Difference Between Root Beer and Sarsaparilla (With Table)

Root beer and Sarsaparilla are famous beverages that are deeply entrenched in American Culture. They are prepared with vines and roots, are popular soft drinks, and were originally concocted as medicinal drinks or tonics previously.

Root Beer vs Sarsaparilla

The difference between Root beer and Sarsaparilla lies in its taste. While root beer is sweet, sarsaparilla is a bitter drink. Root beer is loaded with flavors. Sarsaparilla is made of barks and root and thus tastes bitter.

Root beer is a beverage prepared by combining various roots and ingredients such as wintergreen, vanilla, and cinnamon. Whereas, Sarsaparilla is inherently a plant with woody and small vines. The beverage ‘sarsaparilla’ is made from this plant.

Root beer is dark brown and can be an alcoholic, non-alcoholic, carbonated, or non-carbonated drink. Whereas, Sarsaparilla is a drink of medicinal value. It is used to cure skin diseases, acts as a blood purifier and an aphrodisiac too.


Comparison Table Between Root Beer and Sarsaparilla (in Tabular Form)

Parameter of ComparisonRoot BeerSarsaparilla
HistoryEstablished by Charles Elmer Hires in 1875 and presented as a commercial drink.Initially used as a medicinal drink by Native Americans.
FlavorRoot beer is a sweet drink that is laden with light and sweet flavorings.Sarsaparilla is a bitter beverage
PurposeRoot beer can come in the form of an alcoholic, non-alcoholic, carbonated, or non-carbonated drink.Initially used as a medicinal drink and later became famous as a beverage.
IngredientsAlong with the sarsaparilla plant, there are a few more flavoring ingredients like- aspartame, cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, anise, and, wintergreen.Typically concocted by crushing roots of the sarsaparilla plant.
Safety and healthInitially, root beer was made by the bark of the sassafras plant which had a cancer-causing oil. Now, this ingredient has been scrapped due to health concerns.Helps cure syphilis, is an anti-inflammatory agent and an antioxidant.


What is Root Beer?

Root beer was developed by Charles Elmer Hires in 1875 as a commercial beverage. It is prepared from the sarsaparilla plant and other ingredients. Charles wanted to originally name the drink “root tea” but then decided to use “root beer” in its place to increase sales amid coal miners in Pennsylvania. In the 1890s, Non-alcoholic substitutes soon became accessible in the market as root beer became popular.

Root beer can come in the form of an alcoholic, non-alcoholic, carbonated, or non-carbonated drink. Sodium benzoate is used by all brands as a preservative. The new-age root beers are typically sweet, carbonated, foamy, contain flavored artificial sassafras, and are non-alcoholic.

There are various other flavors of root beer other than sassafras. Some of them are – burdock, ginger, cinnamon, anise, dandelion, sarsaparilla, wintergreen, juniper vanilla, etc. Molasses, honey, aspartame, maple syrup, corn syrup, and sugar are used to sweeten the drink.

The root-bark extract- ‘safrole’ of sassafras, is prohibited by the FDA for the preparation of root beer in the USA. The extract is said to have cancer-causing oils and is unsafe and unhealthy for consumption. The production of root beer is carried out prominently in America, but different versions of it are also produced in the Philippines and Thailand.

Root beer is prepared by boiling water and molasses syrup. After the syrup is cooked it needs to be cooled down for 3 hours. Then, along with yeast, ingredients like sassafras bark, sassafras root, and wintergreen are added to the syrup.

It is then fermented for 12 hours and then strained and rebottled to carry out the second fermentation until we obtain an alcoholic beverage of 2%. More fermentation leads to an increase in alcohol content. Traditionally root beer brewing must have originated because it was known that mixing fermented, low alcohol content drinks with nutritional and medicinal ingredients will improve health.

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What is Sarsaparilla?

We derive the word “sarsaparilla” from the term “zarzaparilla” which means “brambly vine.” After the Spanish people were introduced to the plant by the Native Americans, they took it to Europe.

It is said that sarsaparilla was used by people way before root beer and due to its bitter taste, its dislike paved the way for the formation of root beer. Nevertheless, sarsaparilla continued to be a popular beverage and still is.

 Different variations of the plant are available in the temperate and tropical parts of the western hemisphere. The vine of the sarsaparilla plant bears small, dark purple, greenish-red berries. The pulp gathered from the root of the plant is mildly bitter. To sweeten the extract, ingredients such as licorice and wintergreen are regularly used.

Sarsaparilla constitutes minerals like iodine, iron, silicon, zinc, manganese, copper, etc. It also has vitamins A, B-complex, C and, D. Sarsaparilla is an antioxidant and has toxic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is useful in treating skin diseases and is also a blood purifier and aphrodisiac.

From the 15th century to the 19th century, the extracts gathered from the American sarsaparilla came in handy for treating syphilis. This initiated it’s export to other countries.

Even though the sarsaparilla plant proved to be very useful against syphilis, its effectiveness was always questioned. Nevertheless, the sarsaparilla has always had only positive effects on people.

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Main Differences Between Root Beer and Sarsaparilla

  1. The main difference between root beer and sarsaparilla arises from the taste of the beverages. While root beer is a sweet drink, sarsaparilla is relatively bitter.
  2. The ingredients used in the formation of root beer are – sarsaparilla plant, aspartame, cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, anise, and, wintergreen. Whereas for the preparation of the sarsaparilla beverage, the only ingredient required is the sarsaparilla plant.
  3. Root beer is available in different forms like- alcoholic, non-alcoholic, carbonated, or non-carbonated. Whereas sarsaparilla was mainly a medicinal drink and later came into use as a beverage too.
  4. Root beer was initially made with the bark of sassafras plant which was banned later on due to its cancer-causing oils. On the other hand, sarsaparilla helps cure syphilis, is an anti-inflammatory agent and an antioxidant.
  5. Root beer was established by Charles Elmer Hires in 1875 and presented as a commercial drink. Sarsaparilla on the other hand was discovered by Native Americans.



Both root beer and sarsaparilla are popular beverages in the west. Root beer is a sweet, foamy, alcoholic/non-alcoholic, and carbonated/non-carbonated drink. Whereas, sarsaparilla is a non-alcoholic, healthy beverage. Both drinks have a common base ingredient- sarsaparilla plant.

However, root beer has additional flavoring ingredients that distinguish it from sarsaparilla. Root beer is not known to have medicinal values but was rather under the scanner for using an ingredient that caused cancer. Sarsaparilla, on the other hand, helps cure syphilis and other diseases.


  1. https://online.ucpress.edu/abt/article-pdf/57/7/432/47358/4450033.pdf
  2. https://thesunlightexperiment.com/blog/2017/5/21/what-is-sarsaparilla-root

Last update on 2021-09-07 / Amazon Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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