What is the main ingredient in root beer?

In this brief article, we will provide you with the answer to the question: “What is the main ingredient in root beer?”, discuss if there is caffeine in root beer, and talk about the reasons root beer is called that. 

What is the main ingredient in root beer?

The main ingredient in a root beer is artificial sassafras, or sometimes safrole-free sassafras. Sassafras (a tree) and sarsaparilla (a vine) were originally used to flavor root beer, along with other ingredients such as liquorice root, mint, nutmeg, and others. 

However, current root beer does not contain sassafras and sarsaparilla, since both contain safrole, a carcinogenic chemical recently prohibited by the FDA. When fed in excessive amounts, safrole was proven to lead to liver cancer in rats, thus it and sassafras or sarsaparilla-containing goods were outlawed.

However, more recent research has shown no indication that the effects exhibited in rats exist in people. This, along with the fact that various other (still legal) items, such as the aforementioned nutmeg, contain safrole, makes the prohibition appear less scientific and more fear-based.

As a result, modern root beer is commonly flavored with artificial sassafras, however, it can also be flavored with safrole-free sassafras. Traditional root beer was frequently alcoholic, however current root beer is rarely alcoholic and is a favorite of children all around the world.

Is there caffeine in root beer?

Although the components of this beverage vary based on the brand and product, the bulk of it does not include caffeine. Typically, it comprises merely carbonated water, sugar, food coloring, and artificial tastes.

Depending on the brand, certain types of root beer may include traces of the stimulant. The caffeine content of the brand Barq’s is exceptionally high. Each 12-ounce (355-ml) can of normal has around 22 milligrams of caffeine. The diet version, on the other hand, does not have any.

A regular 8-ounce (240-ml) cup of coffee has around 96 mg of caffeine, which is over four times the amount contained in a can of Barq’s. Other caffeinated beverages, such as green or black tea, contain 28–48 mg of caffeine per cup (240 ml).

However, the amount of caffeine added to these items is not always specified on the label. As a result, the simplest way to determine how much caffeine a particular product contains is to go to the product’s website or contact the producer directly.

Why is root beer called root beer?

The modern version of root beer is not an alcoholic beverage, but rather a sweet soda that can be enjoyed by people of all ages, very popular among kids. 

Most culinary historians believe that the original forms of root beer were prepared as “little beer,” a beverage made from herbs, bark, and berries. Small beer was popular in medieval Europe, where water contamination was common and made people sick. Brews such as tea and beer were thought to be healthier options. 

The same was true in early Colonial America prior to the development of better water infrastructure. Small beer included alcohol, often ranging from 2% to 12%.

In the late nineteenth century, pharmacists were striving to develop a “wonder medication” or “cure-all” for people’s diseases. (Many of today’s popular carbonated beverages owe their origins to such an endeavor.)

Historians usually assume that root beer was accidentally produced by a pharmacist experimenting with a variety of roots, herbs, bark, and berries mixed in tiny beer recipes to create a brew to heal any ailment.

Several forms of root beer have been known for ages, therefore this pharmacist cannot be called the “creator” of this beverage. He was, however, the first to develop a broadly marketed recipe, which is why he is given credit. 

In his medicine shop, he began selling dry sachets of the tea mixture, and eventually produced a liquid concentrate that consumers could combine with water. 

The “root” in Hires’ concoction’s name refers to its principal component, sassafras root. Before 1876, Hires changed the name of his product from “tea” to “beer.” He most likely modified the name to make the drink more acceptable to the working class. 

In the midst of the Temperance Movement’s second wave, the name sparked indignation among the movement’s leaders. Hires, on the other hand, marketed root beer as a “temperance drink,” claiming that it contained no alcohol and was a perfect substitute for alcoholic beverages.  As a result, “root tea” became “root beer.”

Root beer was marketed as a “health beverage.” Surprisingly, the principal ingredient—oil from the sassafras root—was banned by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1960 due to research indicating it was a carcinogen and also included safrole, which affects the liver.


In this brief article, we provided you with the answer to the question: “What is the main ingredient in root beer?”, discussed if there is caffeine in root beer, and talked about the reasons root beer is called that. 


Today I Found Out. “Why Root Beer Is Called That,” July 16, 2013. http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/07/why-root-beer-is-called-that/.

Office for Science and Society. “The Root in Root Beer Is Sassafras.” Accessed February 15, 2022. https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know/root-root-beer-sassafras.

Nourished Kitchen. “How to Make REAL Homemade Root Beer with Herbs,” June 28, 2019. https://nourishedkitchen.com/homemade-root-beer-recipe/.

Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.