, and honey.

Root beer may be alcoholic or non-alcoholic, with caffeine or caffeine free, carbonated or non-carbonated. It depends on the manufacturer and the country of manufacture.

Commercial root beer is produced in USA and Canada as well as the UK, Germany, Singapore, just to mention a few.

A look at ingredients in commercial root beers

A&W root bear ingredients: carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel colour, Sodium benzoate (preservative), natural and artificial flavours, Quillaia extract.

Tropical Sun Root Beer: Carbonated Water, Sugar, Colour: Caramel, Citric Acid, Flavourings, Acidity Regulator: Trisodium Citrate, Sweeteners: Acesulfame K and Sucralose, Preservative: Sodium Benzoate

Botanical Names

  • Sarsaparilla: Smilax ornata, Family Smilacaceae
  • Sassafras: Sassafras albidium; Family Lauraceae
  • Quillaia extractQuillaja saponaria (soap bark tree or soap bark), is an evergreen tree in the Family Quillajaceae. Quillaia is also known as: Murillo bark extract, Panama bark extract, Vanilla extract, Quillaia extract, Quillay bark extract, and Soapbark extract
  • WintergreenGaultheria procumbens, Family Ericaceae

What is Root Beer? myfavouritepastime.com

myfavouritepastime.com Last Updated: 20 September 2019

What is Root Beer? myfavouritepastime.com

Author: Liz

I love everything food: eating, cooking, baking and travelling. I also love photography and nature.

14 thoughts

  1. Haha this reminds me… when I was six, one of the kids who lived in my neighborhood invited me over to his house to play. He started gulping down bottles of root beer, and I freaked out because I thought root beer a type of an actual, alcoholic beer 😂

    1. Ha ha that is really funny and true at the same time. I hate this stuff though it tastes like the cough medicine my mother used to give us when we were young! I can’t get that horrible smell out of my memory!!!

    1. Thank you. I have a two litre bottle on my table right now. I was trying to take a photo for this post. I am not really a fan of all kinds of ‘pop’. I wonder what I will do with it once the photo session is over…, The fizzing disappears really quickly and then it remains kind of flat.
      Have a great Sunday!

  2. mmm I remember as a kid we would make rootbeer floats!
    That’s when you scoop some ice cream in a cup and add root beer on top. It would bubbly up to be this delicious foamy creamy drink with soft chunks of ice cream at the bottom mmmmmmmmm!!!

    1. I have just googled. There is actually a soft drink by the name ‘Sarsaparilla’. Thanks for letting me know. I will add that one to my glossary. Enjoy your weekend!

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