A Root That’s Not Just For Root Beer

Brooke Newberry
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Not only are we interested in its charming, century old ability of being used to cure sexual impotence and treat a plethora of STDs, but we’re also into this root’s culinary ranking.

A native South American vine with a bitter tasting root, Sarsaparilla root is used to make the namesake Sarsaparilla drink. You know, the one that Yosemite Sam jargoned “Sasparilly” and demanded be served “really snappy.”  A cousin of root beer, the rare, old school pop is actually just made from one root – the sarsaparilla root, while root beer is made in combination with sarsaparilla and other ingredients, such as wintergreen, vanilla and licorice. Sarsaparilla is basically made from distilling the compounds of the root and mixing them with sugar water. Smaller artisan companies (we like Sioux City’s Sarsaparilla) still make the stuff, but root beer’s popularity has led to a decrease in production of the cowboy’s drink. You can’t just walk up to the bar and order a “sasparilly” anymore.

However, the root itself is having proud a culinary and mixology moment. Simmered sarsaparilla root is trending at the bar as mixologists and bartenders are snatching up the root from local spice stores ond ordering it online to make bitters with its musky vanilla-esque qualities.

Other ways to consume sarsaparilla, besides drinking it: Season meats, vegetables and breads with ground sarsaparilla root. Smoke chicken with it. Simmer the root in water as a base for broths. Also good for poaching (think poached chicken breast). Submerse its leaves in hot water and make tea to ease cold symptoms.  Simmer the root with sugar and thicken into a caramel, then use as a sauce for desserts.

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