by Steve Mercer,

Copyright 1994 by Steve Mercer

Condensed information about root beer from the Home Brewers Digest 1991-1994, with a few summaries and comments added by Steve Mercer.

(This document contains mostly unattributed excerpts from articles in the Home Brewers Digest. I have shamelessly cut them apart and edited them to suit my own purposes. If you want to know who originally wrote them, search the 1991-1994 HBD for the keyword "root").

Disclaimer: The majority of the information in this document was gathered from articles from people like you. I cannot vouch for, or be held accountable for, the accuracy of this information. Use this information (or misinformation as the case may be) at your own risk. The opinions expressed herein are probably the opinions of the original authors, not mine, and are certainly not those of my employer. Any prices listed in this document are several years out of date and are not likely to be accurate. All standard disclaimers apply. Etc.

Permission is hereby granted to freely copy and distribute this file, as long as you include the ENTIRE file with all the dislaimers and stuff written above, and as long as NO PROFIT is made from the distribution of this file.

If somebody wants to take this document and turn it into a "real" FAQ, please feel free to do so, but please give me credit for gathering the information. The recipes are at the end.

--Steve Mercer

Root Beer is a sweet carbonated beverage flavored with sassafras.

Sassafras contains the chemical known as safrole which is has been shown to be a carcinogen in laboratory animals and has been banned by the US Food and Drug Administration. Some commercial varieties of root beer use artificial flavoring agents, other varieties use sassafras extract from which the safrole has been removed. Removing safrole from sassafras extract and verifying that it is safe is a task which is beyond the ability and equipment of most homebrewers. Many home brewers use commercially produced root beer extracts for flavoring their root beer, because these extracts do not contain safrole. Homebrewed root beer is usually sweetened with table sugar (sucrose), and is usually carbonated by adding yeast. Yeast-carbonated root beer contains a small amount of alcohol. Bottles of yeast-carbonated root beer may explode if allowed to ferment too long.

The general process of making sweetend carbonated beverages at home involves three basic steps: Flavoring, sweetening, and carbonating. The home brewer has a number of choices for each step.

The rest of this document is divided up as follows:

Flavoring: Extracts, Sassafras root, Other flavoring ingredients.
Sweetening: Sugars used in root beer.
Bottling and carbonating: Artificial and natural carbonation.
Safrole: Information about the toxic chemical in sassafras.
Recipes: 5 different recipes for root beer from raw ingredients.


Root beer extracts, usually in an amount suitable for five gallons of beverage, are available from Hires, Schilling, and other herb and spice purveyors. These yield a drink that's very close in flavor to commercial root beers.

Many grocery stores sell a root beer extract in the baking aisle, next to the artificial flavorings & spices. The box or bottle contains instructions.

The first recommendation is to use the bottled extract (Schilling, or McCormick, or Hires (I don't think Hires sells their extract anymore)).

I tried a few brands. "Party Time" a store brand was terrible. McCormick tastes like store bought rootbeer.

Some homebrew supply shops have rootbeer extract.

Rainbow Flavors, PO Box 22, Osage Beach MO 65065 sells extracts by the bottle($3.95), 6 for $15, or case $25. One bottle makes 4 gallons. Flavors include root beer, birch root beer, sarsaparilla, passion fruit, spruce beer, strawbeery, ginger beer, ginger ale, cherry, cream, cola, eggnog, orange, raspberry.

I've seen sassafrass extract (for making tea) which has the nasty ingredient removed ($2/10oz).

I brewed a batch of root beer from concentrate--Hires, using double the extract--and it came out marvelously.

Pappy's Sassafras Concentrate Instant Tea 12 oz. 355 ml Contents: filtered water, extractives of sassafras (safrole free), and natural flavors, caramel coloring, potassium sorbate as a preservative. Very low sodium. No caffeine. Made by: H & K Products, Inc. Columbus Grove, OH 45830 "Refreshing As Spring ... All Year `round". This is sold in a glass bottle and is meant to be added to hot or cold water and made into a tea ... add as much as you like, and sugar, YUM! Actually, I have had it cold, and it tastes like weak root beer - a hint of the wild cherry mintiness comes through. Btw, I don't know where you DO get this. I got mine at the NHD store in Middletown, RI, in their close-out bargain basement for a buck. Call the company, maybe...

I've made several batches of "root beer" from root beer concentrates, which contain the same sort of artificial colors and flavors as commercial root beers.

I've seen the extracts in the stores which contain all sorts of additives including food coloring. I'd much prefer to make something from scratch if I could find some recipes.

I can buy extracts at my local homebrew store, but the extracts have a lot of crap in them and after being offerred a taste-test, I definitely would prefer not to resort to using them.


The original true flavor of root beer comes from sassafras root. Because sassafras root contains safrole, it cannot be sold in the US for human consumption. Sassafras bark may be sold but is not very good at providing flavor to the beverage. Sassafras grows wild in much of the Eastern US.

Making your own infusions allows for experimentation and a distinctive `house' brew.

Root beer is flavored with a distillate of the young shoots or root bark of Sassofras_variifolium, a member of the laurel family. Sassafras has also been used to make tea for medicinal and enjoyment, and to make a yellow dye. In addition, an oil from sassafras fruit has been used in perfumery.

The trouble with sassafras is that it contains safrole, a carcinogen (see the NTP 85-002, 1985).

I used about one oz. of sassafras bark, since I could not find any sassafras root around where I live. I added half the bark to the boil. Unsatisfied with this, I then made a tea with the other 1/ 2 oz and warm water, and added this to my primary. Unfortunately, I'm not very happy with the results. The resultant beer tastes mainly like tree bark! It smells more or less like what I had hoped it would, but the taste is bitter and strange enough to make drinking this more work than pleasure.

When you put tree bark or roots in your boil, you will get tannins in your wort, producing unpleasant flavors. The thing to do is to crunch the stuff up and put it in a nylon or cheesecloth bag the way you would your specialty grains, and steep the stuff in the wort as it is heated to boiling, removing it when the liquid begins to boil.

The bark is everywhere, but the root is not to be found. One guy even tried to sell me finely chopped bark, and claimed that it was root.

I ended up trying the bark. It smells great, but is unable to impart much taste to the tea. The result is a nice soft drink, but not what one expects from root beer. You might try to substitute, say, 8 or 10 ounces of bark for 2 ounces of root in 4 gallons.

One of our local grocery stores has fresh sliced sassafras root, but I'm unsure of how potent an additive it would be. It comes in a 2oz bag and smells very nice (plus it's a dirt cheap $0.49).

Currently you can get sassafras extract (with the safrole removed) and a powder called file (pronounced fee lay) which is often used in cajun/creole cooking. File is made from the leaves of the sassafras plant which contain no safrole.

I have never seen the essential ingrediant, sassafras root, for sale anywhere in this country (USA). The Bread of Life, a Bay Area health food store I frequent, has sassafras bark, but no sassafras root.

When I was a kid in West Virginia (40+ years ago) I pulled up sassafras saplings and peeled off the skin of the roots for my Grandma, who made sassafras tea with it. Great aroma!

(I remember shaving off pieces of bark to chew upon as a child in Trumbull, CT.)

Here in Pennsylvania the best place to get sassafras root is in the woods. The trees are not extremely hard to find. The leaves look something like this: (excuse crude ascii drawing)

                   O    O
                  O      O
        OOOO      O      O      OOOO
       O    O     O      O     O    O
       O     O   O        O   O     O
        O     O  O        O  O     O
         O     OO          OO     O
          O                      O
           O                    O
             O                O
               O            O
                  O      O

All of the edges are smooth, and not all of the leaves will be properly formed. You should be able to find some trees that are small enough to dig up or pull out of the ground. I would suggest doing this on private land (yours or a friends) as it's probably not legal to dig up trees in a park.

You might also consider harvesting wild sassafras for the roots. I don't know about California, but in New York it can be located rather easily along any major highway.

Sassafras can be found growing wild in the woods in N. Ala. I have pulled roots on several occasions. I don't know how many roots you would have to boil to get enough flavoring for a batch of root beer. Perhaps an old cookbook could tell you, maybe under sassperilla(?). Look in the Audubon Guide to North American Trees p.451 for a description. The range is "extreme S. Ontario east to SW Maine, south to central Fl, west to E. Texas, and north to central Michigan; up to 500 in the Southen Appalachians." In other word almost the entire E. U.S.

Where I live, sasasfras root can be obtained quite easily -- you go to the woods and pull up some sassafras seedlings.

You can recognize sassafras because it's the only common kind of tree that has three different shaped leaves -- some are like a mitten with a left thumb, some are like a mitten with a right thumb, and some are like a mitten for an alien with two thumbs.

There has been some discussion of Root Beer in the digest; it seems that Sassafras Rootbark was important in flavoring old-time root beer. Well, I was looking at a spice catalog that I just received and there it is:
NEW: Sassafras Rootbark. Bark from the American tree Sassafras albidum. Although Indians and early settlers used this as soothing, aromatic tea, FDA recommends EXTERNAL USE ONLY. Soothing remedy for minor skin irritations. 1 lb costs $12.09, #00436 For more info, contact Pendery's at 800-533-1870 or 214-761-1966 (fax). They are at 1221 Manufacturing, Dallas, TX 75207. Note that this product contains a carcinogen (according to ear- lier posts). USE AT YOUR OWN RISK!!!

About sassafras... My 1930 Merck's Index, 4th ed., says that sassafras is supplied as either the root or bark of the root. If the current sassafras bark is from the trunk, then it's not the stuff in the old recipes. Oil of sassafras smells very much like root beer, but not as strongly as modern root beer extract. My hunch is that the taste and aroma that you want are volatile oils and not the safarol. I wouldn't choose to drink safarol, but others might...


In addition to sugar and Sassafras, Root Beer can also contain several other flavoring ingredients. Below is a list of common flavoring ingredients compiled from a number of different recipes.

For fifteen years my wife and I have been buying spices and dried herbs, both in person and through mail order, from Rafal Spice Company, 2521 Russell, Detroit, Mich, 48207. (313) 259-6373. I checked their current mail order catalog, and they carry many of the root beer ingredients mentioned in a recent post. They carry a wide variety of spices, coffees, and teas. Some of the spices have been decreed by the FDA to be not for human consumption, or for consumption in alcoholic beverages only (e.g. galangal root.) This is noted in the catalog. The store is worth visiting. It is located in Detroit's Eastern Market district, around the corner from the (demolished) Stroh's Brewery, which is across the street from the (long-closed) Goebel Brewery. Local farmers (some from Ontario) drive to the roofed- over market in season and sell their produce (including chickens, eggs and rabbits, as well as fruits, vegetables, etc.) Non-local produce can also be bought at very good prices on market days. Nearby stores have sausage, cheese, and fresh meat at very good prices, as well as nuts, wines, and "gourmet" specialities.

Available?      Ingredient from root beer posting
yes             burdock root
yes             sarsaparilla root
no              spikenard root
yes             yellow dock root
yes,root bark*  sassafras root
yes             ginger root
yes             juniper berries
yes, raw        dandelion root
yes, root bark* sassafras bark
no, have herb   wintergreen bark
yes             allspice
yes             coriander seed
yes             wild cherry bark
no              spicewood
no              guaiacum
yes             birch bark
no              prickly ash bark
*Not for human consumption per the FDA.

They also have woodruff herb (to be consumed only in alcoholic 
beverages), and wormwood herb(not for human consumption)

no              sassafras
yes             anise
yes             lemon
yes,(real?)*    wintergreen (artificial)
*not food grade


There are many ingredients that can be used to sweeten the root beer. Some of these can be fermented by yeast to provide carbonation. Some of these provide flavor as well as sweetness.
table sugar (sucrose) -
cheap, sweet, and fermentable. made from sugar cane or from sugar beets.
Molasses -
also adds flavor. some varieties contain vanilla, other flavors, and preservatives.
Corn Sugar (dextrose, glucose) -
homebrewers often have this on hand, produces fewer off flavors than table sugar when fermented.
Fructose -
sweeter than other sugars, but more expensive. Using less sugar for same sweetness results in fewer calories.
Sweet-n-low -
low calorie sugar substitute.
Asparatame (Nutrasweet, Equal) -
low calorie sugar substitute. Some people have a genetic disorder which makes aspartame dangerous to consume.

I've used corn sugar and Equal(tm) [asparatame] to make diet root beer for a friend's father who is diabetic. We used four cups (about a pound +/-) of corn sugar and a huge number of packets of Equal following the substitution directions. It worked fine and was rated as better than store-bought.

Lactose -
non-fermentable by yeast, not very sweet. More expensive. Used by winemakers to sweeten dry wines. May be fermented/ eaten by some bacteria. Some people suffer from lactose intolerance.
Brown Sugar -
in the US, a mixture of refined white table sugar and molasses.
turbinado -
raw cane sugar. Not all of the natural molasses has been refined out of it.
Malt extract (maltose) -
fermentable sugar from malted grains. Also adds flavor. Some homebrewers make rootbeer flavored beer.

"I have made a `root beer ale' by using a can of malt extract (light) along with the root beer extract, and then fully fermenting it out. It tasted like a dry root beer (not at all sweet, of course), but had a kick to it."

I've thought about trying a little root beer extract in something like a stout.


Homebrewers with kegging and force carbonating equipment can keg and artificially carbonate their root beer. Care must be taken so that no yeast or bacteria are introduced into the root beer which could then begin fermenting. Winemakers use potassium sorbate to prevent re-fermentation in sweet wines, this might work with root beer as well. Beer has enough alcohol and hops to help discourage contamination, while root beer does not. Root beer should be refrigerated to help reduce spoilage.

Root beer can impart its flavor to kegs, carboys and other equip- ment. This flavor can later affect other beverages made with the same equipment.

" left the taste of root beer in my plastic primary, which didn't go away until I had used it 5 or 6 times."

Commercially produced root beer is artificially carbonated, has likely been pasteurized, and may contain preservatives and stabilizers.

Q: Is the only purpose of yeast and fermentation to carbonate the root beer?
A: Yes. It's just a question of economics. A pinch of yeast and a cup of sugar amounts to pennies. A carbonation system requires a major capital investment.

Q: Since I have a keg system, couldn't I just mix up the apropriate amounts of sugar/syrup/water/?? and carbonate it artificially?
A: Yes. Most keggers use systems originally designed for making soda pop. I have only a soda syphon, which requires one CO2 cartridge per bottle of root beer. I can buy commercially made root beer for the cost of the cartridge. That's why I use yeast to carbonate.

I've also made root beer and force carbonated it in a 5-gal soda keg.

There is a gadget that is available at many homebrew shops called "The Carbonator." It retails for just under ten bucks. It is basically a quick disconnect fitting, the same size as is found on Cornelius kegs, that screws onto the top of a two liter P.E.T. bottle. The soda is force carbonated in the PET bottle. I've used my Carbonator for two batches of root beer and it's worked well. The only drawback is that it is only possible to do one bottle at a time. I'm considering turning to yeast so I can have a larger supply of soda on hand.


Traditional root beer was naturally carbonated by the actions of yeast. In general, the yeast was added and the mixture was allowed to ferment for a day or two. The root beer was then bottled and was consumed within a couple of weeks, before the bottles could explode. Modern homebrewers use the same general process except the bottled root beer is placed in the refrigerator after waiting a week for the root beer to become carbonated (or sometimes without waiting a week first). Yeast carbonated root beer will contain some alcohol. The cold helps reduce the activity of the yeast and helps reduce the probability of exploding bottles. It should still be consumed fairly quickly.

Plastc soda bottles are less dangerous than glass bottles. They can be squeezed to determine the internal pressure. The pieces of an exploded plastic bottle do less damage than the pieces of an exploded glass bottle.

I used 2 liter soda bottles (just bleach or B-brite and rinse). All instructions I found said not to use plastic soda bottles, but if you put them in a cool place (less than 60 degrees) and leave an inch or two air space when bottling, they should not burst. I do not reuse them more than a few times because the plastic does expand.

Adding yeast is essentially a binary process. Either the yeast grows or it doesn't. And it doesn't stop until it runs out of sugar. The recipe calls for over NINE cups of sugar. Just think what your beer would turn out like if you primed it with that much sugar.

I added dry yeast to get carbornation after bottling. Will this produce an alcoholic root beer? My kids will be bummed if Dad is the only one who gets to drink it.

In response to the question about using champagne yeast in root beer kits, I would advise against it. Having made many batches of that rootbeer as a kid, the only batch I remember which ever evolved into handgrenades was the only batch I ever made with champagne yeast.

I understand the the soda made from the extracts results in a drink with about .25% alcohol. Is the reason why this is so low compared to beer is because you bottle it immediately and the yeast stops working before it has time to convert much of the sugar?

As I was bottling it, I started to wonder, what stops the yeasti- beasties from eating all that unfermented sugar, and blowing bot- tles all over my kitchen. I thought that the yeast stoped working when either the sugar was gone or the alcohol reached some high amount (~14%?). I just gotta believe that my brew supply store wouldn't sell me a home bomb making kit.

What stops the yeasti-beasties from eating all that unfermented sugar, and blowing bottles all over my kitchen? NOTHING!!! This is very important. I have exploded more than one batch of rootbeer in my time. I have, however devised a fairly safe way to make soda pop (using yeast to carbonate it). First, use only plastic bottles (and only new ones to boot). Plastic bottles will make a mess when they explode, but won't usually kill people. Secondly use a yeast that is fairly temperature dependent (an ale yeast is good -- bread yeast, lager yeast, champagne or wine yeast are all out). After you bottle, squeeze the bottles periodically until they are hard. Put them in the freezer. When they get cold enough (almost frozen), take them out and decant the liquid off of the yeast. rebottle and store the bottles in the fridge. I have found that this method gets rid of most of the yeasty taste and will give you much more control over the carbon- ation level. It's well worth the extra work.

Yeast need not only sugar but also nutrients in order to proceed with their fermentation duties. Since cane sugar has hardly any nutrients, the yeast quit working even though there is plenty of sugar left to munch on. Thus a sweet soda pop that is naturally carbonated

The yeast in root beer will have a harder time growing than the yeast in regular beer, due to the lack of yeast nutrients. How- ever, root beer still has copious bomb-making potential. I made one batch of ginger beer in Pepsi bottles and came home one day to find a sticky slush of ginger beer and glass, and splinters of glass embedded in the wall at eye height.

After your root beer has gone the minimum amount of time needed to carbonate it, put it in the fridge. I've found that at Florida temperatures, 12 hours is sufficient to carbonate. Drink it within a week or so.

The recipe I came up with (and works well for me) is: Use one cup of sugar at bottling time (5+ gallon batch). Before serving, put 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar per 750 ml of liquid (depending on your sweet tooth) in a clean bottle, pour in one bottle of root beer, shake. Adding the sugar directly to the root beer doesn't work well because it foams all over the place.

There's been some traffic lately regarding root beers and explod- ing bottles. I don't brew the stuff myself, but I wonder if those who do have tried using lactose or some other non-fermentable sugar to get the sweetness and only include enough fermentables to get carbonation.

As we have seen in the last several posts the general consensus seems to be that making soda pop is an exercise is demolitions manufacture.

The commonly offered explanation for why bottles of soda pop do not overcarbonate and explode is that the yeast is limited by available nutrients. I think this statement is true but that it is only part of the answer. In my procedure I heat the water up to a high temperature driving off any dissolved oxygen in the process. This limits the aerobic phase (and therefore the reproductive stage) of the yeast. This limits the effective population of yeast. With a limited population of yeast you are less likely to overcarbonate. In this scenario, the pitching rate becomes a fac- tor. If you pitch a large initial population of yeast, you will get overcarbonation. In fact, the only time I've had bottles explode (and they blew up in the vegetable crisper of my refrigerator by the way) was when I exceeded the recommended pitching rate of 1/4 tsp.

I make carbonated water as a first step in my soda pop recipe, with white sugar and bread yeast. It tastes almost as bad as it sounds. However once I add rootbeer or cola flavouring, it masks any off flavours, so I haven't tried manipulating ingredients to get rid of them.

The last time I made root beer, I bottled it in old plastic soda bottles (2 l. PET). I bottled immediately after pitching the yeast and put the bottles in the fridge after a week or so. Anyhow, we don't drink root beer that quickly and it did get to be pretty dry, openning a bottle would send a geyser of foam all over the sink but no bottles burst! I have had problems with glass bottles bursting when making root beer.


I looked in The Complete Book of Herbs & Spices and there it was, lumped in with a bunch of other hazardous plants. Sassafras root and bark contain the chemical safrole which gives the plant its distinctive flavor. Unfortunately, it's also a pre-carcinogen. When consumed, it's converted to a carcinogen which effects the liver of animals. There is no proof of it's detrimental effect in humans, but to be on the safe side the FDA banned its use as a food additive. It was the original flavoring in root beer and a certain brand of chewing gum called chicle.

I recalled this with both nostalgia and alarm a few years ago when I read an article (probably in Science News) that reported that sassafras root contains a known carcinogen. I would not use sassafras as a flavoring agent. In complete honesty, I should also note that my Grandma lived to the age of 89, and did not die of cancer, not that that means any- thing. [Grandma often drank tea made from sassafras root bark]

Beware that "naturally" flavored root beer from home recipes may contain carcinogens. This is why the commercially available root beers are generally artificially flavored.

The trouble with sassafras is that it contains _safrole_, a car- cinogen (see the NTP 85-002, 1985). Safrole (aka 5-(2-Propenyl)1,3-benzodioxole, aka allylcatechol methylene ether, aka 4-allyl-1,2-methylenedioxybenzene, aka allyldioxybenzene methylene ether, aka m-allylpyrocatechin methylene ether) is about 75% of oil of sassafras. It has been used as a topical antiseptic and a pediculicide (lice treatment). Its oral toxicity in rats is 50% lethality at a dose of 1.95 g per kg.

(Cynic mode on) Let's see ... I weigh approximately 240 lbs. That's ~108.86 kg. So at 1.95 g per kg I can ingest 212.277 grams or 7.48 oz. At 75% safrole I would need 9.97 oz of sassafras. Rootbeer extracts that I have seen come in 2 oz bottles which makes 5 gallons of root- beer. Assuming the extract is pure sassafras I would need to drink 24.925 gallons of rootbeer [every day] to reach the oral toxicity. While there is a 50-50 chance that I will develop cancer there is a 90% plus chance that I will create a very large brown flume orally. Which means I am now below the 50% lethality rate. (Cynic mode off) All I am trying to say is when something has been proven dangerous to labrats, quite often the dosage is something normal humans may never approach in their life times.

Natural root beer flavor comes from sassafras. Sassafras oil contains relatively large amounts of safrole, which is a liver carcinogen for rats and mice. It has been prohibited as a flavoring agent in the U.S. since 1960.

Sassafras root, oil, etc. is a federally controlled substance because of the presence of safarol and iso-safarol [sp? they may end with an `e']. As I recall, it was placed on the federal list in 1977-8. It is toxic to the liver as well as carcinogenic.

I have noticed some discussion on sassafras used to make real root beer. I originally came from Illinois, where my wife's family enjoyed finding and making tea out of sassafras root. When we visited the covered bridge festival in Indiana last year, we were told that it is illegal to sell sassafras root in the US because it is very carcinogenic. Compared to sassafras, tobacco is a low risk substance. I do not know if this is factual, since I did not hear about it from an expert, but it may explain the difficulty in obtaining sassafras in commercial stores.

Root beer producers either use synthetic substitutes or process the root to remove the carcinogen. Under NO circimstances should it be used unprocessed. There are thousands of carcinogens that the FDA just winks at because of political pressure. When one makes their black list, it is not to be triffled with. Dieing of cancer is not MY idea of fun.

I came across a very interesting paper on natural vs. synthetic carcinogens in the diet (L. S. Gold,, Science, vol. 258, pg 261, 9 Oct 92, "Rodent Carcinogens: Setting Priorities"). Since many of us long for the taste of REAL root beer, I thought it would be interesting to compare the banned chemical safrole (the primary carcinogen in sassafras) with other known carcinogens. The paper ranked 80 natural and man-made chemicals shown to cause cancer in laboratory rats.

First some definitions:

4.7             Wine (250ml)                    Ethanol (30 ml) 
2.8             Beer  (12 oz; 354 ml)           Ethanol (18 ml) 
1.4             Mobile Home Air (14 hrs/day)    Formaldehyde (2.2 mg) 
0.4             Regular Home Air (14 hrs/day)   Formaldehyde (598 ug) 
0.3             Lettuce, 1/8 head (125 g)       Caffeic acid (66.3 mg) 
0.2             Real Root Beer (12 oz; 354 ml)  Safrole (6.6 mg) 
0.1             Apple, 1 whole (230 g)          Caffeic acid (24.4 mg) 
0.1             Mushroom, 1 (15 g)              various hydrazines 
0.1             Basil (1 g of dried leaf)       Estragole (3.8 mg) 
0.07            Pear, 1 whole ( 200 g)          Caffeic acid (14.6 mg) 
0.07            Brown Mustard (5 g)             Allyl isothiocyanate (4.6 mg) 
0.06            Diet Cola (12 oz; 354 ml)       Saccharin (95 mg) 
0.04            Coffee, 1 cup (from 4 g )       Caffeic acid (7.2 mg) 
0.03            Celery, 1 stalk (50 g)          Caffeic acid (5.4 mg) 
0.03            Carrot, 1 whole (100 g)         Caffeic acid (5.16 mg) 
0.006           Bacon, cooked (100 g)           Diethylnitrosamine (0.1 ug) 
0.002           White bread, 2 slices (45 g)    Furfural (333 ug) 
0.002           DDT, daily avg before ban       DDT (13.8 ug) (before 1972) 
0.001           Tap Water, US avg (1 liter)     Chloroform (83 ug) 
0.00003         Approximate HEPR of upper-bound risk estimate used
                by US regulatory agencies to control exposure to
                man-made chemicals. 
0.000000006     Captan (synthetic pesticide),   Captan (11.5 ng)                 
                US daily avg residue intake
g = gram, m = milli-, u = micro-, n = nano-, l = liter

Please note that HEPR is NOT a direct estimate of the risk of a human getting cancer, but rather is an index of relative carcino- genicity. Thus, all it seems you can say is that drinking one bot- tle of real root beer entails about the same risk of cancer as eating two fresh, unsprayed, organically-grown apples. Again, this is not my field, so I suggest anyone with an uncon- trollable urge to flame first read the whole paper and then refer their professional comments to the authors.

Due to the non-linear and sometime non-monotonic effects I think all you can say is: if we have similar metabolisms as rats then drinking 500 root beers a day entails the same risk as eating 1000 apples a day. Non monotonic effects occur in fruits and vegeta- bles, which actually reduce your risk of cancer (when taken in moderation) due to the presence of anticarcinogenic antioxidants and vitimins.

One of the conclusions of this paper is:
"Our results indicate that many ordinary foods would not pass the regulatory criteria used for synthetic chemicals." They also point out that items which are high on the list may not actually be a risk for human cancer even though they are thousands of times the HERP equivalent to the one-in-a-million worst-case risk used by the EPA.

According to the HERP table if you drink 36 bottles of beer a day and have a rat's metabolism you have a better than even chance of developing cancer at some time in your life. However, as long as we drink in moderation we can follow our first commandment of "Relax, Have a Homebrew" without worry of cancer. (Of course if you drink 36 bottles of beer a day you probably won't worry too much either!)

As far as root beer goes, I personally wouldn't worry about having one made with real sassafras, but I am unaware of both any benifi- cial effects from moderate studies, nor of other studies that (I should hope) have been done on other aspects of safrole toxicology which put it on the EPA hit list in the first place.


These 3 recipes come from: The Scientific American Cyclopedia of Formulas, edited by Albert A. Hopkins (query editor of the "Scientific American") New York, Scientific American Publishing Company, 1921.

Root Beer--1.--To 5 gal. of boiling water add 1 1/2 gal. of molasses. Allow it to stand for 3 hours, then add bruised sassafras bark, wintergreen bark, sarsaparilla root, of each 1/4 lb., and 1/ 2 pt. of fresh yeast, water enough to make 15 to 17 gal. After this has fermented for 12 hours it can be drawn off and bottled.

2.--Pour boiling water on 2 1/2 oz. sassafras, 1 1/2 oz. wild cherry bark, 2 1/2 oz. allspice, 2 1/2 oz. wintergreen bark, 1/2 oz. hops, 1/2 oz. coriander seed, 2 gal. molasses. Let the mix- ture stand 1 day. Strain, add 1 pt. yeast, enough water to make 13 gal. This beer may be bottled the following day.

3.--Sarsaparilla, 1 lb.; spicewood, 1/4 lb.; guaiacum chips, 1/2 lb; birch bark, 1/8 lb.; ginger, 1/4 oz.; sassafras, 2 oz.; prickly ash bark, 1/4 oz.; hops, 1/2 oz. Boil for 12 hours over a moderate fire with sufficient water, so that the remainder shall measure 3 gal., to which add tincture of ginger, 4 oz.; oil of wintergreen, 1/2 oz.; alcohol, 1 pt. This prevents fermentation. To make root beer, take of this decoction, 1 qt.; molasses, 8 oz., water, 2 1/2 gal.; yeast, 4 oz. This will soon ferment and produce a good, drinkable beverage. The root beer should be mixed, in warm weather, the evening before it is used, and can be kept for use either bottled or drawn by a common beer pump. Most people prefer a small addition of wild cherry bitters or hot drops to the above beer.


(This recipe can be found in the Cat's Meow recipe book.)

"Use strong bottles with patent stoppers or tie corks in securely. Use a stone crock or granite vessell in which to let drinks stand while `working.' Fresh roots from the woods are always preferable to dried herbs. Select a cool place in which to store the drinks; the longer they stand in a warm place after bottling, the more effervescent they will become! When filling bottles, fill to within an inch of the top.

1 cake compressed yeast
5 pounds sugar
2 ounces Sassafras root
2 ounces Juniper Berries
1 ounce Hops or Ginger Root
1 ounce Dandelion root
2 ounces Wintergreen
4 gallons water

Wash roots well in cold water. Add juniper berries (crushed) and hops. Pour 8 quarts boiling water over root mixture and boil slowly 20 minutes. Strain through flannel bag. Add sugar and remaining 8 quarts water. Allow to stand until lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in a little cool water. Add to root liquid. Stir will. Let settle then strain again and bottle. Cork tightly. Keep in a warm room 5 to 6 hours, then store in a cool place. Put on ice as required for use." The Fleishman Company, Excellent Recipes for Baking Raised Bread, 1912


5 qt water
1/4 oz hops
1/2 oz burdock root, dried
1/2 oz yellow dock root, dried
1/2 oz sarsaparilla root, dried
1/2 oz sassafras root, dried
1/2 oz spikenard root, dried*
1 1/2 cup sugar 1/8 tsp yeast, granulated

PROCEDURE: Simmer herbs in water for 30 minutes. Add sugar, stir to dissolve, and strain into a crock. Cool to lukewarm, add yeast, and stir well. Cover crock and leave to ferment for about an hour. Bottle and store in a cool place. Makes about one gallon.

*The American spikenard, Aralia racemosa, of the ginseng family, Araliaceae, is a plant native to the eastern United States. A decoction of the root was used by Indians for backache, rheumatoid arthritis, and coughing.

I have made root beer from real stuff, approximating from a 100- year old recipe. The recipe included sassafras bark, wild cherry bark, yellow dock, wintergreen bark, molasses, and a few things I can't remember. The only ingredient that I had any trouble finding was the wintergreen bark, and oil of wintergreen from the druggist added after cooling proved a satisfactory substitute. The result was tasty, highly complex, and not a lot like what we are accustomed to thinking root beer should taste like. To make something like modern root beer, it would probably work best to use wintergreen and little else.

June 1995