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I've been on a quest for a while now to make my own root beer. I've tried all sorts of recipes using all sorts of ingredients, and I now have this huge collection of spices and roots and leaves... but no root beer to show for it. It always comes out bitter and kind of gross.

I tried to get down to basics. From what I've read, sassafrass is the key ingredient, so I thought I'd make a tea out of just that and see how that goes. (Yes, I know there are claims that sassafrass has a cancer causing agent, and that it's not used anymore, and people use wintergreen or sarsaparilla instead. But, health concerns aside, everything I've read seems to have a consensus that sassafrass is the original flavour for root beer.)

When I open my bag of sassafrass root bark, it has a smell lightly evocative of root beer, but also kind of earthy (I'm bad at describing smells). Most recipes I've seen call for steeping the sassafrass for about 20 to 25 minutes, with a ratio of about one tablespoon of sassafrass for each cup of water.

Starting with that basis, I've tried various combinations of adjusting times and ratios, and also two different brands of sassafrass, but the fundamental problem remains. It's always bitter. Too bitter to cover up with any amount sweetener or other ingredients. Sweetener and other ingredients (cinnamon, vanilla, star anise, allspice...) don't cover bitterness, they just exist alongside it.

When I look on Amazon at reviews by people who have bought the same sassafrass root bark that I did, there are all these statements saying "we made root beer and it was great!" or "brought back childhood memories of home made root beer!" and that sort of thing, accompanied by five stars. But all I have is a brown liquid that is on one level a pale imitation of root beer, and on another level has a bitterness that won't go away.

Where am I going wrong?

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    I see no contradiction, nobody in the reviews said that it's not bitter. My point is that these people probably expected bitter root beer, got it with this product, and were very happy about it, writing positive reviews. Of course, plants don't always taste the same, so if you think that you happened to get a batch much more bitter than usual, you can try getting another package and compare. But if it's the same bitterness after two packages, then it seems that you simply don't like sassafras. – rumtscho Mar 19 '15 at 8:19
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    @rumtscho, I guess in all the root beer I've tried, I've never encountered any that I would describe as "bitter". Can you name a brand of root beer that is bitter? I'd like to try it and see what that is like. – Questioner Mar 19 '15 at 16:34
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    No, I can't name such a brand. But as far as I am aware, none of them is allowed to use sassafras, so none of them can taste like homemade sassafras root beer by definition. Your best way to compare would be to find a relative or acquaintance who remembers the times of widespread home brewing of root beer, and tell you if what you made comes close to the original taste or deviates. Comparing it with commercial root beer does not make sense by definition, because normally the reason to make your own is to have it taste differently from the commercial brands. – rumtscho Mar 19 '15 at 16:48
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    @rumtscho, I wasn't looking for a sassafras based commercial brand, I was looking for any kind of bitter root beer, at all. The idea that there is this hidden trend of traditional root beer that is bitter and completely unlike any modern counterpart is somewhat suspect to me. So, I'd like to try any example, from any source, in any way, of bitter root beer. If you don't know of any, then I'm sorry, but it just kind of seems like you're not talking from a place of knowledge about sassafras, but just trying to make the Amazon comments fit into your original assertion. – Questioner Mar 20 '15 at 5:13
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    I am talking from a place of knowledge about sassafras not derived from drinking root beer, but from reading about it. This is why I know that sassafras is bitter, and conjectured that the people who like their homemade sassafras beer like it that way. I don't remember where I read that originally, but there are enough sources out there which confirm it: sassafras is bitter. Examples are theepicentre.com/spice/sassafras, eattheplanet.org/archives/1472, eattheplanet.org/archives/1472 – rumtscho Mar 20 '15 at 8:47
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Sassafras tea will naturally taste a little bitter. When I was younger, a friend of mine used to bring us some sassafras root in order for us to make this tea. He always recommended never to make it too strong because of the affects of the bitterness on the stomach. Try using smaller doses of sassafras in your tea. It should be more on the pale shade of color rather than too dark. Here is how to make sassafras tea.

It is true that the original root beer was derived from the sassafras root, however the modern root beer does not contain any sassafras in it confection.

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In my experience, homemade root beer can not be made with sassafras alone. You need a blend of flavors. Cut back on the amount of sassafras and add some wintergreen oil or sweet birch. Also throw in some licorice root, vanilla, or sarsaparilla. For sweeteners, use some sorghum or molasses. Find a blend of spices and flavors that you like, which contains sassafras as a component. Sassafras will always be bitter.

  • Thanks for responding. I'm not familiar with sorghum. What qualities does it have that make it especially good for root beer? – Questioner Aug 13 '17 at 12:14
  • It's similar to molasses, but has more of a maple syrup flavor. It's just another flavor to play with. – Kevin Nowaczyk Aug 13 '17 at 13:57
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a small pinch of salt really helps

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    Can you please elaborate on your answer? How does it help? Where did you find out about this tip? – Catija Feb 15 '16 at 0:16
  • This is a helpful answer. We would appreciate it more if you could flesh it out a bit. See our tour and help center for more information. – Jolenealaska Feb 15 '16 at 0:16
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    I'd love to hear more about this. How much salt, how does it help, when to add it... if true, it would be great to know the hows and whys. – Questioner Feb 15 '16 at 5:17
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Some salt can help as was suggested. This is because salt, specifically sodium, blocks the taste buds from sensing the bitterness to a degree.

Here's another post discussing bitterness in coffee

protected by Community Jul 28 '18 at 13:40

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