sarsaparilla vs root beer

Sarsaparilla vs Root Beer – What Are The Differences?

Have you ever heard of sarsaparilla? You probably know root beer very well and have tried it at some point or another. But do you know how it differs from sarsaparilla?

In this article, we will discuss what sarsaparilla and root beer are and why to drink one or the other. It is time you knew some of the origins of these two beverages. Let’s dive in! 

What Is Sarsaparilla?

Sarsaparilla is a soft drink made from the Smilax ornata plant or other related plants. It is now commercially manufactured with artificial ingredients. Sarsaparilla might also be called sarsi or sarsae in Southeast Asian countries. 

In the 19th century, sarsaparilla became very popular in the United States, where many believed it could cure skin and blood problems. 

In this case, sarsaparilla was made using a blend of birch oil and sassafras. However, in 1960 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of sassafras oil in food due to the potential of safrole being carcinogenic. 

While sarsaparilla is not available everywhere, you can still see it in local pubs and supermarkets in the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Australia. 

The flavor of this soft drink is very similar to root beer. This beverage is no longer used to treat medical conditions, but the flavor remains the same. 

Nutrition Facts

One drink (355 ml) of sarsaparilla has the following nutritional content (*):

  • 181 calories
  • 0 g protein
  • 0 g fat 
  • 42 g carbohydrate
  • 42 g sugar 
  • 0.887 mg iron 
  • 46.2 mg sodium 

Is Sarsaparilla Healthy?

As mentioned above, sarsaparilla is not made the way it was before because sassafras oil is regarded as a possible carcinogenic. However, that does not mean that this beverage is not healthy. The sarsaparilla beverage you find commercially may not even contain sarsaparilla plants anymore. 

For best health benefits, you should try and find sarsaparilla that does contain plant ingredients. When the beverage contains the plant, it will also have the active compounds that do have an impact on your body. 

If you want to stay healthy, try and find a microbrewery or homemade sarsaparilla, since commercial brands may contain high fructose corn syrup and other added sugars. 

Sarsaparilla is a powerful anti-inflammatory, which makes it useful when treating chronic inflammation, like in the case of rheumatoid arthritis. 

In the 19th century, sarsaparilla was used to treat chronic conditions, and it can still be used to treat them. You can also use sarsaparilla for chronic gout inflammation. 

In the past, sarsaparilla has also been used to treat skin conditions. In the case of psoriasis, a chronic condition that results in painful skin lesions, sarsaparilla is helpful. The sarsaponin helps reduce lesions by binding to the endotoxins that cause them. 

This beverage was also used in the past to treat syphilis and other infections. In more recent cases, sarsaparilla is used in conjunction with antibiotics in providing relief and protecting from severe illness. More recently, sarsaparilla has been shown to protect against many fungi and bacteria. 

You may have noticed by now that sarsaparilla is considered healthy for various reasons. Still, these days finding original sarsaparilla that contains natural ingredients can be tough. You should aim to find sarsaparilla that lists all-natural ingredients for the drink to remain healthy. 

What Is Root Beer?

Root beer is a sweet carbonated beverage that originated in North America. The traditional recipe used to contain parts of the root bark of the sassafras tree or the vine from the sarsaparilla plant. Root beer is caffeine-free, sweet, and non-alcoholic in most cases. 

Like sarsaparilla, root beer does not contain sassafras anymore due to the possibility of it being carcinogenic and the FDA ban in the United States. 

In the beginning, root beer was sold as a syrup but became a popular carbonated beverage to substitute beer. Commercial root beer is now available in Australia, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Germany, Argentina, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

You can now find different ingredients in root beer, including vanilla, caramel, cinnamon, licorice root, and honey. These days, this beverage will also contain soybean protein to give root beer the color brown. 

You can find root beer sold everywhere in North America, as it is a popular soft drink at the movies, restaurants, bars, and grocery stores.

Nutrition Facts

One drink (360 ml) of root beer has the following nutritional content (*):

  • 169 calories
  • 0 g protein
  • 0 g fat 
  • 42 g carbohydrate
  • 42 g sugar 
  • 36 mg sodium 

Is Root Beer Healthy?

Even though soda is not necessarily bad every once in a while, consuming root beer may not be the wisest choice. Commercial root beer tends to be full of sugar and coloring. If you want to stay healthy, go with organic brands and local breweries.

These days you can find sugar-free root beer, but this may not be the right choice either since some of the alternative sweeteners are not healthy either. 

To be safer, pick an organic brand of root beer sweetened with a natural alternative sweetener like Stevia. You can also pick an organic brand sweetened with cane sugar, though you will need to drink it in moderation. 

One advantage of drinking root beer over other sodas is that it contains less harmful acids. Colas and other soft drinks often contain phosphoric and citric acids, which can damage the enamel in your teeth. Root beer was found by studies to be the safest soft drink for teeth health (*). 

It may seem contradictory, but the high fructose corn syrup found in regular root beer can damage your teeth and cause cavities and decay. 

If you choose an organic brand or microbrewery, you will avoid this specific ingredient but find yourself consuming large amounts of sugar. All the sugar in root beer can cause stress, lack of sleep, weight gain, and even mimic addiction symptoms. 

To finish, commercial root beer contains flavoring and coloring to make the beverage appear tastier. These are all damaging chemicals that can cause inflammation in your body. You can avoid some of these by choosing organic brands, but it is best to double-check. 

If you are lucky enough to find a root beer traditionally produced, you may see some of the benefits that sarsaparilla can bring you. However, this is very unlikely, and you will be stuck with commercial root beer. To be safe, pick a local microbrewery that prepares root beer or go with the organic option. 

What Are The Key Differences Between Sarsaparilla and Root Beer?

The first difference between these two beverages is what ingredients they use. Sarsaparilla production used the sarsaparilla vine along with other spices. Root beer used the root of the sassafras tree.  

While Native Americans created both beverages, sarsaparilla is popular in the Southeast Asia region. 

Sarsaparilla utilizes members of the sarsaparilla plant, including S. regeii, S. officinalis, S. papyracea, and S. medica. Root beer contains non-natural ingredients, and it may also contain wintergreen, cinnamon, and anise. 

Another difference between these two drinks is where they are popular. Sarsaparilla is available in Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, Taiwan, and Malaysia. Root beer remains extremely popular in North America and is beginning to become more common in South America. 

These two beverages may seem very similar, but their flavor is not the same. Sarsaparilla tastes like vanilla, mint, and licorice. Root beer tastes sweeter and has hints of licorice, cloves, and honey. 

In the beginning, people drank sarsaparilla and root beer because of their medicinal properties. Nowadays, sarsaparilla is part of a tea or soft drinks production to combat illness. Root beer does not have medicinal properties because it is full of sugar and artificial ingredients. 

One final difference between these two beverages is whether they contain alcohol or caffeine. For the most part, sarsaparilla is caffeine-free and will never contain alcohol, though it may contain guarana or another ingredient for energy. Root beer, however, can be alcoholic and may also contain caffeine. 

Main DifferencesSarsaparilla Root Beer
Origin The AmericasNorth America
ProductionSarsaparilla is made by using boiling water mixed with the roots, and spices. It may be brewed along with vanilla, licorice, and molasses for days. Root beer is produced by cooking molasses into a syrup for around three hours and then adding the species and flavoring, including the sassafras bark. 
ColorDark, red-brownDark red, orange
Alcohol Content NoneNon-alcoholic most of the time, but some can have between 5.9 and 19% alcohol. 
Taste and SmellSarsaparilla tastes like licorice, vanilla, and wintergreen. This beverage smells aromatic and minty. Root beer tastes very sweet, with hints of caramel, and vanilla. The aroma is minty and sweet like honey. 
Common Brands HeySong, Badak, Indo Saparella, and F&N Sarsi. A&W, Barq’s, Sioux City, Bundaberg and Dad’s. 
Cost$0.85 to $2.49$1.89 to $2.50 
Calories per 100ml  51 calories 47 calories 

Is Sarsaparilla or Root Beer Healthier?

In the past, sarsaparilla and root beer were both used as tonics for health problems. These days, though, they are mostly produced commercially for their flavor as a soft drink. Because they can have high sugar content, neither sarsaparilla nor root beer is very healthy. 

If you can find an original sarsaparilla drink, this may be the healthier choice, as it does help reduce inflammation and has some antibacterial properties. Root beer, on the other hand, does not have many medicinal properties anymore, especially because it does not have sassafras bark. 

Finding sarsaparilla prepared the way it was before may be tricky, though, and you may have to search for local producers. 

Whether you choose to drink sarsaparilla or root beer, be sure to get one that is organic or homemade. These options tend to be lower in sugar, coloring, and preservatives, so they pose fewer health risks. Drink either of these beverages in moderation for better health results.


Even though you may never see sarsaparilla or root beer depending on where you live, you can now differentiate them. This article will come in handy if you travel abroad and want to give either a try. Choose the beverage that fits your taste better!

See more: Malt Liquor vs Beer

*image by kung_mangkorn/depositphotos

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