These Unusual Ingredients Were In The Original Dr Pepper

Even if you're not a Dr Pepper fan, you have to appreciate the complexity of America's second-oldest soft drink still in production today (via Serious Eats). According to Thrillist, the secret, 23-ingredient recipe for Dr Pepper is locked in an actual vault at Dr Pepper Snapple Group headquarters in Plano, Texas. However, internet soda aficionados believe the flavors that give Dr Pepper its unique taste are: amaretto, almond, blackberry, black licorice, carrot, clove, cherry, caramel, cola, ginger, juniper, lemon, molasses, nutmeg, orange, prune, plum, pepper, root beer, rum, raspberry, tomato, and vanilla.

What you won't find on this list are mandrake root and sweet flag root, but those are two of the ingredients in what some people believe was the original Dr Pepper, which was most likely developed for medicinal purposes, not for sipping ice-cold on your porch.

We know this because in 2009, per an Associated Press report published by The New York Daily News, a rare manuscripts collector from Oklahoma happened upon a yellowed sales ledger as he was perusing the goods of an antiques store in the town of Shamrock, Texas. Waters paid $200 for the 350-page 19th century book, unaware of the treasure inside. Flipping through its pages, a handwritten recipe titled "D Peppers Pepsin Bitter" caught his attention. The letterhead on this page was from "W B Morrison and Co. Old Corner Drug Store," a late-1800s drug store that operated in Waco, Texas. Waters did some research and found out that Dr Pepper, the beverage, was first served at this same store in 1885.

Mandrake and sweet flag

So what are these obscure roots that were in the original Dr Peppers Pepsin Bitters? According to the BBC, Mandrakes are native to the Mediterranean and Middle East. Its root has been used as a painkiller, fertility drug, aphrodisiac, and a hallucinogen. In mythology (including the Harry Potter series), uprooted mandrakes were said to emit shrieks that would drive a person mad or even cause death for those unlucky enough to hear their cries (per the BBC). Witches were once said to use them in potions that allowed them to fly. Some of this mythology might stem from their unusual appearance, which, disturbingly, can have a small, shriveled, human-like form.

Sweet flag is a perennial that resembles a cattail or an iris. Medicinal Herb Info says the root has been used for medicinal purposes for more than 2,000 years, thanks to its decongestant and expectorant properties. It is also said to work as a sedative and relieve upset stomachs. With an essence similar to ginger, it is sometimes used in beer making or as a flavoring for gin or vermouth.

Would your homemade concoction based on the original recipe taste anything like the Dr Pepper we know and love? While Dr Peppers Pepsin Bitters might soothe your stomach, it's nothing you'd want to drink, according to one company executive quoted by the Associated Press. In fact, he said the recipe has nothing in common with any Dr Pepper formula the company knows of.