What is Root Beer
Root beer is a sweet North American beverage traditionally made using the root bark of the sassafras tree Sassafras albidum or the vine of Smilax ornata (sarsaparilla) as the primary flavor.
Root beer is typically but not exclusively non-alcoholic, caffeine-free, sweet, and carbonated. It usually has a thick and foamy head when poured.
Since safrole was banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1960 due to its carcinogenicity, most commercial root beers have been flavored using artificial sassafras flavoring, but a few use a safrole-free sassafras extract. Major producers include A&W, Barq’s, Dad’s, Hires, and Mug.
“Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he’ll sit in a boat with a fishing pole and drink beer all day.”Lorena McCourtney, ‘Invisible’
Why Does Root Beer Foam So Much?
Root beer was originally made partially with sassafras root bark (and sarsaparilla, etc) which naturally foamed.
Carbonated beverages form bubbles – in seltzer water, the bubbles dissipate quickly. When flavoring ingredients are added, the bubbles frequently form an extended-lasting foam.
If you add a substance that acts as a ‘surfactant,’ (lowers the surface tension) the bubbles will last even longer. Almost like dishwashing detergent foam.
Sassafras naturally acts as a surfactant – the dried, ground leaves are called gumbo file, or simply file, and are wont to thicken Creole gumbo.
Equivalent mucilaginous properties that thicken gumbo, made soft drink form an extended-lasting foam. (The amount and sort of carbonation – natural or artificial – also affects the dimensions of the bubbles).
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Sassafras root bark contains safrole, which the FDA determined was a possible carcinogen and banned within the 1960s. Root beer manufacturers turned to other flavoring combinations as a substitute (sarsaparilla, ginger, juniper, wintergreen, licorice, anise, cinnamon, lemon oil, orange oil, cloves, vanilla, and artificial flavors, in various combinations.).
But none of those have equivalent foam-enhancing qualities as sassafras root bark. So other surfactants are added, including an extract from the yucca plant.
The particular brands of Root beer that foam tons do so because that is the way the manufacturers make it – foaming characteristics became a part of the marketing campaigns.
Not all Root beer foam an equivalent – as an example Barq’s soft drink is more highly carbonated and Dad’s root beer has more long-lasting foam.