"What is Rootbeer?"
Rootbeer is a dark, sweetened, carbonated soft drink. There are many brands, though no single recipe. Early 1900's rootbeer makers acheived the unique rootbeer flavor with a a variety of ingredients, specifically sassafras root, with the addition of yeast for carbonation.
The following recipe is an example of rootbeer recipes at the turn of the 1900's. It comes from the Fleishman Company's 1912 publication, Excellent Recipes for Baking Raised Bread.
1 Cake of Compressed Yeast
5 Pounds of Sugar
2 Ounces of Sassafras Root
1 Ounce of Hops or Ginger Root
2 Ounces of Juniper Berries
4 Gallons of Water
1 Ounce of Dandelion Root
2 Ounces of Wintergreen
Warning: If you are interested in trying this recipe out, the sassafras root that you use should indicate that the oil has been removed. The FDA determined in 1930 that natural sassafras root was carcinogenic, though in the 1960's an effort was made to find a suitable replacement for this ingredient. Researchers discovered that by removing the oil, the cancer causing agent, the root could still be used. It should also be noted that rootbeer made with yeast is not for kids, as it will also produce a small percentage of alcohol (.05%) during the fermentation process.
Today, commercially produced rootbeer brands include a combination of cane sugar (or sugar substitute), water, and natural and artificial ingredients for flavor. They may also include yucca extract as a foaming agent.
Why is Rootbeer called Rootbeer?
Let's divide things up, and explain the "root" part first, and then the "beer".
The "Root" of Rootbeer
Early rootbeer recipies included a variey of roots, the most important of which being the sassafras root.
The "Beer" of Rootbeer
Rootbeer has its origins in "small beer", which sometimes included a small amount of alcohol. While this is true, it was Charles Hires, who gave rootbeer it's name. Hires began selling his product with the label "root tea", though was encouraged to change the name of the soda to "root beer", so that it might have greater appeal to the Pennsylvania miners.
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