From packets of concocted herbs to fountain drinks, root beer and cream soda have been sold commercially since the mid-1800s. Though they are both sweet carbonated drinks, root beer is known for its complex herbal flavor, while cream soda is a light effervescent drink. Though the drinks can still be made at home, today root beer and cream soda are mass-produced worldwide. And they can be consumed in more ways than just a refreshing soda pop.
Root beer was originally considered a tonic, as it was an herbal beverage similar to Sarsaparilla and Birch beer. The soda was made from the bark of a sassafras tree and, at one time, was available in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic forms. Recipes for the brew were handed down from generation to generation, and eventually adapted and patented by Charles Hire, from a family recipe. His recipe was a 16-herb concoction sold in packets and eventually made into fountain sodas. Contemporary root beer is different, as the original herbs and spices have been replaced with artificial flavorings.
American cream soda has roots in England, as the original recipe was published by E.M. Sheldon in 1852. The drink was patented later in America by Alexander C. Howell in 1865, as “cream soda water” and even later in Canada by James William Black in 1886 as “ice-cream soda.” Both mixtures had the essential ingredient of egg whites, sugar, flour, tartaric acid and sodium bicarbonate for the fizz. The original soda water was flavored with lemon, vanilla and other fruit extracts. However, today’s version of the soft drink is reduced to a sweet vanilla-flavored soda.
Both old-fashion root beer and cream soda can be made at home, with minor tweaking to the original recipes. Root beer can be made by boiling 2 oz. sassafras root, 2 oz. juniper berries and 1 oz. hops in 8 qt. water for 20 minutes. Strain the mixture and add 5 lbs. sugar, before allowing it cool to approximately 55 to 60 degrees F. Add yeast and bottle it, letting it sit for 5 to 6 hours before it can be consumed. The yeast is what gives this homemade drink bubbles, thus it should be refrigerated to keep it from continuing to ferment.
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Cream soda can be made by dissolving 1 1/4 cups sugar in 1 cup of hot water in a large 1-gallon pitcher. Add 2 cups corn syrup and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract, stirring the mixture well until it is combined. This produces a thick syrup which should be covered and chilled in the refrigerator until it is approximately 45 degrees F. Once chilled, pour in 2 liters of carbonated water and funnel the mixture into a 1-gallon bottle with a lid.
One difference between cream soda and root beer is their uses in cooking. Cream soda can be used for ice cream floats, fruity cocktails and mix drinks. And, while root beer can be used to make the classic root beer float, it can also be used for cooking. The soda is often used as a tenderizer for pulled pork and baby back ribs, and can also be used in barbecue sauce.
- “Homemade Root Beer, Soda, and Pop”; Stephen Cresswell – 1997
- “Sundae Best: a History of Soda Fountains”; Anne Cooper Funderburg; 2002
- “New England Country Store Cookbook”; Peter W. Smith; 2003
B. Maté has been reporting on creative industries since 2007—covering everything from Fashion Week to the latest artist to wow the Parisian art scene. Her experience stems from a marketing background, with more than 12 years of experience consulting fashion-forward entrepreneurs.