The Original Purpose Of Root Beer Might Surprise You

Ah, root beer! Love it or hate it, good luck trying to make a proper float without it. Whether you think that Barq's or A&W is the superior root beer brand, there's no denying that the classic drink has plenty of fans — and if you have a hankering for a nice, carbonated soft drink, it's far from the worst decision you could make. After all, while it's probably safe to say that people shouldn't drink soda for health purposes, it's worth remembering that root beer's comparatively low acidity makes it the least harmful soda for your teeth.

Root beer has made a name for itself among ice cream lovers and soda fans alike, but there's actually one strange use that precedes both of its current ones. See, back in the day, the drink was used for things that had nothing to do with satisfying your sweet tooth. Let's take a look at the original purpose of root beer, which might very well surprise you.  

Root beer used to be used as medicine

Turns out, the fact that root beer is (comparatively) easy on your pearly whites might just be a small hint to its historical use as medicine. 

According to ThoughtCo and the Dr. Pepper Museum, root beer as we know it started its existence as medical "cure-all" syrups sold in pharmacies. The first version of modern root beer can be traced back to a Philadelphia pharmacist called Charles Elmer Hires, who invented the recipe and started selling it as a dry mix that had to be mixed with water, sugar, and yeast. The fermentation process would eventually create the fizziness of the drink. Hires eventually started developing a liquid version of his concoction, and introduced it to the public at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition to great success and adoration. By 1893, his family became the first to bottle root beer. 

Perhaps ironically considering its medical origin, root beer has been linked with various health concerns associated with soft drinks. In 1960, the FDA also banned sassafras — one of root beer's most important ingredients. Fortunately for root beer lovers, this was eventually circumvented with the development of a technique that could extract the potentially carcinogenic oil from the plant before use.