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Getting taste from roots and herbs
 
 
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KarateExplosion
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 19, 2008 2:18 pm    Post subject: Getting taste from roots and herbs Reply with quote

I've been trying for a while to brew root beer from roots with not that much success. Putting lots and lots of wintergreen in and little or no other ingredients seems to be the only way to make it taste decent, but it definitely seems to be missing some flavor that I can't put my finger on.

My biggest problem is most roots (which I've bought chopped and dried online, from places like mountainroseherbs.com) is that they end up tasting like dirt. I've tried rinsing the root first, but it doesn't really seem to help much.

The other problem is that I don't entirely know what taste the roots are supposed to be adding. Like I don't really know what sarsaparilla is supposed to taste like. But for licorice, I add a little licorice and seem to get a lot of dirt taste and no noticeable licorice taste. And I've tried making it with birch bark instead of wintergreen, and I just end up with lots of dirt/bark flavor and only some root beer flavor.

Anyone have any suggestions on how to get the taste out of the roots without the dirt taste? Do I need to be adding far less but cooking it way longer, or something? I think this has been asked before, but it doesn't seem like it really got an answer.

Ultimately I could just buy extracts and essential oils for most of these flavors, but I'd like to try to get it to work with real roots and herbs, even if it's extra work to get the taste out. And some flavors, like sarsaparilla, seem to be difficult to find extracts for. So if anyone has suggestions, I'd definitely like to hear them.

PS. Does anyone here actually brew root beer this way successfully? It seems like it must be possible.
  
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aruzinsky
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 20, 2008 1:19 pm    Post subject: Re: Getting taste from roots and herbs Reply with quote

I haven't used herbs in a long time, but I don't remember a "taste like dirt" problem. Sarsaparilla has very little flavor or odor. Licorice is basically just sweet and does not taste like licorice candy which is flavored with anise. Cherry tree bark has a sort of bitter almond flavor. I remember trying toasted dandelion root, which was just auful.

Why aren't you using sassafras? All you need to get a basic rootbeer flavor is wintergreen and sassafras. After that, you can refine the flavor with other ingredients, especially spices such as allspice, clove, star anise.
  
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KarateExplosion
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 20, 2008 11:06 pm    Post subject: Re: Getting taste from roots and herbs Reply with quote

I have sassafras, and I use it sometimes, but mainly I'm not using it because I'm trying to reproduce a modern, commercial root beer flavor. I sometimes throw it in, but I haven't quite perfected how much to put in yet, because it overpowers the wintergreen if I'm not careful. That's sort of one of those things I'm planning on playing with more in the future, after I have a good recipe for normal non-sassafras root beer. There's so many different directions to play with, it's going to take me forever to work through all the combinations, if you know what I mean. I plan to play more with yeast carbonating in the future as well, but I want to get my recipe down with it force carbonated first.

One of the reasons I don't use sassafras much is I know that it is extremely mildly carcinogenic, which doesn't really worry me per se, but it makes me not want to put it in any root beer I'm going to give other people, because they may be more paranoid about that sort of thing than I am. I'm hoping to have a root beer I can bring to parties and whatnot at some point, and I probably wouldn't want sassafras in that (or at least if I did I would warn people first). I have a couple of friends in particular that seem kind of paranoid about that sort of thing.


Huh, your comments about sarsaparilla and licorice are interesting. I guess a "dirt" flavor isn't quite right, but it tastes very bark like, as if you literally put some bark in your mouth. I dunno. I've tried a few different kinds of sarsaparilla, mexican and indian, from different sources, and they both seem to give the same sort of off flavor. I've also tried licorice from two different sources, and licorice does the same. I think the licorice is actually a little worse. Birch bark has a pretty heavy bark flavor also. Sassafras on the other hand seems good and doesn't really seem to give much off-flavor, so I haven't had any problems with it.

They are all already chopped and everything though. When you made it, did you buy the roots somewhere already shredded, or did you get it yourself? Is it possible that I'm getting the wrong part of the plant or something? I've ordered most of them from mountainroseherbs.com.

I guess maybe I should just avoid those ingredients and use the ingredients you mention, especially because it sounds like neither of them really add anything that's too important. I wanted a heavily licorice taste, but I guess that means using anise. I have some anise oil I haven't used yet. I have used some star anise, allspice, and a few other ingredients off and on, trying to perfect my recipe, but I've mostly been trying to puzzle how to get rid of the aftertaste from the sarsaparilla and licorice. Almost every recipe I see mentions sarsaparilla, so I kept assuming it must be important for some part of the taste. I even got some sarsaparilla soda at the store, hoping that the sarsaparilla flavor would be stronger and I might be able to pick out what flavor was being added, but I didn't really notice a difference.
  
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aruzinsky
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 21, 2008 1:31 pm    Post subject: Re: Getting taste from roots and herbs Reply with quote

KarateExplosion wrote:

I have sassafras, and I use it sometimes, but mainly I'm not using it because I'm trying to reproduce a modern, commercial root beer flavor.


But, modern root beer has few natural ingredients and those natural ingredients are essential oils or chemical isolates. Don't forget that some pure flavor chemicals are produced by fractional distillation of spices or herbs and they too are "natural." If you find a source for these, please, let me know.

KarateExplosion wrote:

There's so many different directions to play with, it's going to take me forever to work through all the combinations, if you know what I mean.


One approach is to modify store bought root beer with a small amount of various ingredients and keep a log of what blends well with the original flavor, what doesn't, and what amounts work well. This is relatively easy to do with essential oils and flavor chemicals.

KarateExplosion wrote:

One of the reasons I don't use sassafras much is I know that it is extremely mildly carcinogenic, which doesn't really worry me per se, but it makes me not want to put it in any root beer I'm going to give other people, because they may be more paranoid about that sort of thing than I am.


You shouldn't trust government findings. It has a long history of incompetence. Do you believe there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Nevertheless, if something goes wrong by coincidence, your friends will use sassafras as an excuse to sue you.

KarateExplosion wrote:

When you made it, did you buy the roots somewhere already shredded, or did you get it yourself?


Already shredded. In my teens during the 1960s, there was a big herb store in Chicago, Dr Michaels Herbs. It still esists, but smaller at a different location. Back then, the store was lined with shelves containing big bags of herbs. Later I also used Avita brand herbal tea.

I did experiment with with Paper Birch bark that I picked. The flavor was good, but too weak to be practical.

KarateExplosion wrote:

I've ordered most of them from mountainroseherbs.com.


I haven't dealt with them.

KarateExplosion wrote:

Almost every recipe I see mentions sarsaparilla, so I kept assuming it must be important for some part of the taste. I even got some sarsaparilla soda at the store, hoping that the sarsaparilla flavor would be stronger and I might be able to pick out what flavor was being added, but I didn't really notice a difference.


I suspect that sarsaparilla is only for the foam. Circa 1900, there was a popular sarsaparilla drink, but, since I never tasted it, I can't comment. I doubt that modern sarsaparilla drinks contain sarsaparilla and the name is nothing but a sales gimmick.
  
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KarateExplosion
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2008 12:37 am    Post subject: Re: Getting taste from roots and herbs Reply with quote

Thanks Aruzinsky, you've being a great help. Hopefully this will help all of us other root beer newbs as well.

Quote:
But, modern root beer has few natural ingredients and those natural ingredients are essential oils or chemical isolates. Don't forget that some pure flavor chemicals are produced by fractional distillation of spices or herbs and they too are "natural." If you find a source for these, please, let me know.


Yeah, I'm not sure how close I'll be able to get to a modern flavor, but I'm going to give it my best. I'll post here if I find sources of pure flavor chemicals. I probably won't mess with those much, but it would be really cool. I started out trying to use herbs because it was cool to think I could make this stuff with plants I find in the wild if I just knew how to do it. Then I started using oils because it was easier to get the taste right, and that's fun too in it's own way. I've occasionally seen references online to publications for professional flavorists that I'm tempted to see if I can get my hands on. It sounds like it would be really interesting.

Quote:
Already shredded. In my teens during the 1960s, there was a big herb store in Chicago, Dr Michaels Herbs. It still esists, but smaller at a different location. Back then, the store was lined with shelves containing big bags of herbs. Later I also used Avita brand herbal tea.


This makes me wonder what I'm doing wrong. I know it's been quite a while, but do you remember much about your procedure?

I'm currently putting the herbs in a reusable muslin tea bag, rinse it in cold water in hopes of getting rid of any residual dirt or dust in the herbs that might be causing the bad taste, place it in boiling water, and letting it either boil or just letting it steep for anywhere between 30 minutes and a couple of hours (I've tried different times hoping it might work better). Then remove bag, add sugar, cool, and carbonate.

I'm starting to wonder if I need to drastically reduce the amount, and let it steep for way longer, but I've already reduced it to only like 1 tsp of licorice and sarsaparilla in the bag for 22oz or root beer (I'm making really small amounts of root beer until I get my recipe down.) I've measured it on my scale and as far as I can tell, this is already less than what most recipes suggest, scaling them down to 22oz. At that level, I don't really taste the licorice or sarsaparilla, but I do taste the nasty aftertaste (a little, although it's fairly drinkable).

I might just give up on these, but something makes me not want to let them go.

That's very interesting about sarsaparilla possibly just being for foam. I noticed that it does foam quite a bit when I rinse it off. I suppose if anise is for licorice taste, and sarsaparilla is just for a foam stabilizer, there's not really a reason to include either of them.
  
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aruzinsky
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2008 12:36 pm    Post subject: Re: Getting taste from roots and herbs Reply with quote

My procedure was to simmer in water just below the boiling point and then strain. As I recall, I used wintergreen oil, never wintergreen herb. I remember that essential oils should be added afrer straining because the herbs will absorb the oil. I am very fond of using blenders, but I don't remember when I bought my first blender.

Theoretically, herbs are best boiled with a reflux condenser. I have often wondered why reflux condensers aren't popular with chefs. A reflux condenser is less sophisticated than a pressure cooker.

I never duplicated modern root beer flavor either, but it was drinkable.
  
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crazylawnguy
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2008 7:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

if you want it drinkable(but it wont taste like modern rootbeer) you bring youre water to a boil back it of to a light simmer then put youre herbs in .only steep 10-20 minutes.this doesnt draw out the tree bark flavor.when you boil it seems to bring out the bitterness. i also grind my herbs in a coffee grinder.i make a week tea then build up the flavor with oils.dont use much winter green oil.it takes over.if you want modern root beer you use sarsaparilla, sassafras, licourace or anise+what ever else you want.the main key is sarsaparilla oil (i only found one suplier and there out)find me a suplier and i will give you the recipe.either nobody here knows how to make it(from scratch) or there not talking.(i think a little of both.)for small quantitees of oils go loranns oils.(or youre local cake and candy store they run around a 1.50 a bottle )have fun.
  
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KarateExplosion
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 24, 2008 10:56 pm    Post subject: Re: Getting taste from roots and herbs Reply with quote

You guys have been great. Thanks for the help. Crazylawnguy, I don't know if I have ever tried steeping it for that short of a period, so I will try that. And I've never thought of grinding them. I think I've learned a lot of things here to try.

I think few people are talking because I don't think many people have really tried to make root beer with raw ingredients. I think most people stick with extracts because it's easier, still tastes awesome, and is still pretty easy to customize. That and I imagine some who tried probably ran into the same problems I'm having and gave up. As it is, with the money I've spent on this hobby, I could've bought enough root beer to last a very long time.

I've been using lorann oils so far, but I never thought about a local candy or cake store. At lorann they're kind of expensive, so if they could be cheaper at a local store I definitely want to check that out. I'm now wondering if possibly a local candy/cake store might have propylene glycol as well. It would be nice to not have to order so many of these small items that have relatively high shipping costs. Sometime I need to find a local place that sells these herbs and roots as well.

aruzinsky - I'll look into reflux condensers too. You say they are less sophisticated than a pressure cooker - is a pressure cooker an alternative, or are you just using that as an example?

By the way, aruzinsky, how do you know so much about this stuff? You seem to know a lot about the technical aspects of it - reflux condensers, emulsifiers, different methods for extracting different oils, etc... Are you a chemist?

If I manage to make anything useful, I may post a thread on here with my recipe and my basic procedure. Maybe eventually we can get more people experimenting and posting recipes and eventually perfect a few varieties of root beer, collectively. I doubt it, but it's a dream. I have off and on considered making a website dedicated just to that purpose, but I don't think enough people would be interested to make it useful.
  
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KarateExplosion
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 26, 2008 3:25 pm    Post subject: Re: Getting taste from roots and herbs Reply with quote

For anyone curious, I just tried steeping sarsaparilla and licorice just below boiling for 10 minutes, and it seems to have helped the taste by quite a bit. I don't really notice any nasty bark aftertaste now.

I thought I needed to steep it longer based on the recipe for sarsaparilla tea on the back of a sarsaparilla packet I bought, which told me to steep it for like 3 hours. I thought I was on to something, but apparently they don't know how to make their own product taste good, because this way worked much better, imho.

Incidentally, now that I taste it without the bark flavor, I still don't really care for the taste of the sarsaparilla or licorice, so I'll probably reduce my amounts of those by quite a bit. But now I can play with birch bark, and I can start messing with the rest of my recipe instead of dealing with technical issues of just getting the flavoring out of my herbs.

Edit: On second thought, After a drinking it a few more times, I actually am starting to like the sarsaparilla taste. I probably won't put much in future root beers, but it does have an interesting taste of its own.
  
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Laughingcenter
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 14, 2008 12:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

crazylawnguy wrote:
only steep 10-20 minutes.this doesnt draw out the tree bark flavor.when you boil it seems to bring out the bitterness. i also grind my herbs in a coffee grinder.i make a week tea .


I don't think I'd thought of it that way before, but it makes a helluva lot of sense. And using tea as an example, you can over do it with time, temp, or ammount, (or with grains) ratio of substance to water- and extract tannins from the plant, which would absolutely give off a bitterness.

I'm going to try this tonight, will report back.
  
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crazylawnguy
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 05, 2008 10:47 pm    Post subject: Re: Getting taste from roots and herbs Reply with quote

for those of you trying to get root beer from scratch. i posted a recipe with oils and herbs it is realy close to store bought . once you dilute it to a weak tea and maybe add a little of this or that. the basic recipe is very drinkable as is.

p.s. if you want the tips just ask
  
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