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I want to make root beer, what are the ingredients required to produce that signature flavor?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The primary ingredient in the root beer flavor is traditionally sassafras root. However, modern root beer uses artificial sassafras flavoring because the US FDA banned safrole, the oil from sassafras root. It is considered a weak carcinogen as well as a List I chemical by the DEA (used in the manufacture of illicit substances).

Beyond sassafras the ingredients vary widely and drastically between manufacturers. The most common include vanilla, wintergreen, cherry/spruce bark, licorice, anise, and many more. A more complete list of root beer ingredients can be found on the wikipedia page.

If you're looking to make your own, I suggest finding a recipe and following it. Given the vast array of ingredients present, you'll have to do a ton of experimentation to stumble upon a suitable flavor without a recipe.

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In the UK, whenever I have had root beer, sarsaparilla has been the primary flavouring ingredient. I have not encountered the sassafras style due to the health risks most likely, and because the root beer we have I think has a path more directly from the Caribbean, which I believe uses sarsaparilla more. –  Orbling Feb 22 '11 at 2:01

I am not a root beer expert, but to me (and a few others, including root beer homebrewers :)) Russian квас / kvass (a fermented rye beverage) is very similar to (family-made) root beer, so I think you might be interested in it too, as the ingredients for kvass might be easier to find in your vicinity.

Kvass variants run from clear and light to dark and heavy with all sorts of additives (usually fruit) possible. People use different kinds of bread, and some people cook or fry the bread first. Most kvass has a little alcohol in it (depending on its age) -- some has more, but usually not so much as to be dangerous if drunk in normal amounts.

A lot of enthusiasts give different recipes, but the usual ingredients are:

  • (stale) (dark/black) rye bread
  • water
  • active dry yeast
  • sugar or honey
  • raisins
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Root Beer Extract + sugar + champagne yeast

You can make your own extract, but I certainly wouldn't go there first.

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