Although sarsaparilla is an ingredient in root beer, there’s a stark difference between the two. You’ll find beverages made from only the sarsaparilla root. Root beer combines sarsaparilla with other ingredients such as wintergreen, nutmeg, and more to mute sarsaparilla’s rich taste.
Today, we’re going to delve into the history of both to help you differentiate between the two.
The Origins of Sarsaparilla
Central America introduced us to sarsaparilla. People in this region used the plant to create root beer. However, they didn’t use sarsaparilla to provide people with a refreshing beverage. Instead, they used it for its medicinal properties. In the old west, the drink started becoming popular.
Do you remember him?
This is Yosemite Sam. The creators based his character on folks from the Old West, and do you what he just loved to drink? He was always in the mood for some old-fashioned “sasparilly.” Now, do you know how he wants it? He wants it “really snappy.”
However, not everyone is a fan of Yosemite Sam’s choice of beverage, as it’s an acquired taste. Most people don’t like the taste of sarsaparilla, and it was this dislike that led to the creation of root beer.
The Origins of Root Beer
Unlike sarsaparilla, root beer contains a wide range of ingredients. You can add ingredients like wintergreen, vanilla, clove, licorice, and cinnamon to the brew to create root beer. Sarsaparilla is one of these ingredients.
The other ingredients dilute the sarsaparilla’s taste, hence making it perfect for people who dislike sarsaparilla.
Do you not want sarsaparilla at all?
If you want root beer without sarsaparilla, you’ll find root beers that have left out the ingredient for good. In fact, they’ve made it even better by making it with pure cane sugar and without any caffeine.
So, what have they substituted sarsaparilla for?
Modern root beers don’t add sarsaparilla to their root beer. Instead, their main ingredients include sassafras bark, nutmeg, vanilla bean, cinnamon, and wintergreen.
Isn’t sassafras bark on FDA’s most wanted list?
Yes and no.
The sassafras tree produces dangerous and poisonous oil. The tree is made up of 90% of safrol. When the FDA uncovered the cancer-causing carcinogen, they banned it. Root beer manufacturers bypassed this by removing the oil from the sassafras. When there’s no oil, there’s no threat.
Sarsaparilla and Root Beer Facts We Found Interesting
Sarsaparilla has been around for centuries. Native Americans told the Spaniards about the plant, and they, in turn, introduced it to Europe. In Spanish, sarsaparilla is called zarzaparilla. We don’t know if you know this, but it’s rumored that sarsaparilla is the secret ingredient in the world’s best BBQ sauces.
Charles Elmer Hires, the Father of Root Beer, almost named root beer, “root tea.” Can you imagine calling it root tea? Because we know we don’t. Why did he change his mind? It was because he wanted his beverage to appeal to Pennsylvanian coal miners.
He also didn’t drink alcohol, which is why he marketed his beverage as a non-alcoholic drink. When it comes to BBQ sauces, root beer isn’t far behind. However, the BBQ sauce recipe that uses root beer isn’t a well-kept secret. Here’s our take on it:
- 1 1/2 tbsp. of dark brown sugar (packed)
- 1 cup of ketchup
- 1 cup of root beer
- 1 tbsp. of mild-flavored molasses (light)
- 1 tsp. of liquid smoke
- 1/2 tsp. of garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp. of ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp. of lemon peel (grated)
- 1/2 tsp. of onion powder
- 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice
- 3 tbsp. of Worcestershire sauce
- Black pepper and salt to taste
- In a saucepan, combine all the ingredients.
- Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir the mixture from time to time.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and let it simmer until the sauce is reduced to 1 1/2 cup for about 20 minutes.
- Season the sauce with black pepper and salt to taste.
- Cool it slightly and place it in a bowl.
- Cover it and put it in the fridge.
The Showdown: Which Is More Popular in the United States?
Out of the two, root beer is hands down the most popular beverage to drink in the United States. Root beer makes up 3% of the United States’ soft drink market. The changing taste of consumers has also influenced the recipe of root beer and sodas over the years.
More and more consumers are leaning towards healthier choices. Over the last decade, full-calorie sodas in the country have declined by over 25%. Most Americans state that they’re actively making an effort to avoid drinking soft drinks.
Regular soda consumption in teens dropped by 24% from 2006 to 2013, and childhood obesity also saw a decline in the last seven years. To meet customers’ demands and preferences, soda companies had to change their strategy.
Mainstream companies started to release low-calorie drinks by substituting high fructose corn syrup with pure cane sugar. Whether you want to drink soda or root beer, you can search for ones made from pure cane sugar.
Have you ever tried root beer? Have you tried sarsaparilla? If you have tried one but not the other, you should try both to make up your own mind on the type of beverage you prefer to drink the most. If you have tried root beer containing sarsaparilla, then try root beer without it. Do let us know which beverage you prefer from the various beverages in the market being sold as root beer.