Food - Drink
Root Beer Vs. Sarsaparilla: What's The Difference?
Root beer and sarsaparilla may seem very similar, but they have unique histories based on their ingredients’ healing properties. Root teas and medicinal elixirs made from sassafras, wintergreen, and sarsaparilla were once used by the native tribes of North America for their health benefits before European invaders adopted the technique.
What we consider root beer today was inspired by the sassafras brew of the First Nations people, and was enjoyed by historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin. Since then, we have sweetened and carbonated the beverage, but after sassafras root was banned by the FDA in 1960, root beer was flavored using a mix of elements like wintergreen and anise.
The brew made from the sarsaparilla plant was originally consumed to treat ailments like psoriasis, arthritis, rheumatism, and even syphilis. A drink called “sarsaparilla” hit markets in the early 19th century, with makers of the beverage using sassafras root to make it taste more like root beer, though today, most sarsaparilla drinks use artificial flavoring.
Culinarily speaking, per Miss Vickie, sassafras has a basic root beer taste reminiscent of anise, eucalyptus, and other earthy tones, whereas sarsaparilla has more intense and bitter notes. While the soda pops we know now are usually made with imitation flavors, both plants are still used medicinally today in the form of teas and oils.