Here’s a fun project the whole family can participate in. Sometimes recipes for making root beer from scratch have a lot of ingredients that may not be easy to find. This recipe uses only five basic ingredients to produce a pleasant, mildly-flavored brew that all your root beer lovers will enjoy. If they are adventurous you can also try various other combinations and additions of roots and bark like licorice, wintergreen, or ginger.
All commercially produced root beer contains artificial flavoring because sassafras, the herb that gives root beer its characteristic flavor, was banned as an ingredient in any commercial beverage after scientists discovered the active ingredient in sassafras, safrole, made lab rats more prone to cancer when they were fed very large amount of it. The dried root can still be purchased to use for making tea, though. Historically, sassafras tea has been used in folk medicine for generations. If you choose to purchase and use dried sassafras for making root beer, keep in mind it may not be advisable to drink huge quantities on a daily basis.
Most homemade root beer is carbonated by using champagne or ale yeast. This version relies instead on lacto-fermentation to add a subtle fizz to the brew. If you want more bubbles you may choose to blend your root beer with mineral water or even water kefir. It also helps to bottle your root beer in swing-top bottles that have tight seals, preserving more of the carbonation. The fun in making your own root beer comes from experimenting with the types and quantities of the roots and herbs, and the length of lacto-fermentation. Even if your brew doesn’t get particularly bubbly, you can still enjoy the taste of homemade root beer and get a healthy dose of probiotics at the same time!
- Place roots and sugar in a large saucepan. Add 3 quarts filtered water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit 30 minutes.
- Strain roots from liquid by placing a fine mesh sieve in a funnel that will fit into the neck of the swing-top bottle. Fill bottles, leaving enough head room to hold 1/4 cup of whey or starter culture and still have an inch or so remaining.
- When the root beer has cooled to almost room temperature (or around 80° to 85°F), add the whey. Place the cap on tight and gently shake to blend. Leaving the cap on, store at room temperature for 2 to 4 days, checking for carbonation after 2 days. Refrigerate when the brew is fizzy enough for your tastes. Do not store at room temperature for extended lengths of time as there is always a (remote) possibility that the bottle could explode if enough pressure builds up inside.
- If your brew does not get fizzy you can still enjoy it by adding it to a glass of mineral water or water kefir.