Root beer is a type of non-alcoholic soft drink made from roots, herbs and spices, which are extracted into water, sweetened and carbonated. Until the turn of the 20th century, most root beer was homemade, with the carbonation produced by fermenting the root extract, which meant it was very slightly alcoholic.
Traditionally, root beer was flavored primarily with sassafras root, which smells like a cross between mace, licorice and vanilla. In 1960, the FDA banned the use of sassafras root in food due to safrole, the primary aromachemical in sassafras root. Safrole was shown to be mildly carcinogenic in rats, but is also a precursor to the drug Ecstasy. Wintergreen has replaced sassafras root in modern root beers.
There are hundreds of brands of root beer commercially available in the United States, with no standard recipe. Most, though, involve wintergreen, sasparilla, birch and spruce for their minty-resinous note, and vanilla, ginger, star anise, licorice, nutmeg, cinnamon and clove as spice additions. While most commercial root beers are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, smaller regional brands often use cane sugar or molasses, which adds depth and a dark sweetness to the finished product. Most root beers also utilize quillaia or yucca extracts to produce a foamy head.
Some common national brands of root beer include A&W, Barq's, IBC, Hires and Boylan's.
Some popular cocktails containing Root beer
- Dark Phoenix — Fernet Branca, Allspice Dram, Bitters, Root beer
- Hires Fizz — Cynar, Cherry Liqueur, Bitters, Root beer, Cream, Lemon juice, Egg white