Last Updated on July 7, 2022 by Share My Kitchen
Homemade root beer has a vintage charm with its unusual array of roots and bark, flowers, leaves, and berries. Luckily, this old-fashioned recipe for herbal root beer is simple to make in the comfort of your home.
To make this homemade root beer, you will need a starter culture such as ginger bug or Kombucha, aromatic herbs, and a little sugar. Then, within a few days, you will have a naturally fizzy, bubbly brew.
This traditional homemade root beer recipe is infused with sassafras, sarsaparilla, ginger, and other herbs to give it its unique, aromatic flavor. It’s also naturally fermented for lots of probiotics and lots of fizzes.
What is Root Beer?
Root beer is decidedly an American beverage with a sweet and herbal flavor. It has been around since colonial times. Traditionally, to make this drink, you need to ferment a herbal decoction with sassafras bark, sarsaparilla roots, and other herbs with sugar and yeast. This creates a naturally bubbly, probiotic soft drink. It joins other traditional fermented beverages like kvass or Tepache.
In the 20th century, the traditional herbal recipe was no longer in fashion, and soft drink manufacturers started to make it with artificial flavors. They also stopped culturing root beer and instead carbonated it.
Homemade Root Beer: Herbs
Although most homebrewers use artificially-flavored root beer extracts for their root beers, there is a certain charm to brewing root beer the old-fashioned way. Slowly simmer a mixture of roots, bark, spices, and sugar. Then, add in a starter.
You can then bottle the brew and wait for beneficial bacteria and yeasts to work their magic.
The addition of sassafras, sarsaparilla, ginger root and birch creates the distinctive flavor of the brew, but without the additives.
- Root beer gets its unique, slightly minty flavor from sassafras. It’s also traditionally used in folk medicine to purify the blood.
- Sarsaparilla has been used for centuries as a kidney tonic and complexion.
- Ginger provides this root beer recipe with its fiery, rich flavor. Herbalists use ginger to support metabolic and cardiovascular health and for nausea and an upset stomach.
- Licorice is responsible for the subtle anise-like sweetness which pairs perfectly with sassafras. It also supports adrenal health and helps women address hormonal imbalance.
- Dandelion Root gives the brew its subtlest bitter taste. It is also suitable for liver health.
Where to Find Herbs
Fresh ginger can be purchased at most grocery stores. However, medicinal herbs are more difficult to find locally. It is recommended to check Mountain Rose Herbs since they carry a large selection of organic and ethically harvested medicinal and culinary herbs.
The Safrole Controversy
Sassafras is usually the predominant flavor in root beer recipes. It also contains safrole, a naturally occurring polyphenol found in nutmeg, cinnamon, and other herbs.
A 1960 study on laboratory animals found that safrole could cause liver damage. The lab rats were given large amounts of safrole, the human equivalent of consuming 32 12-ounce root beer bottles per day. After the study was published, the FDA ordered commercial soft drink manufacturers to remove sassafras from their brews.
Wintergreen was, therefore, introduced to replace sassafras in commercial root beer recipes.
It is interesting, however, that large amounts of safrole can cause liver cancer in laboratory animals, but small amounts may be beneficial and play a protective role for humans.
So, you will likely be able to tolerate small amounts of safrole when making homemade root beer.
How to Make Root Beer
Homemade root beer can easily be made in three steps. The first step is to create a herbal decoction, which involves simmering the herbs in water until their aromatic compounds and other constituents are released. Next, you will sweeten the brew and add a starter culture to allow it to ferment. Finally, you will bottle root beer and allow it to civilization.
While it ferments, all the microbes in your starter culture will consume the sweetener you added. The root beer will bubble and fizz as a result. It’s also a great source of probiotics.
Tips for Brewing
Making homemade root beer is simple, and it is as easy as making tea or boiling water. However, there are some things you should keep in mind when making this recipe:
- Use cold water. Hot water can cause the proteins in the herbs to seize, which could prevent the full release of aromatic compounds and phytonutrients. At the same time, cold water eases this process.
- The sassafras should be added last. Although most woody herbs take time to release their flavors, sassafras have a deep aroma and dissipate their smell quickly when cooked for a long time. Therefore, add it to the pot at the end of the simmering to get the best taste.
- You can change the sweetener. This root beer recipe calls for simple cane syrup. Maple syrup, coconut sugar, and honey is also used. However, use a caloric sweetener to ensure root beer ferments.
- Only add your starter once the herbal mixture has cooled. The heat from the herbal decoction will kill your starter’s wild bacteria and yeasts. So, make sure to add the culture once the decoction has cooled to room temperature.
- Use flip-top bottles. Flip-top bottles capture all carbon dioxide created during fermentation, resulting in a fizzy brew.
- The temperature in the kitchen is essential. Root beer made at home will ferment more quickly in a warm kitchen than in a cold one.
Root Beer Recipe
|Cook Time||Fermentation||Total Time||Servings|
|45 mins||Two days||2 days 45 mins||8 (2 quartz)|
- 10 cups water
- 3 tablespoons sarsaparilla root
- 1 tablespoon ginger root
- 1 tablespoon licorice root
- 2 teaspoons dandelion root
- 2 teaspoons birch bark
- 1-star anise pods
- ¼ cup sassafras root bark
- ¾ cup unrefined cane sugar
- ½ cup ginger bug (strained)
- flip-top bottles
- In a large stock pot, add 10 cups of water. Next, stir in the sarsaparilla, ginger, licorice, dandelion, birch, and star anise.
- Please bring it to a boil over medium heat. Then, reduce heat to medium-low. Let it simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in the sassafras bark, then continue to simmer for 15 minutes.
- Turn off the heat, and stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Then, let the mixture cool to room temperature for approximately 2 hours.
- Strain the decoction and discard the herbs. Mix in the ginger bug, and pour into flip-top containers. Don’t forget to leave at least 1 to 2-inch headspace in every bottle.
- Ferment the root beer at room temp for 2 days. However, allow more time to ferment in colder weather. Then, place the bottles in the refrigerator for 3 days to let the bubbles set. Serve cold over ice.