Soft drinks have a significant part in American life. Root Beer is particularly notable among them, loved by people of all generations. The root beer is a carbonated sweet beverage very similar to birch beer. It is more popular in the North American continent. The drink is traditionally made from the root or bark of the sassafras tree (Sassafras albidium) or the vine smilax ornata (sarsaparilla). As with any other food, it also has various forms, in accordance with local recipes. In addition to sassafras roots, some of the most common ingredients of root beer are vanilla, wintergreen, ginger, coriander, molasses, cane sugar, licorice root and black cherry.
The modern root beer is characterized by sweetness and foamy nature, and is normally devoid of alcoholic content. The amount of caffeine varies, sometimes entirely lacking.
The precursors of root beer are believed to have appeared in the 16th or 17th century. But even before that the Native Americans had been using beverages made from sassafras roots for culinary and medicinal purposes. With the arrival of Europeans, their small beer tradition in which fermented beverages were used for medicinal purposes had an influence in American culture as well. These drinks were made from various herbs and roots of trees and had low alcoholic content. They included birch beer, sarsaparilla beer and ginger beer.
The credit of marketing root beer commercially for the first time goes to pharmacist Charles Elmer Hires from Philadelphia. There are different versions of the tale about how he invented the recipe for his drink in the 1870s. His version of root beer was first introduced to public at the Philadelphia centennial Exposition in 1876. He named his drink ‘Hires Root Tea’ and called it the ‘great health drink’. He later changed the name to root beer to market in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. Hires began to bottle the drink in 1886 and made a good business. By 1890s, root beer was very popular in America. In 1898, Barqs, one of the competitors of Hires, came up with a version of the beverage made from sarsaparilla which became very popular as well.
Now numerous versions of root beer are sold in America. While sassafras root is used in traditional root beers, commercial products use artificial flavors mainly because the oil of sassafras is carcinogenic. A&W Root Beer, founded by Roy Allen in 1919, is the bestselling brand of the beverage today.
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