What’s The Difference Between Root Beer, Sarsaparilla, and Birch Beer?

Root Beer
Root beer is a carbonated soft drink which was originally made using the root of the sassafras plant.  Safrole, the oily liquid extracted from the root-bark of sassafras plants has been banned by the FDA as a likely carcinogen and is no longer used in U.S. based root beer.  In addition to sassafras, other root beer flavorings include vanilla, wintergreen, licorice root, sarsaparilla root, nutmeg, acacia, anise, molasses, cinnamon, clove, and honey.   
 
Sarsaparilla
Sarsaparilla is a carbonated soft drink originally made from the native Central American plant smilax ornata.  In Spanish the plant is known as zarzaparrilla.  Associated with the Old West, sarsaparilla was popular in the United States in the 19th century.  Sarsaparilla is now generally made with artificial flavors and is considered a type of root beer. 
 
Birch Beer
Birch beer is a carbonated soft drink made from herbal extracts of birch bark and birch sap.  Birch beer comes in a variety of colors based on the species of birch tree.  Colors include brown, red, blue, and clear (white).  Birch beer is most common in the Northeastern United States.  I had never tasted birch beer until I began my quest in search of the best root soda.  I am very glad I discovered birch beer.

13 thoughts on “What’s The Difference Between Root Beer, Sarsaparilla, and Birch Beer?

  1. I’m From Pennsylvania and Birch Beer is a Pennsylvania Dutch delicacy. One of the best things about living in my general area is that there many smaller bottlers throughout PA that make their own version of Birch Beer. Each drink varying slightly in taste and color.

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  2. Thank you for the in-depth information! ☺ Now I just need to find where to buy them. 🍻 I’ve had sarsaparilla beer in a little place I used to go with my father, in Northern California, when we went camping every spring. Loved it!! Can’t wait to try the others!

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  3. I grew up in Miami and we had a hamburger chain called “Royal Castle “, they had slider sized burgers and birch beer! It came in 1 gal jugs and were reusable and you leave a deposit towards the next refill! We had 4 jugs all the time!

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  4. I’d make it a point to check out and go to Simpson springs in South Easton Ma so much history and the original og of soada, bottling and oldest used underground spring. They have great soadas and market with an awesome tour that puts you back to the start of it all and all they’ve done and started

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  5. My friends mom used to make root beer and it would be stored in the cold room for a long time before we could drink it. The taste I have never found again.Barqs comes close but I’m not sure where I can find “the good stuff” !

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