Sarsaparilla: A Question of Taste

In reference to
Today’s article
on the sarsaparilla soft drink, Cecil commented that the drink is still popular around Pittsburgh (yes, I know it was from 1977, thus possibly now erroneous)
but i have lived in the area around Pittsburgh off and on since 1975, and have never heard of anyone offering the drink.

OTOH, Cecil says that the flavors in sarsaparilla are a mixture of birch oil and sassafras bark. It then struck me… Wouldn’t he be referring to ‘Birch Beer’?
That certainly is popular all over Pennsylvania, and is marketed by many small distributers. (When I lived in Ohio and in Kansas, you simply could not find Birch Beer, as well as other things such as pierogies and scrapple)

Anyone know of any evidence of the sarsaparilla/birch beer connection?

pufnstuff, according to this site, it’s not the same as birch beer.

I have a question, too, though. Is “sassparilla” the same as “sarsaparilla”? The site above lists both, and I’ve always heard it pronounced like the former. What’s up with that?


I live in Central Ohio and I’ve checked all around for sarsparilla with no luck – Trader Joe’s store is the last store on my list of possibilities of carrying it. My curiosity is piqued by the taste, but now my appetite is also whet by the fact that I can’t find it! :smiley:

I love root beer, birch beer, and sasparilla! I have only ever seen one kind of bottled sasparilla, from a brand called Sioux City. I used to see these at Winn-Dixie supermarkets here in FL, but haven’t seen them in a while. Specialty/gourmet grocery stores like Wild Oats (the only one we have in Miami), Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s would have a better chance of stocking it.

You can usually order Fanta-brand birch beer at Wendy’s restaurants, if that helps. It is red (unlike root beer, which is always brown) and very good.

As for root beer, you most often find Barq’s (made by Coke) and Mug (made by Pepsi), but the better commercially-available ones are A&W, IBC, and Stewart’s. The best root beer I’ve ever had is Big Shot, which is made and sold in Louisiana (I’ve only found it in New Orleans). Come to think of it, the Barq’s you get in glass bottles in New Orleans is way better than the mass-produced stuff in the silver cans. Go figure.

One small point worth noting: Sassafras is no longer used as a flavoring for root beer (or birch beer or sarsaparilla) as its major flavoring ingredient, safrole, is carcinogenic:

Every glass-bottled root beer I’ve ever had has been better than every canned root beer I’ve ever had, and the same is true for creme soda. I’m not sure if this is inherent to the cans and bottles, or if it’s just an indicator that the better brands generally come in bottles. And I don’t recall having root beer, birch beer, or creme soda in Lousiana, so I can’t comment on that.

Golden Circle, an Australian company, makes a soft drink flavour called Sarsaparilla. What relationship the taste actually has to the ones sold in the US, I don’t know. It’s in the same range as Creaming Soda, Ginger Beer, etc.

The packaging may need a little updating though. I’m not sure how well a can labelled SARS is going to sell these days.


Wildrose, since you live in Central Ohio, you may have heard of Native American Powwows in your area. I’ve been to several in Ohio and Indiana where a food vendor was set up and selling both sarsparilla and birch beer. If you go to the website, you can get a listing of events in Ohio and Indiana. I would recommend going to the one in Tipton, IN. over Labor Day weekend. Perhaps the vendor there might be willing to tell you where to purchase the sarsparilla by the case. ;D

You can order sasparilla from Hansen’s.

Also I’ve had Birch Beer, Root Beer, and Sasparilla and they all seem to taste the same.

Whaaaa hooooo!!!

Royal Castle hamburger stands (similar to White Castle) sold birch beer, A & W drive-ins sold root beer. I think it’s all the same stuff with slight variations in formula. The diff in taste is like the diff between Coke and Pepsi, not much.
Off topic, I think root beers go much better with ice cream than colas.

I know I’ve seen 2 liter bottles of Sassparilla in the grocery stores here in Allentown, PA. I’ve never tried it, because I wasn’t that crazy about Birch Beer, preferring root beer. (To me, at any rate, there is a difference in taste).

I don’t exactly remember the company that made it, but I know it was a small, local bottler. I think it was one called “Dutch Country” or something similar. I know it wasn’t A-Treat. I’ll have to wander into Redner’s or Ahart’s and have a look.

If I find it, who wants some?

I used to drink sassafras tea when I was a kid. (My sister was a hippy, so I got good tea.) There was one that had sassafras and rose hips in it, by “Mountain-something” or “Morning-something”. I looked for sassafras tea at the market a year or so ago, but couldn’t find any. I guess this is why. :frowning:

I found a great soda supplier in Scottsdale, AZ. I first heard of them on The Food Network. They have all types of Soda’s imported from around the world. I usually get the Dr. Pepper imported from Texas (they still use pure cane sugar in the formula as opposed to Corn Syrup) I’m pretty sure i’ve seen sasparilla on their shelfs, plus birch beer and root beer. They have the goods check them out.

POP The Soda Shop
2015 N Scottsdale Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85257
Toll Free 1-877-POPSODA

You can get sassafras extract with the safrole removed. I’ve made root beer both from sassafras and safrole-removed extract. It tastes about the same.

A major flavoring ingredient in root beer is wintergreen bark. This is hard to find. I’ve used wintergreen extract, but it isn’t quite the same.

Other ingredients, depending on the recipe, include yellow dock and cherry bark.

I’m a little late to the party, but I wanted to add that one other possible reason for the waning availability of Sarsaparilla in recent years probably traces back, again, to the fact that one of the main ingredients is sassafras.

As one other commentor added, safrole is carcinogenic, yes, but sassafras in any sort of quantity is also tightly controlled and monitored by the DEA since sassafras is perhaps the easiest and most common starting chemical for those who set out to produce a certain class of designer drugs including MDMA as well as a nearly endless plethora of gray-market “research chemicals,” especially on an industrial scale.

This could easily dissuade and prevent any number of amateur home-brewers who wish to produce Sarsaparilla. Now, I can’t imagine this would stop large corporations from brewing sarsaparilla considering Coca-Cola is already the unrivaled, world’s largest producer of ‘medical grade’ cocaine, and that’s not slowed their cola production one bit… But that’s a story for a whole other thread.

Sun-of-a-gun. That shows Yosemite Sam in an entirely new light.

I used to be able to buy sarsaparilla syrup as sold to bars to make cocktails, but I don’t know if it’s still available: I don’t know anybody who stocks it now.

you lived in Ohio and couldn’t find pierogies? it’s their local pride everywhere

actually, in Cleveland Discount Drugs carried birch beer

side note, didn’t Alan Ladd order a sarsaparilla at bar in Shane