Jason's Bistro

A root beer FAQ
(Possibly an old version)

Reproduced without direct permission.
If this is a problem with you, please inform

From mercese@anubis.network.comMon Jun 26 12:12:20 1995
Date: Fri, 23 Jun 95 09:18:44 CDT
From: "Steve E. Mercer" <mercese@anubis.network.com>
To: s1185659@Stud-Mailer.Uni-Marburg.DE

Subject: Root Beer

I hope that your mailer can handle a file this large.


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

(This document contains mostly unattributed excerpts from arti-
cles 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out of date and are not likely to be accurate.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 dis-
claimers 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. Remov-
ing safrole from sassafras extract and verifying that it is safe
is a task which is beyond the ability and equipment of most home-
brewers. 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 car-
bonating. 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 gal-
lons 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 (Schill-
ing, 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, sarsapa-
rilla, passion fruit, spruce beer, strawbeery, ginger beer, gin-
ger 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 dou-
ble 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 bar-
gain basement for a buck. Call the company, maybe...

I've made several batches of "root beer" from root beer concen-
trates, which contain the same sort of artificial colors and fla-
vors 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 some-
thing 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 dis-
tinctive `house' brew.

Root beer is flavored with a distillate of the young shoots or
root bark of _Sassofras_variifolium_, a member of the laurel fam-
ily. 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 car-
cinogen (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

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 substi-
tute, say, 8 or 10 ounces of bark for 2 ounces of root in 4 gal-

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 sas-
safras root.

When I was a kid in West Virginia (40+ years ago) I pulled up sas-
safras 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 sasspe-
rilla(?). 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 sooth-
ing, 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 sas-
safras 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


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 reci-

birch bark
burdock root
coriander seed
Dandelion root
ginger, tincture of ginger, Ginger Root
guaiacum chips
hot drops
Juniper Berries
prickly ash bark
Sarsaparilla, sarsaparilla root
spikenard root
wild cherry bark
wild cherry bitters
Wintergreen, wintergreen bark, oil of wintergreen
yellow dock, yellow dock root

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 carbon-
ation. 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 danger-
ous 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 expen-
sive. Used by winemakers to sweeten dry wines. May be fermented/
eaten by some bacteria. Some people suffer from lactose intoler-

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 ferment-
ing 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.

"...it 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 stabi-

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 apropri-
ate amounts of sugar/syrup/water/?? and carbonate it artifi-
A: Yes. Most keggers use systems originally designed for making
soda pop. I have only a soda syphon, which requires one CO2 car-
tridge 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 car-

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

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 bot-
tled and was consumed within a couple of weeks, before the bottles
could explode.
Modern homebrewers use the same general process except the bot-
tled root beer is placed in the refrigerator after waiting a week
for the root beer to become carbonated (or sometimes without wait-
ing 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

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

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

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

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

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 refriger-
ator 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 is
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-carcino-
gen. 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 sas-
safras 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-Prope-
nyl)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 con-
tains relatively large amounts of safrole, which is a liver car-
cinogen 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, et.al., 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:
_TD50_ = the daily lifetime dose (milligrams of chemical per kilo-
gram of body weight per day) which halves the proportion of rats
which remain cancer-free at the end of a standard lifetime.
_HEPR_ = (Human Exposure/Rat Potency) the percentage of TD50
received by a 70 kilogram human for the given lifetime intake
rate, i.e., (mg chemical per day) / (70 kg)/(TD50 for that chemi-

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 "Scien-
tific American"} New York, Scientific American Publishing Com-
pany, 1921

Root Beer--1.--To 5 gal. of boiling water add 1 1/2 gal. of molas-
ses. 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 pro-
duce 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 peo-
ple 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 gal-
*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 find-
ing 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.<END>
Steve Mercer

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