Root beer is an American classic with a rich (and creamy!) history. Unfortunately, like other major soda flavors, root beer is traditionally rich in added sugars and artificial ingredients. But…. we aren’t just bearers of bad news! What if we told you there’s a new root beer in town that has the rich, sweet, and creamy flavor you know and love but is actually good for you? Yup, that’s right, we’re talking about OLIPOP’s Classic Root Beer.
So, let’s dive into root beer’s history and take a look inside the can! We'll compare OLIPOP’s blend of unique botanicals, plant fibers, and prebiotics to the not-so-great-for-you ingredients you’ll find in your average can of root beer so you can start deciding which soda is right for you!
History of Root Beer
So where does the story of root beer begin? While Philadelphia pharmacist Charles Elmer Hires is credited with selling the first-ever version of root beer, the story really starts with a little root called sassafras. 1
Sassafras Root Beverages
Sassafras is a genus of three different types of trees found across North America and parts of East Asia. The sassafras tree is incredibly fragrant and its roots are the backbone of root beer's original flavor.
Before the sassafras root made its way into traditional root beer, it first gained popularity for its medicinal properties. There is evidence that, back in pre-colonial times, indigenous tribes used the sassafras root in cooking and to help treat wounds. 1 2
Seeing indigenous tribes use the roots, American colonists picked up on its helpful properties and began using it as an ingredient in early “small beers” or beverages created from whatever roots and herbs they had at their disposal. 1 With ingredients like licorice root, birch bark, hops, ginger, mint, nutmeg, and sassafras root, so began early versions of traditional small beers such as birch beer, sarsaparilla, ginger beer, and root beer. 1
Charles Elmer Hires
It wasn’t until the 1860s that the root beer we now know today made its first appearance in American culture. 1 Ironically, this is thanks to an accidental discovery made by pharmacist Charles Elmer Hires. 3 Hires was attempting to make a cure-all miracle drug featuring ingredients such as sarsaparilla, hops, juniper, wintergreen, spikenard, licorice, vanilla, and birch bark. This original recipe was a sweet and bitter syrup that initially wasn’t well-received. 3
However, after going back to the drawing board and making some recipe changes, Hires debuted his version of root beer to the public in 1876. By 1893 the first bottled root beer was being sold and distributed. 1 After Hires’ first success, other companies started making their own versions of root beer and the soda quickly became a household favorite.
Root Beer Nutrition Today
As you might imagine, the root beer you buy from the grocery store today looks a little bit different than it did back in the late 1800s. For starters, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of sassafras in 1960 due to studies pointing to its potential carcinogenic, or cancer-causing, effects. 2 However, recent research has shed some doubt on this ban, failing to find any evidence that the carcinogenic effects we’ve seen in rats apply to humans. 2
Additionally, while early versions of root beer were alcoholic, today’s root beer is often a kid favorite thanks to its zero alcohol content. Also, at some point in root beer’s history, makers began swapping out natural roots and herbs for ingredients like high fructose corn syrup. All these changes make modern root beer another sugar-sweetened beverage with zero health benefits. Which, ironically, is quite the opposite of Charles Elmer Hires' original vision for a cure-all medicine!
What Is Root Beer Made Of?
A 12oz can of the most popular root beer brands today has anywhere from 43 to 45 grams of added sugar, contains 160 to 230 calories, and has 0 grams of dietary fiber or protein. To get this nutritional breakdown, the ingredients in a root beer include:
- Carbonated water
- High fructose corn syrup
- Caramel coloring
- Sodium benzoate
- Citric acid
- Natural and artificial flavors
Needless to say, the original root and herb ingredients of early-day root beer are nowhere to be found.
Root Beer Ingredients
High Fructose Corn Syrup
A primary ingredient in most sodas, corn syrup is a chain of glucose, or simple sugar, that forms from corn starch. You get high fructose corn syrup by converting some of that glucose into fructose, or fruit sugar. High fructose corn syrup is not any better or any worse than other types of sugar, but the problem with high fructose corn syrup is that we are consuming too much of it. 4
A can of root beer, for example, has 43 to 45 grams of added sugar from high fructose corn syrup. Which is an incredible amount of added sugar! In fact, the American Heart Association suggests you limit your added sugars to no more than 24 grams for women and 36 grams for men per day. 5 In just one can of root beer you are consuming well above your daily limit. Now add in the high fructose corn syrup that’s in your cereal, baked goods, and processed foods and you’ve got yourself a corn-syrup sugar problem.
Caramel color is a food coloring added to many sodas to create that familiar dark coloring. It’s made with ammonium compounds, which can, in the manufacturing process, form a chemical compound called 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI). 6
4-MEI is a contentious topic that is highly debated. A study from 2007 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer found the compound to be potentially carcinogenic to humans. But a 2020 report by the FDA argued that small amounts of the compound are safe for human consumption. 7 8
Another unnatural ingredient in soda is sodium benzoate. Sodium benzoate is an FDA-approved chemical preservative used by manufacturers to extend a product’s shelf life and increase the freshness of your soda. 9 Alongside other common preservatives like potassium benzoate and potassium sorbate, a small amount in your root beer can help protect your drink from mold, yeast, and unwanted bacteria. 9 Although generally recognized as safe by the FDA, sodium benzoate can form benzene, a known carcinogen, when combined with ascorbic acid, or Vitamin C. 10
Citric acid is an acid naturally found in citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, and some berries. It’s one of the world’s most common food additives because it works as both a preservative and flavoring agent. However, the citric acid you’ll find in your root beer is the lab-created or artificial version of the acid, which means it doesn’t offer the same benefits as you’d get biting into an orange. Even so, this FDA-approved man-made citric acid helps keep your root beer fresh and gives it a tangy flavor. 11
OLIPOP Root Beer Nutrition
In direct contrast to other brands, OLIPOP’s Classic Root Beer combines the rich, sweet, and creamy flavor you know and love with the complex nutrients you need. While other root beers lack any kind of nutritional value, we make our Classic Root Beer with prebiotics, plant fibers, and botanicals for a gut boost that feels as good as it tastes (and it tastes really, really good).
With these ingredients, our Classic Root Beer redefines the meaning of classic by bringing root beer back to its roots (see what we did there?). Our botanically driven root beer uses extracts of sweet birch, smooth-vanilla bean, naturally sourced burdock root, chicory root, cassava root, and more.
And of course, this isn’t your average 44-grams-of-sugar-per-can root beer. Instead, OLIPOP’s Classic Root Beer has 35 calories, nine grams of dietary fiber, and just two grams of sugar from cassava root syrup, real fruit juice, and stevia. Our plant-based ingredients are the ultimate dream team. They work together to support healthy digestion and feed the microbiome that exists within all of us.
Ingredients in OLIPOP Root Beer
The ingredients in your can of OLIPOP Classic Root Beer include:
- Carbonated Water
- OLISMART (Cassava Root Fiber, Chicory Root Inulin, Jerusalem Artichoke Inulin, Nopal Cactus, Calendula Flower, Kudzu Root, Marshmallow Root)
- Cassava Root Syrup
- Apple Juice Concentrate
- Organic Natural Root Beer Flavor
- Lemon Juice
- Burdock Root
- Stevia Leaf
- Himalayan Pink Salt
- Natural Vanilla Flavor
- Sweet Birch
OLISMART is our in-house proprietary blend of unique botanicals, plant fibers, and prebiotics, each hand-picked for their biome-supporting benefits. For more information on each of these power-packed ingredients, check out our ultimate guides below:
Cassava Root Syrup
Cassava root syrup is an all-natural and fructose-free sugar alternative made from cassava root. Cassava root is a woody shrub with fan-shaped leaves that’s native to South America. You can find this syrup extract in drinks (like OLIPOP!) and snacks where it acts as a prebiotic fiber and sugar-free sweetener.
Burdock root is a plant native to North Asia and Europe but also grows today as a weed across the United States. This root vegetable has been a part of traditional medicine for centuries, given its potential for many health benefits such as lowering blood sugar levels and helping to treat and prevent infections. 12
Stevia is a zero-calorie, plant-based sweetener derived from the South American plant “Stevia Rebaudiana”. Not only does it not have any calories, carbs, or fat, but it's approximately 200-300 times sweeter tasting than sugar. This means you need a lot less of it to get that delicious sweet taste. 13 To learn more about stevia leaf extract and how it’s different from sugar check out our blog posts The Ultimate Guide to Stevia and Debunking Myths About Stevia.
Sweet Birch (also called black birch and cherry birch) is a tree native to eastern North America. 14 Just like the maple tree, it produces a sweet sap. You can also harvest its stem and bark to extract wintergreen, a natural flavoring agent with a minty taste.
Root Beer: The Takeaway
Whether you’re on the hunt for a really good treat, or you’re looking for some digestive support, OLIPOP Classic Root Beer has you covered. Our fun, fizzy take on this American classic is filled with prebiotics, fiber, and botanical extracts to support your gut health. Plus it contains no artificial preservatives, sweeteners, colors, flavors, or ingredients, and it is non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free, paleo, and keto-friendly. Stock your fridge with Classic Root Beer (or our other amazing flavors!) and get ready to swap out sugar for better health benefits!
- Bellis, Mary. “The History of Root Beer.” ThoughtCo, Dotdash, 9 Aug. 2019, www.thoughtco.com/history-of-root-beer-1992386.
- McVean, Ada. “The Root in Root Beer Is Sassafras.” Office for Science and Society, McGill University, 22 Feb. 2018, www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know/root-root-beer-sassafras.
- “Root Beer History: Why Is Root Beer Called Root Beer?” Renegade Brewing, Renegade Brewing, 26 Apr. 2021, renegadebrewing.com/root-beer-history/. 4 “High Fructose Corn Syrup Questions and Answers.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Food and Drug Administration,
- Jan. 2018, www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/high-fructose-corn-syrup-questions-and-answers.
- “Added Sugar in the Diet.” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, The President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2 Jan. 2019, www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/added-sugar-in-the-diet/.
- Smith, Tyler J. S., Julia A. Wolfson, Ding Jiao, Michael J. Crupain, Urvashi Rangan, Amir Sapkota, Sara N. Bleich, and Keeve E. Nachman. “Caramel Color in Soft Drinks and Exposure to 4-Methylimidazole: A Quantitative Risk Assessment.” Edited by Maciej Buchowski. PLOS ONE 10, no. 2 (February 18, 2015): e0118138. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0118138.
- Caramel Color: The Health Risk That May Be in Your Soda.” Consumer Reports, Consumer Reports, 10 Feb. 2014, www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/01/caramel-color-the-health-risk-that-may-be-in-your-soda/index.htm.
- Questions & Answers About 4-MEI.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, 27 Mar. 2020, www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/questions-answers-about-4-mei.
- Brennan, Dan. “What Is Sodium Benzoate? Is It Safe for Use as a Food Preservative?” WebMD, WebMD, 12 Apr. 2021, www.webmd.com/diet/what-to-know-about-sodium-benzoate.
- “Questions and Answers on the Occurrence of Benzene.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 24 Jan. 2018, www.fda.gov/food/chemical-contaminants-food/questions-and-answers-occurrence-benzene-soft-drinks-and-other-beverages.
- Bhargava, Hansa D. “Citric Acid Health Benefits.” WebMD, WebMD, 23 June 2020, www.webmd.com/diet/what-is-citric-acid#1.
- Villines, Zawn. “Burdock Root: Benefits, Side Effects, and Uses.” Edited by Debra Rose Wilson, Medical News Today, Healthline Media, 16 Nov. 2017, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320035.
- Cox, Lauren. “What Is Stevia?” LiveScience, Future US, Inc., 26 Apr. 2018, www.livescience.com/39601-stevia-facts-safety.html.
- “Betula Lenta.” North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox, NC Cooperative Extension, plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/betula-lenta/.
- In the 1860s, the Root Beer we now know today made its first appearance in American culture thanks to an accidental discovery made by pharmacist Charles Elmer Hires
- A 12oz can of the most popular Root Beer brands today has anywhere from 43 to 45 grams of added sugar, contains 160 to 230 calories, and has 0 grams of dietary fiber or protein.
- OLIPOP’s Classic Root Beer has 35 calories, nine grams of dietary fiber, and just two grams of sugar from cassava root syrup, real fruit juice, and stevia.
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