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I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on my homemade ginger ale recipe, so I also wanted to share another favorite at our house: homemade root beer.
This root beer recipe uses the same beneficial culture as the ginger ale: a homemade ginger bug. Homemade root beer is also simple to make and has all the flavor of conventional root beer without the harmful ingredients.
Herbs for Homemade Root Beer
The herbs used in homemade root beer, mainly sassafras and sarsaparilla (as well as wintergreen), have some controversy surrounding them. These herbs contain safrole, which was once found to cause cancer in mice. I personally do not feel that there is a risk when consuming sassafras root in its whole form, as this article from Nourished Kitchen explains:
Wintergreen leaf, though almost always an ingredient in most traditional root beer recipes, replaced sassafras as the prominent flavor in root beer during the 1960s when a study conducted on lab animals implicated safrole, a naturally occurring polyphenol, in liver cancer. Of course, the lab rats were fed massive quantities of safrole – the human equivalent of consuming about 32 twelve-ounce bottles of root beer a day. After the study was released, the FDA required commercial soft drink makers to remove sassafras from their brews. Of course, cinnamon, nutmeg and basil also contain safrole but this seemed to escape the attention of the FDA.
Interestingly, while massive quantities of safrole caused liver cancer in lab animals, it seems that small doses may actually play a protective role for humans. Some studies indicate that safrole may actually stimulate the death of cancer cells, particularly oral cancers though it may also do so in lung and prostrate cancers.
Wintergreen, already an ingredient in root beer, offered a flavor profile strikingly similar to that of sassafras, and made a ready replacement. Most root beers made today contain neither sassafras nor wintergreen and are instead made with artificial flavors. Even wintergreen extract, the preferred flavoring for many home brewers, is difficult to attain and typically is made with propylene glycol – a petrochemical.
As with all herbs, it is important to consult a doctor, health care practitioner, or herbalist before consuming any herb, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or have a medical condition. I personally stick with homemade ginger ale or homemade Dr. Pepper when pregnant.
How to Make Homemade Root Beer
As I said, I am comfortable using sassafras and wintergreen in this recipe. While a variety of other herbs were sometimes used in traditional recipes (including sarsaparilla, burdock, anise, licorice, astragalus, and others), I’ve found that the same flavor can be accomplished with only a few herbs. This simplified version is much more budget friendly as many of these herbs are hard to source and expensive. The rest of the herbs can be used if desired, and 1 Tablespoon of each could be added. In many places, sassafras can be wild-sourced, but I would recommend checking with a qualified herbalist or horticulture expert before using any plant.
Before beginning, it is important to have the culture ready to go. I use a homemade ginger bug in this recipe as it gives both the flavor and carbonation, though any type of natural culture could be used.
Homemade Root Beer Recipe
- ½ cup sassafras root bark
- ½ tsp wintergreen leaf
- 1 cinnamon stick (or 1 tiny dash of ground cinnamon, optional)
- 1 dash coriander (optional)
- 1 dash allspice (optional)
- 12 cups filtered water
- 1 cup unrefined cane sugar (such as rapadura)
- ¼ cup molasses
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ cup lime juice (optional)
- ¾ cup homemade ginger bug (or other starter culture like whey or vegetable starter)
- Put the sassafras root bark, wintergreen leaf, and cinnamon, coriander, and allspice if using, in a large pot on the stove.
- Add the filtered water.
- Turn the heat on high and bring to a boil.
- Reduce to medium low and simmer for about 15-20 minutes.
- Strain through a fine, mesh strainer or cheesecloth to remove herbs.
- While still warm, add the sugar, molasses, and vanilla and stir until dissolved.
- Let cool until warm, but not hot.
- Add the lime juice and then then ginger bug or other culture and stir well.
- Transfer to grolsch style bottles or jars with tight fitting lids and allow to ferment for several days at room temperature.
- Check after two days for carbonation. When desired carbonation is reached, transfer to refrigerator and store until use.
Are you a root beer fan like me? Ever tried to make your own? Share below!
Discussion (193 Comments)
Too bad I live in an area that has no sassafras…..
How about Amazon?
Can you use wintergreen oil drops?
I love this recipe! I couldn’t get the links to work on the ingredients section, though.
Well this is cool. I’ve made root beer with yeast and root beer -flavored kombucha, but not a real probiotic root beer. I’ve got a question though- one time I made root beer and forgot about it… for a LOOONG time. I had tried corking the bottles (instead of capping) and they popped off (due to carbonation from the yeast) inside the cooler. A few months later I opened the cooler and each bottle had a little mushroom growing inside, like a vinegar mother or scoby. Do you think I could use these as starter cultures, like the ginger bug? (Sorry the picture is so big… you can take it off if you want…I couldn’t get it smaller.)
I have no idea, but that is fascinating!
time for an experiment I think!
Mushrooms are a fungus and release myotoxins which are harmful to our bodies and weaken our immune system. Therefore, it probably wouldn’t be wise to start a culture from a fungus…
Scobys are different from normal mushrooms. They are a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, and are actually very healthy for you. The culture creates an environment which (normally) only allows the development of Lactobacillus Acidophilus bacteria (good for the body; this is what normally breaks down things like pickles when they are fermenting). If the SCOBY is not marked by black spots (bad mold), it should be fine.
Using a SCOBY to make root beer does work… but it won’t produce a lot of carbonation – only as much as a regular batch of kombucha, and since root beer is known for its head (large amount of foam when poured) you’ll get the same taste but not the same fizz.
That was very informative, thanks for the clarification….do you do fermentation and pickling often?
Yes. I run a kitchen at a small college, and we pickle our own cucumbers, carrots, string beans and beets. I also make kombucha at home and when we make soda, we use Wellness Mama’s rootbeer recipe – because it’s the best I’ve seen and tastes great!
Love the site! Going to try this tomorrow night.
When would you add the vanilla?
Right before adding the ginger bug
Where do you get your bottles for this and the ginger ale recipe? Thank you so much for the recipes! Can’t wait to try them!
Crate and Barrel has bottles with the flip lid.
I second the comment by Alannna! I love Dr. Pepper too but only drink it every once in awhile when I break down with a Dr. Pepper craving attack because I also try to avoid soda because it is so unhealthy. So pretty, pretty, please with Dr. Pepper on top post the homemade Dr. Pepper recipe for us! Thank you! P.S. – Love your blog! 🙂
I am so glad to see this post. I tried to introduce my 3 kids to kombucha from our local farmers market and they thought it was revolting. They ALL like root beer so maybe this will be the ticket!
I am so glad you posted this! Thank you 🙂
Alanna Austring Yousif
You mentioned, homemade Dr. Pepper. Do you have a recipe for this! I love Dr. Pepper but I try to avoid soda as much as possible. A healthy alternative would be great! Thanks!
I’m with Alanna…I would LOVE the homemade Dr. P recipe!
The the queue to post soon 🙂
I cant seem to find the Dr. Pepper recipe. Did you post it yet? I don’t think I can kick the sugar habit (fruit juices, sodas, southern extra sweet iced tea) without Dr. Pepper. Help!
Have you posted the Dr. Pepper recipe? I haven’t been able to find it! Thanks!
Sorry, the Dr. Pepper recipe is not published on the site.
I was actually just going to ask the same question! I’ve been searching online for weeks trying to find an authentic Dr Pepper recipe to try. I got a SodaStream for Christmas and while I like the thought of making my own pop/soda at home, I’m also not too keen on the actual SodaStream Soda Mix flavors. They are still as packed full of artificial flavors and ingredients as name-brand colas and many of the syrup mixes taste funny since they are sweetened with Sucralose. They also contain Acesulfame Potassium, Sodium Benzoate, and some actually contain Phosphoric Acid instead of Citric Acid! I know Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, and Dr Pepper currently all use Phosphoric Acid instead of Citric Acid in their drinks since it is cheaper, but it is far from good for you. I’d rather eat a ton of Safrole than continue drinking Phosphoric Acid!
In any event though, I like the taste of Dr Pepper, but hate all the nasty chemicals in it that I’m drinking. I’d love to find a recipe for the original Dr. Pepper made with all natural ingredients that actually tastes like Dr Pepper! I can’t wait to hear your recipe!
I am a novice at this , but what is ginger bug?
Hi Kimberli. Check out this post and see if it helps! https://wellnessmama.com/8942/ginger-bug/
David M Pelly
which quack school did you go to to learn that Phosphoric acid is bad for you?
You should know that your DNA is made up phosphoric acid molecules and sugars and amino acids.
I don’t see a post for Dr Pepper recipes, but I have my own if anyone is interested. I use a soda stream rather than fermentation because I like the fizz better that way, and haven’t had much luck with fermenting sodas.
The main ingredients are these:
Tamarind concentrate paste (1 tsp)
Ginger (a few Tbsp of your Ginger Bug would do, or some boiled ginger water/tea)
Almond Extract (60 drops or 1/2 tsp)
Vanilla Extract (60 drops or 1/2 tsp)
Stevia to sweeten (as much as you desire -I use about 1 tsp clear stevia extract)
Carbonated water (1 liter)
Some other ingredients can be added or substituted. I use half cola flavored stevia and half vanilla flavored stevia to sweeten, so then I don’t need vanilla extract or any other sweetener. You can add a dash of allspice to your ginger while steeping, or steep it by itself to add. Perhaps also coriander. Using the Ginger Bug, even when not fermenting the whole soda, is still good for getting the probiotic benefits as well as adding ginger flavor. If you are going to attempt to ferment it for the carbonation, don’t use stevia, but use some good raw turbinado cane sugar; you can add stevia prior to consumption to get the desired sweetness if it is needed. Adding a little other fruit juice can be yummy as well, such as pomegranate. Coconut sugar syrup to sweeten is also pretty good, and works well as it has a natural caramel color and flavor, but it is caloric -low glycemic and full of nutrients, but still has calories. Sometimes I do half coconut sugar, half stevia to sweeten -but obviously have to adjust other ingredients, like the vanilla amount; you want about as much vanilla as almond.
I’ve never had Dr Pepper but these ingredients make it sound tasty. Thanks Chris.
I realize this is a super old comment on a super old post, but I was excited to hear that someone else was already using a soda stream for this! I was hoping to do the same but couldn’t find any good suggestions online about how to do it, so maybe you could help me out. Do you just skip the whole ginger-bug-fermentation step? Does it affect the taste at all?
Thanks for the recipe! My husband would love this!
How much of the sugar do you think gets “eaten” during fermentation? (Obviously not looking for a specific quantity, but very little, some, a fair amount…?)
I’ve made make shift ginger ale in a bind by boiling ginger in water, straining out the ginger, then adding honey to make a syrup. Then, I added that to homemade soda water. Worked pretty well when my family had upset stomachs, but I much prefer your versions for the probiotic benefits.
Starting a ginger bug now! Thanks again 🙂
I’d say a fair amount and it depends how long you leave it too. Also, the longer it ferments, the less sweet it will be
Thanks, again! I tried it & it’s delicious! For anyone who doesn’t have access to wintergreen, I accidentally bought spearmint & it was still yummy.
I can’t wait to try the ginger ale…looks like it would make a delicious Moscow mule!
Yes! Great Moscow Mules indeed 🙂 not as sweet as the ginger beer from the grocer but so much more flavorful and cheaper!
How much root beer does this recipe yield? 🙂 I’m excited to try it. Just want to know how big of bottles or jars I’ll need.
Yes I would also like to know how much root beer this actually makes in one recipe. About 8 cups, 10 cups??
Around 2 quarts
Do you think this root beer recipe can be made without the molasses and sugar? and just add stevia to sweeten? or with less sugar and/or molasses? Thanks!
The sugar is for the ferment (the yeast eat sugar), which creates the bubbles. If you don’t want to eat the sugar yourself, use less sugar and let it ferment longer, there will be very little sugar left in a very bubbly but dry root beer.
No that would taste awful. Just buy a can of diet from the store.
You need enough sugar to feed the yeast. However, I have seen a recipe that uses a combination of stevia and sugar. It has enough sugar to feed the yeast to cause the carbonation, but the actual sweet taste would come from the stevia. Just do a google search. Good luck!
Should I strain the ginger bug through a strainer before adding? Thanks! Frances