The primary ingredient used in traditional root beer recipes was found to cause permanent liver damage and cancer in 1960 so the United States FDA banned its use in mass-produced products. Therefore the root beer products we now see labeled original, traditional, and old fashioned are actually very different from the real original root beer recipes.
The primary ingredient in old fashioned root beer is sassafras albidum which contains safrole, an ingredient banned in mass-produced products in the U.S. because of its link to permanent liver damage and ability to cause cancer.
The FDA banned sassafras albidum in 1960 after animal testing showed a causal link to permanent liver damage and cancer caused by safrole. However, safrole is still used in non-mass produced products, available online, and ironically can be purchased in health food stores because it is also used as a diuretic and to help with urinary tract infections.
Safrole can be distilled and extracted from products using sassafras albidum to make it safe, however most commercial root beers now use methyl salicylate which is an extract from black birch bark and wintergreen.
- Botanical Dietary Supplements Gone Bad (link is external). Judy L. Bolton, Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy, University of Illinois.
- Root beer bottle photo (link is external). Copyright 2008 Serge Melki. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.
- Featured Image: Tea Cup Chronicles