Home Articles Root Beer vs. Sarsaparilla (The Difference)

Root Beer vs. Sarsaparilla (The Difference)

Have you ever wondered about the difference between root beer and sarsaparilla? I certainly have. I thought they were basically the same. 

Aren’t they? No need to find yourself in a fizzy conundrum! I have all the answers. 

Mug of Foamy Cold Root Beer

Both root beer and sarsaparilla are dark beverages with distinct licorice-like and sweet flavors.

They may share shelf space, but the differences between the two are more than meets the eye. Or the taste buds. 

Let’s uncover the secrets behind these bubbly beverages. And you can determine which one, root beer or sarsaparilla, deserves a spot in your cart!

Root Beer vs. Sarsaparilla (What’s the Difference?) 


  • Root Beer: Root beer is a carbonated soft drink originating in North America. Its roots trace back to Native American and colonial herbal beverages. It became commercially popular in the late 19th century and grew from there. 
  • Sarsaparilla: Sarsaparilla is a beverage made from the roots of the sarsaparilla plant. It has a long history of use in traditional medicine and as a flavoring agent. Sarsaparilla beverages were popular in the 19th century and were often associated with health benefits.


  • Root Beer: They made Traditional root beer using a combination of roots, herbs, and spices. It included sassafras, wintergreen, vanilla, licorice, and more. Modern, commercial root beer often uses artificial flavors and sweeteners instead of actual roots. This is because of concerns about the safety of sassafras.
  • Sarsaparilla: They typically make Sarsaparilla beverages from the roots of the sarsaparilla plant (Smilax ornata or related species). The flavor comes from the sarsaparilla root. Producers often combine it with other flavoring agents like vanilla, wintergreen, or anise.


  • Root Beer: Root beer has a complex flavor profile with notes of sweetness, sassafras, vanilla, and various spices. It is sweet and has a creamy quality.
  • Sarsaparilla: Sarsaparilla has a distinctive flavor characterized by earthy, sweet, and slightly bitter undertones. Many often compare the flavor of sarsaparilla to a mix of root beer and licorice.


  • Root Beer: Root beer is carbonated, creating a fizzy and refreshing beverage. It is typically non-alcoholic, although there are alcoholic versions available. 
  • Sarsaparilla: Sarsaparilla beverages can be carbonated or non-carbonated, depending on the brand and style. Historically, sarsaparilla was often associated with being a tonic and was sometimes sold as a non-alcoholic health beverage. Some sarsaparilla drinks may have a (low) alcohol content, but they are generally considered non-alcoholic.
Root Beer Ice Cream

What Is Root Beer? 

Root beer is a carbonated soft drink known for its distinctive and complex flavor profile. 

It originated in North America and is sweet, fizzy, and often creamy. 

Root beer’s flavor comes from blending various herbs, spices, and other flavoring agents.

These give it a taste reminiscent of sassafras, vanilla, and other botanicals.

These ingredients were often steeped or brewed to create a flavor base. The base was then mixed with sweeteners and carbonated water. 

However, the use of sassafras was controversial because of safety and health concerns about safrole.

As a result, many commercial root beers use artificial flavors and sweeteners as replacements.

Today, you can find variations such as diet root beer, root beer-flavored candies, cake, and even alcohol. And of course, you can’t forget the classic root beer float!

Dried Sarsaparilla with its Syrup and Powder on a White Background

What Is Sarsaparilla? 

Sarsaparilla refers to both a plant and the beverages made from its roots. 

The sarsaparilla plant (Smilax ornata or related species) is a woody vine that grows in various parts of the world. This includes Central and South America. 

People have used sarsaparilla roots for centuries for both flavoring and medicinal purposes. 

Typically, you make sarsaparilla beverages by infusing or decocting the dried roots of the sarsaparilla plant. 

Sarsaparilla’s chief characteristic is its distinctive flavor. 

It has earthy, sweet, and slightly bitter undertones. Many people describe its flavor as a mix of root beer and licorice.

Historically, sarsaparilla was believed to have various health benefits. Therefore, it was often consumed as a tonic or remedy for various ailments. 

It gained popularity in the 19th century, especially in the United States. In the US, peopleused it as an ingredient in sodas and tonics. 

People sometimes marketed sarsaparilla drinks as “tonics” with blood-purifying and invigorating properties.

Sarsaparilla drinks can have carbonation or . And they are often available in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions.

Root Beer vs. Sarsaparilla

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Kim - InsanelyGood
Hey there! I'm Kim. I love running, cooking, and curling up with a good book! I share recipes for people who LOVE good food, but want to keep things simple :)

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