Root beer is a non-alcoholic beverage made from some combination of vanilla, cherry tree bark, licorice root, sarsaparilla root, sasafrass root bark, nutmeg, anise, and molasses among other things. Each root beer has a unique recipe. Root beer is about 3% of the U.S. soda market. Many local brands of root beer exist and home-made root beer is made from concentrate or rarely from roots.

Other ingredients may include allspice, birch bark, coriander, juniper, ginger, wintergreen, hops, burdock root, dandelion root, spikenard, pipsissewa, guaiacum, spicewood, yellow dock, honey, clover, cinnamon prickly ash bark, yucca, quillaja and dog grass.

Due to the wide variety of ingredients possible the flavor of root beer is widely variable between brands. This is especially true of local brands.

Root beer was a traditional beverage and herbal medicine. The beverage was often alcoholic, usually around 2%. As a medicine it was used for cough, and mouth sores. Commercially prepared root beer was developed by Charles Elmer Hires on May 16, 1866. He presented root tea powder at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial exhibition. In 1893 he began selling bottled carbonated root beer.

Home-made root beer is made using concentrate to which is added sugar, water and yeast. It is allowed to ferment under pressure to retain the carbonation and limit the alcohol produce by the yeast to very low levels.

Root beer brands include:

Sasafras Root was banned in the U.S. in 1960 by the FDA as it contains safrole, a potential carcinogen. The young shoots, bark and leaves do not contain this toxin, so commercial extracts are often made from these. Also artificial flavoring agents have been developed which are used in some commercial root beers. Other varieties use sassafras root extract from which the safrole has been removed. The sassafras tree grows wild in the most of the Eastern United States and a person could go and harvest the wild plants, however removing safrole from sassafras root extract and verifying that it is safe is a task which is beyond the ability and equipment of most homebrewers.

Root beer is also used as a flavoring for candy, cough drops, popcorn, ice cream floats, cakes and breads.

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