Are Root Beer And Ginger Beer The Same?

  • By: Max S.
  • Date: September 30, 2022
  • Time to read: 5 min.

Ginger and root beer are famous beverages with a huge fanbase. Although they’re famous on opposite sides of the globe, those who haven’t had both beverages often wonder if they’re the same drink with a different label.

Root beer and ginger beer are not the same drinks—they are actually far from it. In reality, both beverages have key differences in various aspects ranging from their origins, taste, and ingredients. 

Now that we have it straight that ginger beer and root beer aren’t the same, let’s highlight the differences between the two widely loved drinks and nitpick their similarities.

Origins And History Of Both Beverages

Ginger beer emerged in England, while root beer has its roots (pun intended) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Today, root beer is a favorite in North America and relatively unknown in the rest of the world. On the other hand, ginger beer is widely loved in England. 

The origins of these two acclaimed beverages stem on opposite sides of the globe, but the story of their popularity lies in the same reasons: traditions and taste. 

Drinkers of both ginger beer and root beer grew up enjoying them. Whether on special occasions or daily after-school snacks, these drinks played a nostalgic part in shaping people’s beloved, smile-inducing perception of their “school days” or “thanksgiving” memories. 

old root beer advertisement

The use of ginger in drinks dates back to 500 BC. However, ginger beer only became popularized in the 20th century with added sweetness and carbonation. 

On the other hand, root beer has a 200-year-old rocky but interesting history. The root beer we know and love today started in the early 1800s as a medicine for bronchitis. According to the Dr Pepper Museum, patients acquired the taste, and the beverage soon became a cure-all

As the syrup gained fame, it began to be bottled and sold. Commercially, after acquiring the recipe, Charles Hires introduced root beer into the market in 1919 and is known as its inventor. 

Later, researchers found the main plant from which sassafras was extracted to make root beer syrup to have carcinogenic properties. Consequently, root beer brands had to find substitutes to mimic the taste of sassafras to prevent disappointing their customers. 

Eventually, various brands started incorporating more flavors, including cherry, licorice, and cream.

What Are The Differences Between Root Beer And Ginger Beer?

There are several differences stemming from the very origins of the two traditional icons: their origination, history, taste, ingredients, alcohol content, et cetera.

Taste

The tastes of root beer and ginger beer differ significantly. Ginger beer is a slightly carbonated drink with one characteristic flavor: ginger. Ginger beer has an intense and spicy ginger flavor with hints of sweetness.

Root beer, on the other hand, does not have one distinct flavor. It is sweet, but it is salty, it is bitter, but it is not. It is also spicy and has a minty undertone. Although you can’t really describe the taste of root beer, many say it is smooth, earthy, and sugary with a carbonated base. 

As soon as root beer hits your taste buds, you experience intense but smooth sweetness, after which the root’s bitterness and minty wintergreen peer through. Root beer is mainly flavored with sarsaparilla, vanilla, and licorice—an addictive but acquired taste. 

Ingredients

Both root and ginger beer are made from vastly different ingredients. Different beverage companies use different ingredients to make these drinks.

Root beer has a crucial ingredient: Sassafras. Since the use of sassafras was banned, safrole-free sassafras extract is used, which has a bitter, earthy taste with a spicy undertone.  Some companies use wintergreen as a substitute for sassafras, which adds to the minty flavor. Some brands, such as A&W, make root beer using natural cane sugar, spices, and berries. 

Ginger beer is simply made using fresh ginger, sugar, water, and yeast. The primary and most apparent ingredient is, well, ginger. The spiciness of ginger root is what pulls through entirely with added sweetness. Some brands even prefer adding citric acid. 

Alcohol Content

Root beer was popular during Prohibition due to its absent alcohol content. Traditionally, root beer used to contain alcohol but just as low as 2%, which isn’t a considerable amount. However, some brands started producing completely non-alcoholic root beers through the years. 

However, root beer isn’t exclusively a non-alcoholic drink; some brands, such as Jed’s and Abita, have 5.9% alcohol by volume in some of their root beers.

Similarly, ginger beer contains a relatively low amount of alcohol at around 0.5%. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic ginger beers are available widely across Europe. So if the alcohol content of a beverage is essential to you, you might want to check the ingredient list labeled on your ginger beer.

Sugar Content

Let’s face it, in this day and age, we all want to be healthy and make healthy choices. But unfortunately, sugary sodas are a big no-no with many adverse health effects. So what does one do if one wants to enjoy their favorite beer? 

Right off the bat, ginger beer has a higher sugar content than root beer: it has a whopping 13 teaspoons sugar in a single can. 

Therefore, root beer is definitely healthier than ginger beer. However, remember that certain root beer brands also have high sugar content. So, if you want to watch your calories, consider buying the zero-sugar versions of both these beverages.

Smell

Due to the stark differences in their fundamental ingredients, root beer and ginger beer have very distinct smells.

Root beer has an earthy smell, which people describe as having the same smell as Germolene, the antiseptic cream… weird, right? But on the other hand, ginger beer has a stingy, spicy scent, which is quite characteristic of ginger.

Why Does Root Beer Have A Confusing Taste?

Root beer takes the cake when it comes to confusing taste. Some people find it very sweet and delicious, while others dislike it because it tastes like mouthwash. It is salty, bitter, and yet intensely sweet. 

But with ginger beer, ginger is pretty hard to miss, right? If something contains ginger, you can almost always pinpoint it. This beverage’s sweet, gingery taste almost instantly jumps right at you. 

Cooking With Root Beer and Ginger Beer: Is It Possible?

root beer in crock pot

Both root beer and ginger beer are used in cooking dishes to give them their signature flavor. So whether it is root beer chicken or grilled ginger beer chicken, these fan-favorite drinks can become an essential ingredient for your dishes. 

The sugar content in these beverages helps give the chicken a crunchy outer texture and a thick sauce. Root beer chicken is delicious and perfect thanksgiving dinner.

Conclusion

Although the two cultural beverages originated on opposite sides of the world, both soon became popularized and widely loved among consumers. As a result, variations of both root beer and ginger beer are readily available, with ginger beer being popular in many countries other than England. 

Root and ginger beer are somewhat different beverages with distinct tastes and smells. Not everyone who loves root beer likes ginger beer, and not all ginger beer drinkers like root beer!

So why not give both these beverages a taste at the same time and decide which one you like the most?