Today I found out why root beer is called that when it doesn’t contain any alcohol. This popular soft drink pairs well with vanilla ice cream, resulting in root beer floats that are common sights at kids’ birthday parties in North America. The common version that we know today isn’t an alcoholic beverage, but a sweet soda that can be enjoyed by all ages.
So why is it called “root beer?” The answer lies in the history of root beer. Most food historians (yes, they exist) think it likely that the first versions of root beer started out as “small beer,” a beverage brewed from herbs, bark, and berries. Small beer was popular in medieval Europe, where rampant water pollution had a tendency to make people sick.
Brewed drinks like tea and beer were considered the healthier option. The same was true in early Colonial America before safer water facilities could be developed. Small beer contained alcohol—usually between 2% and 12%. The beverage was so commonplace that it turns up in a variety of classical literature, including several of William Shakespeare’s plays and Vanity Fair by William Thackery.
- Fast forward a few centuries to find pharmacists attempting to create a “miracle drug” or “cure-all” for people’s ailments in the late 19 th century.
- Many of the popular carbonated beverages today have their roots in such an attempt.) Historians generally believe that root beer was created on accident by a pharmacist experimenting with a variety of roots, herbs, bark, and berries used in small beer recipes in order to make a brew to cure every sickness.
The original “root beer” was sold as a syrup for consumers to water down into a type of cordial. It was both sweet and bitter, probably not unlike cough syrup today, and obviously didn’t take off as a beverage you’d buy for anything other than potentially curing sickness.
It should be noted that it’s unknown whether or not the original pharmacist commonly credited as the creator of root beer was actually Charles Hires. Obviously, types of root beer had been around for centuries, so he cannot accurately be described as the “inventor.” He was, however, the first one to come up with a recipe that was widely marketable, hence why he is given credit.
According to his biography, Hires ran across a delicious tea recipe while he was on his honeymoon, which he decided to replicate and sell as a cure-all. However, the honeymoon story has little evidence to back it up, and it’s likely that Hires was simply experimenting with various ingredients until he came up with a recipe that worked.
- He began selling dry packages of the tea mixture in his drug store, and later developed a liquid concentrate which people could mix with water.
- Initially, the mixture was called “Hires Root Tea” as it was brewed like tea from the dry packages.
- The packets cost twenty-five cents and supposedly could make up to five gallons of root tea.
The “root” in the name of Hires’ concoction came from its main ingredient, the sassafras root. Hires changed the name of his product from “tea” to “beer” sometime before the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. It’s likely that he changed the name to make the beverage more appealing to the working class.
- In the midst of the second wave of the Temperance Movement, the name caused outrage amongst the movement’s leaders.
- Hires, on the other hand, advertised root beer as the “temperance drink,” arguing that it had no alcohol and was a great alternative to alcoholic beverages.
- Thus, “root tea” became “root beer.” (Note: It isn’t entirely accurate to say root beer doesn’t contain alcohol as carbonated beverages like root beer, Pepsi, Coke, Dr.
Pepper, etc. do have trace amounts of alcohol, as do many other things, like yogurt, just not any significant amount.) The name change turned into a great marketing scheme. At the Philadelphia exposition, Hires handed out free cups of his brew, gaining new customers.
It’s likely that marketing the product as “beer” was the key to its success, and Hires soon was bottling root beer and selling concentrated syrups to soda fountains. He even made “root beer kits” available for individuals to make their own root beer at home. Root beer continued to be marketed as a “health beverage” with the slogan, “Join Health and Cheer, Drink Hires Root Beer!” Funny enough, in 1960 the United States Food and Drug Administration banned the main ingredient—oil from the sassafras root—because of research proving it was a carcinogen and also contained safrol, which damages the liver- not exactly healthy.
Because of this, today root beer typically contains an artificial sassafras flavour rather than the real thing. So at this point the whole name is a lie. If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show ( iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed ), as well as:
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Both Benjamin Franklin and George Washington were fans of small beer; Franklin wrote in his autobiography that he would have a small beer with breakfast sometimes, while George Washington had developed his own recipe for his favourite small beer. Without root beer, we wouldn’t have the Marriott Hotels and certain fast food restaurants. In 1927, a young couple named John and Alice Marriott opened up a root beer restaurant called Hot Shoppe in Washington. The restaurant experienced a huge amount of expansion over the years and turned into the Mariott Hotel chain. The Marriotts actually bought the shop from A&W, now a well-known restaurant chain root beer brand. A&W helped to popularize the idea of franchising. By 1960, there were over 2000 A&W restaurants—more than McDonald’s at the time! Another restaurant that got its start in root beer was Sonic, which started off as a root beer and hamburger stand and now has over 3500 restaurants in the United States. There are hundreds of different recipes for root beer and the drink has a wide range of flavours. Common ingredients in root beer include vanilla, cherry tree bark, wintergreen, molasses, anise, liquorice root, cinnamon, and honey among others. The primary ingredient is still sassafras flavour. Root beer is almost exclusively a North American drink. There are a few international brands, but the flavour is quite different from, say, A&W. If you browse the shelves in Australia or the UK you’re probably more likely to find “ginger beer” than root beer.
Expand for References
- 1 How did the root beer get its name?
- 2 What is the meaning of root beer?
- 3 Why is ginger beer and root beer called beer?
How did the root beer get its name?
Interesting Fact – In 1875, Charles Elmer Hires introduced the first commercial brand of root beer, named Hires Root Beer. Hires initially wanted to name the product to be “Root Tea,” but chose “Root Beer,” to make the beverage attractive to Pennsylvanian coal miners. Hires, who did not drink alcohol, marketed root beer as an alternative to alcohol.
What was root beer originally made from?
Root Beer in Colonial America – European colonists brought their own traditions to the Americas, including the medieval tradition of “small beer.” Small beers were low-alcohol beers (hovering at 1-2% ABV). Europeans brewed small beers because they were safer than water, cheap, nutritious, and unlikely to get you too drunk during the day.
- Colonists made small beer by shortening the fermentation time of the brew or by re-using grain from a stronger beer.
- When European colonists observed indigenous people using sassafras, sarsaparilla, wintergreen and other roots, barks, and berries for their health benefits, the colonists did what they knew best—made small beer.
Colonists used Sassafras and Sarsaparilla roots—among other local plants—to brew a type of small beer they (unimaginatively) named root beer. Generally, colonists did not drink root beer to get drunk. Instead, they drank root beer to hydrate safely and get (real or perceived) medicinal benefits.
- Families passed down their recipes for root beer like heirlooms.
- Countless varieties of root beers made from different blends of American plants, water, sugar, and yeast emerged.
- This practice continued for many years.
- In the early days of the United States, merchants sold in small shops and drugstores throughout the country.
Still, the general public largely saw root beer as a niche health drink.
Was there beer in root beer?
3 Root Beer Recipes to Try Out – At some point, root beer was a convenient drink. It was medicinal and a healthy alternative to beer. However, as we discussed, that is no longer true. Still, that does not mean this drink has no use anymore. One can enjoy it as it is, but there are now many other ways to savor it.
Creamy Root Beer Rum Cocktail : Root beer does not have alcohol. However, if you want some kick, you might want to try this recipe then! Root Beer Float : On the other hand, if you want to keep your root beer alcohol-free, you might want to check this recipe out. Even kids can have this one! Vodka Root Beer Float : However, if you do not have to share with kids, you might want to give this root beer float recipe a shot!
With these examples, one can see that root beer has come a long way from being a supposed cure-all syrup medicine. It might not have been able to cure that many a disease, but today, it can undoubtedly cool you off after being under the scorching sun for way too long. With that, how do you think it will fare in the future? Well, let us talk about that before we let you go.
Did McDonalds used to have root beer?
Aldi product that ‘tastes exactly like McDonald’s item from 80s’
An Aldi shopper has caused a stir on a popular page for shoppers at the budget supermarket, by comparing one of their products to a McDonalds equivalent from the 1980s. For a brief period of time in the 80s, appear to have sold root beer – a distinctly American fizzy soft drink with a sweet, herbal flavour.However, the selling of root beer by the brand was restricted to a small number of McDonalds restaurants by 1992, due to poor sales, and stopped completely in 1993.But one fan thinks the root beer currently sold by the brand tastes just like the McDonalds one from the 80s.
Traditional Indianapolis diner meal with a root beer (Image: Handout/Mirror) Posting in the Facebook group ‘, they said: “I’ve got good news for people who enjoyed the taste of root beer at McDonald’s in the 1980s: Aldi is selling root beer at the moment, and it tastes exactly like the root beer at McDonald’s in the 1980s.” For more news and features about London directly to your inbox sign up to our newsletter,
What is the oldest soda flavor?
Created in 1866, Vernon’s Ginger Ale is the oldest soda pop in America. Vernor’s is located in Michigan and was created by James Vernor. The unique flavor was actually created on accident by leaving the soda pop encased in wood while he went off to war.
Why is soda called pop?
Ask a ‘sotan is an occasional series exploring questions from curious Minnesotans about our state. Have a question about life in Minnesota? Ask it here. Minnesotans are known for their particular phrases — and how they pronounce them. From “you betcha” to “mind your own beeswax,” the regional dialect has a lot of quirks that get spoofed in pop culture and everyday conversation.
- As part of our Ask a ‘sotan series, we received a question about why residents here tend to call a popular beverage by a certain name.
- In a new twist to the series, that question came from a notable Minnesotan: award-winning chef and restaurateur Ann Kim,
- This is what she asked us to look into: MPR News is supported by Members.
Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member! “My question is — why do Minnesotans refer to soda as pop?” Kim said this has been bugging her ever since she went to college out east. “I went to college in New York, and my first week there, I asked the counselor in my dormitory, ‘Where’s the pop machine?’ And she looked at me as if I was from a different planet,” Kim said. Ann Kim, owner and executive chef of the restaurants Young Joni, Pizzeria Lola, and Hello Pizza. Photo by Eliesa Johnson Photography This question was a tough one since there’s no consensus about who officially started calling it pop, or why Minnesotans love the word so much.
- But we were able to connect some dots on its origins and dig up some information about the regional differences.
- We did hear from Minnesotans, but we also had to cheat a little on this investigation by taking it into western Wisconsin.
- Some students at the University of Wisconsin-Stout had researched the topic,
They say the term “soda pop” is traced back to the 1800s when seltzer water came into production and tasty carbonated beverages were eventually served at soda fountains in drug stores. Their report indicates “pop” itself caught on as slang, and was prominently used in northern states like Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Faygo, the Detroit-based soft drink company, is said to be the first to market soda as “pop” after the sound the lid made when it popped off the soda bottle. Others give a store in Erie, Pa., credit for coining the term in 1868. Back on the Minnesota side, Mark Lazarchic is owner of the Blue Sun Soda Shop in Spring Lake Park.
He floated another popular theory behind the term’s origins. “Old bottles had a marble inside of them, and the pressure would push up the marble to keep the bottle sealed,” he said. “And the way you got to the soda was you slammed your hand on the top of it, and it ‘popped’ the marble down into the bottom and then you could drink it.” So, despite some explanations, there’s no official credit on who started calling it pop first, or where.
What is the meaning of root beer?
: a sweetened, usually carbonated, brown beverage flavored with extracts of roots (such as sarsaparilla or sassafras) and herbs (such as wintergreen) or with artificial flavorings
Who invented root beer and why?
Root Beer Root beer originated in North America and remains most popular in North America. Historically made using the root of the sassafras plant with that being its primary flavour, there is no standard recipe. Root beer can vary from mild and easy drinking to strong and more challenging, but to give a very general definition it is a sweetened, carbonated beverage.
The origins of root beer can be traced back to 18th century American farm brewers who adapted native North American recipes to make very low or non-alcoholic family drinks, known as a small beer. This was a widespread and popular practice and George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin are all said to have had their own favourite root beer recipes.
These small beers were made from all sorts of herbs, barks and roots. Favourite ingredients were sassafras root, ginger, sarsaparilla, hops and birch bark, but wintergreen, vanilla beans, liquorice allspice, coriander, juniper, burdock root, dandelion root, spikenard, guaiacum chips, spicewood, wild cherry bark, yellow dock, prickly ash bark and dog grass were also used.
After extracting the flavours from these naturally occurring products by heating them in water to produce what is known as the wort, sweetener in the form of honey, maple syrup or molasses (which was cheapest and added flavour and colour), more water and yeast were added and the wort was then barrelled to ferment.
If a very low alcohol beverage was required the liquid was bottled and corked straight away and then cooled after a day or two to stop fermentation. The amount of alcohol in these instances would have been akin to what is found in a loaf of bread. Fermentation produced carbon dioxide as a by-product which resulted in some carbonation (fizzing) of the drink.
- Farming families believed that the beverages they made were good for them and given that they were brewed from boiled water from what might sometimes be a tainted source they probably often were a healthier option than water.
- What’s more, the tiny amounts of alcohol had an antimicrobial action as did the carbon dioxide.
Root Beer is first known to have been marketed commercially at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876 by a teetotal Philadelphia pharmacist named Charles Hires who is said to have discovered a recipe for a delicious herbal tea while on his honeymoon.
He introduced a commercial version of the tea which he sold in 25-cent packets of powder, each of which yielded five gallons of root beer. He claimed the powder was a solid concentrate of sixteen wild roots and berries. In 1893, the Charles E. Hires Company began supplying Hires root beer in small bottles.
A & W Root Beer, which is still widely for sale today, is another early brand. It was created by Roy Allen, who began marketing root beer in 1919. Non-alcoholic versions of Root Beer were particularly popular during Prohibition and the constraints of the period probably contributed to preserving the domestic art of making traditional root beers.
Sassafras extract from the roots of the very fragrant deciduous sassafras tree was once a primary ingredient in root beers. Unfortunately it was found that the safrole (also once used as a fragrance in perfumes and soaps, food and for aromatherapy) contained in sassafras is a carcinogen and Root Beer took a terrible hit in 1960 when the United States Food and Drug Administration banned its use in commercially mass-produced foods and drugs.
Commercial root beer brewers had to reformulate their recipes, either balancing out the missing sassafras with other roots or synthetic flavours or by removing the safrole from the sassafras root oil. In 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act removed the ban on sassafras oil and microbrewers once again began to use sassafras, but it is now unlikely to be found in big commercial brands.
- Most mainstream brands of root beer are unadventurous in their ingredients, fairly ubiquitous in taste and are often very sweet.
- More interesting variations are made by many North America microbrewers and the home brewing tradition survives to this day.
- Flavourings commonly included in the more interesting modern root beers include vanilla, wintergreen, cherry tree bark, liquorice root, sarsaparilla root, burdock nutmeg, acacia, anise, cinnamon, dandelion, ginger, juniper and cloves.
Modern sweeteners include aspartame, corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, molasses and most commonly, sugar. Many brands of root beer contain sodium benzoate as a preservative. Most are caffeine-free but one or two contain caffeine. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic root beers can have a head, to any degree of thickness and foam when poured.
- This is often enhanced by the addition of yucca or Auillaja saponaria extracts.
- Most modern root beer brands are artificially carbonated by injecting carbon dioxide gas or mixing the root beer syrup with carbonated water (as with a soda fountain).
- Sarsaparilla, a soft drink, originally made from the Smilax regelii plant, can be classified as a root beer, and some consider it to be the father of root beer.
: Root Beer
Why is ginger beer and root beer called beer?
Traditional Ginger Beer Ginger beer is a drink originating from England, where sugar, ginger, water, and sometimes lemon were fermented and brewed with a starter culture called the ginger beer plant, resulting in a brew with about 11 percent alcohol. This also explains how the word ‘beer’ is part of the name.