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What Is Root Beer—And Why Is It Called Root Beer?

Provided by Allrecipes; Story by Nick DeSimone

The main ingredients in root beer are pretty much the same as any other soda: water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel coloring, and flavoring, both natural and artificial. However, root beer’s unique flavor comes from sassafras, a tree root native to the United States. Historically, Native Americans used it as a medicinal herb for everything from first aid to fever reducers. Later, it was used to make gum and even toothpaste.

Back when root beer was invented, it contained many ingredients such as vanilla, molasses, sarsaparilla, wintergreen, honey, cinnamon, allspice, licorice root, and many other spices and medicinal ingredients popular at the time.

In 1960, lab studies on rats found that a compound in sassafras root caused cancer in rats, leading to the ban of sassafras root extract by the FDA. Now, commercially made root beer uses artificially flavored syrups to streamline and standardize its soda-making process and keep it safe. Each brand has its own blend of flavorings, so the taste can vary slightly from one root beer to another.

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