What Does Root Beer Taste Like?

by Dane Wilson | Last Updated: March 22, 2022

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In the past, root beer was an herbal concoction that used a variety of ingredients to tackle all kinds of ailments. While root beer from the past is different from what is sold today, it is safe to say that root beer is favored throughout North America. But what does root beer taste like, really? And do different brands taste different? Time for a deep dive into root beer!

What is Root Beer?

While the history of root beer is long and fascinating, there are two things you need to know. Once, root beer mainly used sassafras root to get its distinct flavor. Unfortunately, as delicious as sassafras may be, it was found to be carcinogenic. Sarsaparilla, dandelion root, mint, vanilla, cinnamon, sweet birch, licorice, molasses, and ginger are all common ingredients in modern day root beer.

However, many companies have taken to using “root beer extract”, which is a mixture of water, natural flavoring, and ethyl alcohol.

What Does Root Beer Taste Like?

The most simple description of root beer is that it is sweet. Some brands are more minty and may be reminiscent of toothpaste when you first smell it. Other brands taste like a diluted and herbal cola. When sarsaparilla or sassafras is used, root beer takes on a far more medicinal flavor. Depending on the brand and the quality of ingredients they are using, the root beer could either be sweet or spicy.

Often, sarsaparilla root gives the root beer too much bitterness, so that is countered with sweeteners, like sugar. This is one of the reasons why root beer floats are so popular—it’s the blend of bitterness and sweetness that makes for a refreshing drink.

One thing can be agreed upon, though: You must acquire a taste for root beer to truly enjoy it.

Want a good laugh? Check out this video of Irish people trying root beet for the first time:

Many of them said that root beer tastes a little like Jagermeister. That is a close approximation, especially if you are drinking alcoholic root beer!

Does Root Beer Taste Like Beer?

No, root beer does not taste like beer. Maybe in the past, when root beer used fermented sassafras root as the base ingredient, there may have been more similarities. Even though root beer can be brewed non-alcoholic or alcoholic, it does not have the same flavoring ingredients as beer.

Root beer is minty and may have hints of licorice, sarsaparilla, and spices.

Beer, on the other hand, can be malty or hoppy. Depending on the hops used, there may be notes of toast or bread, banana, citrus, and herbs.

Does Root Beer Taste Like Birch Beer?

Although birch beer and root beer are very similar, due to the brewing process that makes them “small beers.” Traditionally, birch beer uses black birch tree bark (also known as sweet birch or spice birch). The bark is softened in water so that the essential oils are freed. Then the mixture is fermented with yeast.

But does birch beer taste like root beer? The answer is no. Root beer is much heavier and artificial in flavor. Birch beer is complex but much tastier than root beer. The birch bark gives the drink a burst of wintergreen and spice. There is also an undeniable creaminess to birch beer that is not naturally found in root beer.

If you pick up a root beer that has a minty taste or scent, it is most likely the influence of sweet birch used during brewing.

At The Root of Flavor

What does root beer taste like? Probably like nothing you have had before (if you never had it, that is)! Root beer is earthy, bitter yet sweet, and sometimes minty. Although it depends largely on the ingredients used, root beer is most commonly described as a blend of mint, licorice, and Jagermeister.

FAQs About Root Beer Taste

Does root beer taste like cola?

While some people will say that root beer tastes like cola, that is not exactly true. Root beer and cola can have similar ingredients, but cola is noticeably sweeter than root beer. Cola contains more hints of vanilla and sugar. Root beer uses herbs, spices, and root beer extract or sarsaparilla to get its unique flavor. Without sweetener, root beer would be much more bitter than cola.

Does root beer taste like toothpaste?

No, root beer does not taste like toothpaste. It can smell like toothpaste, because of mint flavorings or sweet birch. However, due to the other flavors present in root beer, you will not be reminded of toothpaste for long. You are more likely to find that root beer, particularly the organic kind, has a far more medicinal flavor.

Does root beer taste like Dr. Pepper?

Dr. Pepper is not root beer, and it does not taste like root beer. Dr. Pepper may have a lot in common with root beer, such as the vanilla and spice flavor, but they are two different beverages. For starters, Dr. Pepper does not contain sarsaparilla. Dr. Pepper has more of a spicy cherry flavor, while root beer tastes more like medicine and licorice.

Does root beer taste like gum?

There are some ingredients in root beer that may remind you of wintergreen gum. Since root beer is a mixture of herbs, spices, and sarsaparilla or sassafras root, there may be a hint of mint when you smell and taste the beverage.