Root Beer Syrup | Make Ahead Mondays

I am a fizzy drinks gal. My usual preference is for plain or flavoured (but not sweetened seltzer) but I have a deep and abiding love for two kinds of soda: ginger ale and root beer. I love the warm, spicy flavours of both of those. What I don’t adore, however, is the insane amount of sugar in most commercially available sodas.

My dad taught me to make my own ginger ale a few years back and that took care of the need for ginger ale, but until the last couple of weeks, I didn’t have a way to satisfy my root beer cravings without getting a sugar bomb in the process. With the exception of a few boutique brands of root beer (that are very tasty indeed but also pretty pricey), the sugar bomb in those sodas came in the form of high fructose corn syrup. I’m not going to wade into a debate here. Intelligent people disagree (vociferously) on the subject, but in our family we avoid consuming HFCS as much as possible.

I’ve tried making my own root beers from extract kits, but I was always a little disappointed because I like making things from the ground up. Buying a little bottle of some liquid and adding water and sugar just kind of felt like cheating. Yes, I realize I’m a little nuts. But I discovered something. I’m clearly not alone in thinking this way. I discovered Hank Shaw a.k.a. Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. Hank Shaw is, in a nutshell, awesome. I’ve always had a DIY bent, but Hank Shaw? I’m in an analogy frame of mind,  since I just finished up standardized testing with my kids, and I’m thinking that might be the best way to describe him. I am to Hank Shaw as Sandra Lee is to Martha Stewart. Sure, Sandra Lee decorates a table and whips up a cocktail, but Martha felled the tree, built the table, hand-wove the cloth for the decorations, smelted the metal for the silverware, designed and threw her own pottery, raised the animals and vegetables, slaughtered and prepared everything herself AND was a supermodel in the process.  In short, I have MAD respect for Hank Shaw. I have no idea whether his hair is perfectly coifed, but I rather suspect it is.

The point is this; Hank Shaw posted a recipe for homemade root beer syrup that looked like what I’d been seeking for ages. I had some dried burdock root (it grows EVERYWHERE around here, so I’m not sure this gets me my foraging badge), I ordered dried sassafras (because that DOESN’T grow around here), and raided my spice cabinet for the other bits and pieces*, and set to infusing.

*That spell of detective work just might get me the foraging badge after all!

The key to the recipe is a slow infusion (decoction, tisane, what-have-you) of water with the roots and spices. After it simmers a bit, some molasses is added (for both colour and flavour) then you simmer again. Then comes the WHAT?!? portion of the programme: wintergreen. I’m not kidding you. Go pop open a bottle of root beer and sniff. What are you getting? You’re getting the smell of sassafras and wintergreen (although of the two, wintergreen is probably the only one that is actually in commercial root beers any more.) Don’t skip this! And please, you might be tempted, but don’t sub in peppermint. The wintergreen is truly important. If you can’t lay your hands on fresh wintergreen leaves, you can always use wintergreen flavour or extract.*

*This is an affiliate link to Amazon.com.

As soon as the roots and spices started simmering my brain was panting, “Root beer. Root beer. Root beer.” It smells so good while it simmers. It smelled so good, in fact, that I dunked a spoon in to lick it. Um, it was not a great at that point. ‘Twas bitter but I carried on and continued the project. I started it late at night, so I let the cool down/infusion process go overnight. In the morning, I strained, measured, added to the pot with sugar and then simmered again. I dipped my spoon in again, cautiously licked it and holy man. It was good. It was great!

While I like to pour it over ice and top with my beloved plain seltzer for a spicy, rootsy-tootsy root beer beverage, you can also use the syrup to drizzle over your vanilla ice cream for a root beer sundae. On the other hand, you can sweeten your iced tea for a deliciously different sweet tea. Root beer sweet tea. Can I get a heck-yeah from the sweet tea lovers out there?

I’m going to tell you, this is NOT the root beer you get at the store. It just isn’t. It’s real. It has oomph. It has character. It’s not cloyingly sweet (although, if sweet is your thing you can always up the sugar content in the syrup.) When you smell it and taste it there is no doubt in your mind that this is root beer, but this is root beer as it’s meant to be. I’d take a tall glass of this root beer any day over the stuff on the shelves. My husband, who despises soda in general but likes seltzer, loved this root beer. Three of my five kids think this the best root beer they’ve ever had. (One of the remaining two just doesn’t like root beer, so he’s consistent. The other decided to be contrary.)

 

Root Beer Syrup | Make Ahead Mondays

Root Beer Syrup | Make Ahead Mondays

For the rootin-est, tootin-est root beer you'll ever drink, whip up a batch of this all-natural root beer syrup. It makes grocery store root beers pale in comparison.

This recipe was very gently adapted and used with permission from and grateful thanks to Hank Shaw

Ingredients

  • 6 cups water
  • 3 ounces dried sassafras roots
  • 1/2 ounce dried burdock root
  • 1 teaspoon dried whole coriander seeds
  • 1 whole star anise
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1/4 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 3-4 wintergreen leaves or 2 drops (or 1/8 of a teaspoon) wintergreen flavouring or extract
  • up to 6 cups of sugar (preferably raw, but granulated white sugar can be used.)

Instructions

Put the sassafras and burdock roots, coriander seeds, star anise and clove in a heavy-bottomed 2 quart saucepan that has a tight fitting lid. Pour the water over the top of the roots and spices and bring to a boil over high heat. Drop the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. If it keeps bubbling up and out, vent the lid just a bit.

Add the molasses, stir, replace the lid, and return to a simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, add the wintergreen flavouring or extract, replace the lid and let the mixture cool to room temperature. (I let mine cool on a cold burner on the stove overnight because I prepared my sassafras infusion late at night.)

Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth, place over a large measuring cup with a pouring spout or a pitcher, and pour the cooled infusion into it to strain. Do not press on the contents, but let the roots rest in the strainer for about 30 minutes before proceeding. While that strains, rinse the pot in which you infused it to get any lingering bits of root or spice out of it.

Measure your sassafras infusion, return it to the rinsed pot and add an equal amount of sugar -by volume- to the pot. For instance, if you have 4 1/2 cups of infusion, add 4 1/2 cups of sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, drop the heat to low and let simmer for 5 minutes. Pour the syrup into canning jars, fix clean, new, two-piece lids on top and store in the refrigerator up to a year.

To Make a Root Beer Drink from the Syrup:

Use 1 tablespoon of syrup over ice to 1 cup of plain seltzer water. Stir gently. Enjoy!

http://www.foodiewithfamily.com/2012/06/25/root-beer-syrup-make-ahead-mondays/

If you want to make a batch or twelve of this but don’t know where to find the ingredients, Amazon.com, as always, can hook you up:

Comments

  1. Brilliant! I would have never thought to make my own root beer syrup. Genius, I tell ya!

    • Ive heard cautionary tales about some compounds in sassafrass being toxic to humans. Have you heard or know anything about that?

      • I’ve heard it, too, but I’ve also heard/read that those studies were done with astronomical amounts of the chemical cousin of sassafras not smaller amounts of the real deal. I guess where I’m at in my head is that I’m okay with it. Everyone needs to decide for themselves!

  2. Valerie in Colorado says:

    Wow! You NEVER cease to amaze me!! I realize you are lucky to have the family you have, but man oh man have they hit the jackpot with you! Your recipes are so varied, so interesting, and I dare say brilliant on a consistent basis! Your writing is witty, informative and the recipes are clear and concise. I have said it before and I will say it again and again, I am so thankful to have found your blog and I am as giddy as a school girl on her first date when I see a new recipe posted. I can’t wait to try this and thank you for the links to purchase the necessary ingredients. I will try local sources first, but feel relieved to have the back up handy just in case. Thanks for this and all of your great recipes!

  3. I can’t wait to try this! I have some banana split ice cream< that can't wait to be drizzled with it!

  4. On Fridays, I share my favorite food finds in a series called Food Fetish Friday – and I love this post so I’m featuring it as part of the roundup (with a link-back and attribution). I hope you have no objections and I always love dropping by to see what you’ve created…

  5. Giselle says:

    Omg! I am a Canadian living in western Australia and finding good root beer is
    Either impossible or frighteningly expensive. I was just about to google how to make my own, and voila! I’d imagine these
    Ingredients will be hard to source here, but at least I have starting point now. Thank you!!

    • Root beer is extra awesome in Australia because of the root word in rootbeer- im sure you know by now.. winks

  6. Amazing! I love this! Root beer has always been my favorite drink, it’s hard to come by in the UK and wildly expensive when you do find it. Then I gave up drinking soda, like you I avoid HFCS. I kind of thought I would just have to enjoy the memory of root beer. Until this post, it. It never occurred to me to make it! It will probably be harder to source the ingredients here but I sure am going to try, thanks for a great post!

  7. Your top photo would make a great “food story photo”. If you want to submit to me for posting, just let me know and it will go up on Saturday with other food photo submissions … http://foodstoriesblog.com/food-story-photos/

  8. Your photo at the top of the page would make a great “food story photo”. If you want to submit to me for posting, just let me know and it will go up on Saturday with other food photo submissions … http://foodstoriesblog.com/food-story-photos/

  9. The FDA banned safrole in 1960, as a cancer causing agent, which is why you no longer find commercial root beers made from distilled sassafras root bark. There is a commercially available extract that does not contain safrole, which is used instead.

    We have a row of sassafras trees lining one side of our property, but mostly I just harvest the leaves in Fall to dry and use for tea or grind into filé powder. The leaves don’t contain safrole.

    I won’t bother digging up sassafras roots, but I will tap our birches and distill the sap for birch beer, which tastes very similar to root beer.

  10. ummisgreen says:

    Hi there, this is a wonderful recipe I don’t usually leave comments on blogs but the last comment about the safrole and the FDA, I wanted to share what Sally Fallon wrote in her book Nourishing Traditions ‘when research showed astronomical quantities of artificial safrole caused cancer in rats…the FDA had a convenient excuse for removing sassafras from health food stores.One suspects that the FDA was more concerned about eliminating compression for the soft drink and drug industries than in protecting the populace from carcinogen.Americans had enjoyed sassafras as a tea and in root beer with no I’ll effects for centuries.SWF’ end of quote. Wake up people, keep enjoyingthe good stuff

  11. Wintergreen is why I don’t like some root beers. It doesn’t seem to agree with me very well, and I can always tell when a root beer has more than the “usual” amount, so I was not surprised to see it on your list of ingredients. I may give this a try, though, as we have a Soda Stream machine, and I hate the price of the natural syrups!

    • How did it work out with the Soda Stream? We just bought one too. Wondering how much syrup you used for the 800ml bottle? Did you use it as-is in the recipe, or a reduced/concentrated version? Thanks!

      • I pour the syrup over ice then add the seltzer from the Soda Stream rather than adding it to the bottle. It’s a personal preference, because I like the plain seltzer, too :D

  12. I was wondering how much of this syrup I would need for a 5 gallon Batch? I am a homebrewer and I would like to make a 5 gallon batch to put into one of my kegs so that I can force carbonate.

    • Wow! You have a serious operation going on there! I’m not sure how much you’d want to do, to be honest, because I mix each glass to order. I’d be fascinated to hear how it turns out after you play with it for a bit!

  13. I used this syrup to flavor 5 gallons of kombucha. Just a heads up, i only used 2 cups of sugar and found it to be too sweet. start out with a cup and half or so if you will be diluting it into kombucha.

  14. So nice to find your site. We have 6 kids and we are a foodie family too! :) http://www.foodieswithacause.com

  15. Antonio says:

    I have been harvesting birch sap from birch trees on my property and I was wondering if you had a good recipe for non alcoholic birch beer.

    Thanks!

  16. Making this recipe right now! I added in a vanilla bean for a little extra flavour and I split the sassafras in half and added sarsaparilla. When you say 3oz of sassafras is that by volume or weight? My sassafras was dried so 3oz was a lot so I went with 3 shots of sassafras!

  17. How much sugar do you have to use in it? Or how little can you get away with & have this taste great?

  18. Jacqueline says:

    I found this while looking for recipes for root beer. The reason to use sassafras extract is that it was found to have an issue with causing cancer, from the saffrole in it. Sassafras extract does not have saffrole and provide the flavor.

  19. Just found your blog and I’m excited to try this recipe! One question, though: do you happen to know if there’s a big weight difference (or taste difference) between dried and fresh sassafras root? I have access to fresh but I wasn’t sure if that would change the recipe by much.

    • It will absolutely differ but by how much is hard to say. Dried foods can be three to six times lighter than their fresh counterpart. I’d say play with it! Please let me know your results if you try it!

      • Thanks for the reply! I’ll give it a shot and see what happens. It does explain why the fresh stuff I found was so much cheaper than the dry ;).

  20. I was wondering if it would be safe to send a jar of this to a friend who lives a ways from me – do you think it would be a problem to be unrefrigerated for a few days in the mail? I could try canning it, but thought I’d see if you have found that a few days out of the fridge is ok… Thank you!

  21. I’m excited to find this. I looked around for a recipe before, and was just overwhelmed with the noise from “recipes” that said “dump in the flavoring and add sugar. There, you made it.” This looks like the real deal; now I just need to rustle up the ingredients. Thanks!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] for lunch. I’d wanted to thank her face to face for years for pointing me toward my beloved homemade root beer recipe and was overjoyed that I had finally delivered those thanks along with a [...]

  2. [...] the store the other day for a pretty penny and it got my wheels turning. I’ve done homemade root beer syrup and loved it, so why not try a homemade Stevia soda? Diet soda at home? WOOHOO! For my first [...]

  3. [...] quick search online revealed the base spices in root beer extract. Foodie with Family has a lovely recipe for your own homemade root beer [...]

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