Sarsaparilla (soft drink)

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Two historical Sioux City sarsaparilla bottles, as used in retail sale for decades by Sioux City brand from United States, until the 2010s

Sarsaparilla is a soft drink, originally made from plants like the Smilax ornata, but now sometimes made with artificial flavors. In most Southeast Asian countries, it is known as sarsi, and there is a Sarsi brand. It is similar to root beer.


Sarsaparilla was popular in the United States in the 19th century. According to advertisements for patent medicines of the period, it was considered to be a remedy for skin and blood problems.[1] Ruth Tobias notes that it evokes images of "languid belles and parched cowboys".[2]

Sarsaparilla is sometimes considered to be a type of root beer. There are dozens of brands of sarsaparilla beverages made by microbreweries, mainly in the United States.[3]


Sarsaparilla is not readily available in most countries, although many pubs and most major supermarket chains in the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Australia stock sarsaparilla-flavoured soft drinks, and sarsaparilla remains available in the United Kingdom as a legacy of the temperance movement. Australian sarsaparilla has a different flavour from American root beer or sarsaparilla.[citation needed]

Sarsi is a sarsaparilla-based drink popular in Asia.[citation needed]

United Kingdom[edit]

Sarsaparilla is produced on a small scale in the United Kingdom. Baldwin's produces a Sarsaparilla cordial in the United Kingdom and have done so continuously since 1844. It is produced in Walworth Road, London, and is readily available in pie and mash shops in the East End of London, where it is popular, as well as being available in some supermarkets. In the north of England, sarsaparilla is produced by Fitzpatrick's, Britain's last temperance bar, indicating its previous importance to the temperance movement there.

United States[edit]

Classic U.S. sarsaparilla was not made from the extract of the sarsaparilla plant, a tropical vine distantly related to the lily. It was originally made from a blend of birch oil and sassafras, the dried root bark of the sassafras tree. Sassafras was widely used as a home remedy in the 19th century; taken in sufficient doses it induces sweating, which some people thought had health benefits. Sarsaparilla apparently made its debut as a patent medicine, an easy-to-take form of sassafras, much as Coca-Cola was first marketed in 1885 as a remedy for hangovers, headaches and morphine addiction.[4] Besides the effects of the ingredients, sodas were popular in the United States at the time, due to the belief that carbonated water had health benefits.[5]

Sarsi (brand)[edit]

A can of Malaysian F&N Sarsi.


In the Philippines, Sarsi is a brand name for a sarsaparilla drink manufactured by Cosmos Bottling Corporation, a local company that is now a subsidiary of Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines, Inc.[6] Cosmos Bottling Corporation was established in 1918, first known as Manila Aerated Water Company. [7] It was formerly called Cosmos Sarsaparilla until the 70s, when it became known as Sarsi, a shortened form of sarsaparilla.

The unique taste that separates Sarsi from other Sarsaparilla-based soft drinks is attributed to the sugar substitute Saccharin, even though its "regular" formula contains HFC (high fructose corn syrup) or cane sugar.


In Malaysia, F&N Sarsi (originally branded as Sarsi) is a brand name for a sarsaparilla drink manufactured by the F&N Group. It is unrelated to the brand established in the Philippines.

Other sarsi drinks[edit]


In Cambodia, the drink is one of the flavors sold under the Fanta brand, bottled and distributed by Cambodia Beverage Company Ltd., a unit of the Coca-Cola SABCO Group.[8]


A glass of Asia Sarsae

In China, the drink's introduction can be traced back to the 1920s, when A.S. Watson began producing sarsi in Shanghai and other Chinese cities. In the 1940s, Li Zhiyang (李智扬), Li Guanling (李冠玲), Huang Youtong (黄油桶), Liang Hanqi (梁汉奇), and Wang Zhensan (王震山) were among eleven people who had worked in Watson's Canton and founded Asian Waters in Guangzhou to continue producing Sarsae there and in other mainland Chinese locations. [9]

Asia Sarsae is now produced by Xiangxue Pharmaceutical.

Hong Kong[edit]

In Hong Kong, Sarsae (沙示) is the most popular brand of the sarsi drink. It is manufactured and distributed by the A.S. Watson Group, which pioneered in carbonated beverages in Hong Kong.[10] The drink was the central plot device of a 1985 film called It's a Drink, It's a Bomb (starring George Lam, John Sham and Maggie Cheung), about a hand grenade disguised as a Sarsae cola. Its explosive power is activated once its ringpull is released.[11]


HeySong Sarsaparilla (Chinese: 黑松沙士) is the most popular brand of sarsi drink in Taiwan. It is manufactured by HeySong Corporation.[12]

It is available in three varieties:

  • Regular — regular sarsaparilla flavor.
  • Sweetie Energy — sweet and mellow, similar to A&W's cream soda, but with added guarana extract.
  • Salty — significantly saltier with a bitter aftertaste, like Barq's root beer in the US.


Hi-Mark by Green Spot[citation needed] is the only known sarsi drink in Thailand. It has been discontinued in the market since 2000. Sarsi is now available in Thailand, 2018.


In Vietnam, the drink is one of the flavors (Xá Xị) sold under the Mirinda brand, bottled and distributed by Suntory-PepsiCo Vietnam Beverage (formerly, PepsiCo Vietnam).[13]

There are two local brands offering their own sarsi drink:

  • Sá Xị Chương Dương by Chuong Duong Beverages.
  • Wonderfarm Zizy by Interfood Shareholding Company.

See also[edit]

India: It is a popular drink in South India and called Nannari. Usually served with Club Soda & Lime Juice.


  1. ^ "Hood's Sarsaparilla". Lowcountry Digital Library. Retrieved 1 September 2014.
  2. ^ Tobias, Ruth (2007). "Sarsaparilla". In Smith, Andrew F (ed.). The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. Oxford University Press. p. 550.
  3. ^ "Sarsaparilla Reviews".
  4. ^ Whatever happened to the soft drink sarsaparilla? December 16, 1977 by Cecil Adams, retrieved 2013-04-30
  5. ^ "Themes for Coca-Cola Advertising (1886–1999)". Archived from the original on January 24, 2001. Retrieved 2007-02-11.
  6. ^ Morales, Neil Jerome C. "Cosmos sets delisting from PSEi". Retrieved 1 April 2017.
  7. ^ "Philippine Daily Inquirer - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 1 April 2017.
  8. ^ ppp_webadmin (3 July 2011). "Coca-Cola celebrates 125th Anniversary". Retrieved 1 April 2017.
  9. ^ Judy. "亚洲(汽水)". Guangzhou Daily. Retrieved 15 August 2012.[dead link]
  10. ^
  11. ^ "It's a Drink, It's a Bomb (1985)". Retrieved 1 April 2017.
  12. ^ Jinn's Publishers et al. "Omoshiro Temakan Meguri No.4: HeySong Soft Drink Museum". Nãruhodo The Taiwan. Vol. 235. October 2006.
  13. ^ "Mirinda". Archived from the original on 2017-03-28. Retrieved 1 April 2017.

External links[edit]