Root beer

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A glass of root beer with foam.

Root beer is a carbonated, sweetened beverage, originally manufactured using the root of the sassafras tree, or its bark, as the primary flavor. Root beer, popularized in North America, comes in two forms: alcoholic and non-alcoholic. The historical root beer was analogous to small beer, in that the process provided a drink with a very low alcohol content. Although roots are used as the source of many soft drinks throughout the world, often different names are used.


The custom of brewing root beer goes back to the 18th century. Farm owners used to brew their own (then) light-alcoholic beverage for family get-togethers and secret services in the woods.[citation needed] During the 19th century, some pharmacists tried to sell their version of root beer as a miracle drug.[citation needed]

In 1876, pharmacist Charles Elmer Hires first introduced a commercial version at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.[1] Hires was a teetotaler who wanted to call the beverage "root tea." However, his desire to market the product to Pennsylvania coal miners caused him to call his product "root beer" instead.[2] By 1893, root beer was sold as a bottled soft drink to the public. Non-alcoholic versions proved to be commercially successful, especially during Prohibition.

In 1960, a key ingredient (the sassafras root) came to be known as a carcinogen and its use was banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.[3] Following this ban, companies began experimenting with artificial flavors and preparation techniques to remove the unhealthy effects of root beer, while preserving its flavor.


There are many root beer brands throughout the United States, and it is produced in every U.S. state.[4] It is a flavor almost exclusive to North America, yet there are a few brands from other nations around the world, such as the Philippines and Thailand where the flavor often varies slightly from the typical North American drink.[5] There is no standardized recipe. The primary ingredient, artificial sassafras flavoring, is complemented with other flavors. The flavor in sassafras, safrole, is banned in the United States and European Union as a likely carcinogen. Common flavorings are vanilla, wintergreen, cherry tree bark, licorice root, sarsaparilla root, nutmeg, acacia, anise, molasses, cinnamon, and honey.

Ingredients in early root beers included allspice, birch bark, coriander, juniper, ginger, wintergreen, hops, burdock root, dandelion root, spikenard, pipsissewa, guaiacum chips, sarsaparilla, spicewood, wild cherry bark, yellow dock, prickly ash bark, sassafras root*, vanilla beans, hops, dog grass, molasses and licorice.[6]

Many of the above ingredients are still used in root beer today along with added carbonation. There is no one recipe. Although most mainstream brands are caffeine-free, Barq's does contain caffeine.[7]

Homemade root beer is usually made with extract obtained from a factory,[8] though it can also be made from actual herbs and roots. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic root beers have a thick and foamy head when poured, often enhanced by the addition of yucca extract.

Main ingredients[edit]



Other ingredients[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Eric's Gourmet Root Beer Site - History". Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  2. ^ Funderburg, Anne Cooper (2002). Sundae Best: A History of Soda Fountains. Popular Press. pp. 93–95. ISBN 978-0879728540. 
  3. ^ Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations, Sec. 189.180: Department of Health and Human Services, 2013 [1977] 
  4. ^ "Brands - A World of Root Beer Resources - Root Beer World". Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  5. ^ "anthony’s root beer barrel". anthony’s root beer barrel. Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  6. ^ Bellis, Mary. "The History of Root Beer." About Money. Web. 5 Mar. 2015.
  7. ^ "F.A.Qs". anthony’s root beer barrel. Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  8. ^ MAKING ROOT BEER AT HOME by David B. Fankhauser
  9. ^ Dietz, B; Bolton, Jl (Apr 2007). "Botanical Dietary Supplements Gone Bad". Chemical research in toxicology 20 (4): 586–90. doi:10.1021/tx7000527. ISSN 0893-228X. PMC 2504026. PMID 17362034.