Sarsaparilla vs Root Beer – History, Differences, Health Benefits


Sarsaparilla, or Zarzaparilla, is a soft drink, originally produced from the Smilax ornata plant. However, in the present day, it is flavored with birch and sassafras oils and does not commonly contain Smilax ornata root.

Health Benefits

This plant is native to Jamaica, South America, the Caribbean, Honduras, Mexico, and the West Indies. It has a tuberous shape and has no particular taste or smell. Moreover, it climbs well and can grow to be over 50 yards long.

This root has been used for millennia by the indigenous peoples of South and Central America for rheumatism, cancer prevention, colds, cough, sexual impotence, tumor growth, skin ailments, and as a general tonic for fatigue.

In the 16th century, the herb was brought to Europe by returning Spanish soldiers as a cure for syphilis. Also, it was one of G. Baldwin & Co’s (one of the leading herbalists in London) most popular natural remedies, where they used to serve it frothy and strong, which is completely different from the sweet (usually with artificial sweeteners) carbonated drink of today.

There are also some restrictions, especially for pregnant and nursing mothers as well as for patients with kidney disorders, men with prostate disorders, and sufferers with sensitive stomachs.

What Gives This Root Its Potent Healing Abilities?

Scientists have identified a variety of active chemical properties within this plant, such as – antioxidants, along with anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer plant compounds. These include:


They are one of the largest nutrient families known to researchers and include more than 6,000 family members. Flavonoids actually are pigmentation chemicals that give plants their stem, leaf, root, and flower root color.

Similar to other plant compounds, they have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties as well as they boost the immune system. Additionally, they protect the human body’s cells from free radical damage, which are derived either from normal vital metabolic processes in the body, cigarette smoke, and other environmental contaminants.

Furthermore, research shows that flavonoids inhibit LDL cholesterol oxidation and have a negative correlation with the incidence of coronary heart disease.

Plant Sterols

First discovered in 1950, plant sterols are similar in structure to cholesterol and have unique health benefits, particularly lowering LDL cholesterol. This effect is important since there is strong evidence of a correlation between high total and LDL cholesterol levels and the risk of stroke and heart attack.

Plant sterols are also efficient in modulating cortisol as well as regulating Interleukin-6, all effective methods to relieve arthritis pain, according to the research conducted by Professor Patrick Bouic.


They are a diverse group of glycosidic compounds and are found in the plant kingdom. Saponins are characterized by structures containing steroidal aglycones or a triterpene and one or more sugar chains.

Saponins have soap-like qualities or characteristics and produce a lather when combined with water. One of the most important benefits of saponins is that they can lower LDL and total cholesterol.

In addition, recent research concluded that saponins have anti-mutagenic and antitumor properties and can notably reduce the risk of human cancers, by preventing cancer cells from dividing.

Lastly, according to a 2010 study published in “ACS Chemical Biology,” consuming foods containing saponins may enhance the immune function and fight off fungal infections.

Sioux City

Sioux City is the most well-known and consumed sarsaparilla drink in the US. It is produced and marketed by White Rock Beverages.

Nutrition Profile – serving size: 12 fl oz; total fat 0g; calories 170; sugars 42g; sodium 45mg; total carbohydrates 42g; protein 0g.

Ingredients – pure cane sugar, purified carbonated water, citric acid, caramel color, natural and artificial flavors, and sodium benzoate (to preserve taste).

Root Beer

It is a sweet soft drink traditionally produced using the sassafras (botanical name – Sassafras albidum) or Smilax ornata as the main flavors. Also, this drink is flavored with burdock, anise, dandelion, cinnamon, juniper, ginger, wintergreen, and vanilla.

However, contemporary root beer is completely different, as the original spices and herbs have been replaced with artificial flavorings.

A&W Root Beer is the main brand of this type of drink in Canada and the US. This company was started in 1919 by Roy W. Allen, and by their peak in the ‘70s, they had more stores than McDoMcDonald’s.

It is part of The Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, a company that has 6 of the top 10 non-cola soft drinks. It is a fast-growing company. For instance, from 2008 until today, it has grown earnings at a compound annual rate of 6 percent per year.

Ingredients – high fructose corn syrup, quillaia extract, carbonated water, sodium benzoate (to preserve taste), caramel color, and natural and artificial flavors.

Verdict – Sarsaparilla vs Root Beer 

In the past, these two drinks were quite healthy and nutritious with many health benefits for human health. However, in the present day, they are full of food additives (such as – high fructose corn syrup or sodium benzoate) with a variety of side effects.

Image credit – Shutterstock

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