Is Root Beer Vegan? (Generic, A&W, Barq’s, Mug, Etc.)


Is root beer vegan?

Root beer is a sweet soft drink traditionally produced using, as its primary flavor, the vine of Smilax ornata (sarsaparilla) or the bark from the sassafras tree Sassafras albidum.1 It’s a very popular flavor of soft drink. Because it has such a unique flavor (that obviously doesn’t correspond to citrus fruit, etc.), folks often want to know if it’s vegan.

Is it vegan? Yes, root beer is generally considered vegan. The principal ingredients include various roots and herbs (e.g. sassafras albidum), foaming agents (quillaja saponaria, manihot esculenta, etc.), spices (e.g. allspice, nutmeg), and other non-animal-derived ingredients like sugar, molasses, and yeast.2

What we’ll do here is go over a few of the more popular root beer brands, and their vegan status. We’ll also cover root beer flavored foods, and root beer food products that are known to be non-vegan.

Why Root Beer is Typically Considered Vegan

The traditional root beer recipe is comprised entirely of plant-based ingredients along with any number of vegan-friendly additives.

Roots and Herbs

Common roots and herbs in root beer include:3

  • Arctium lappa
  • Betula nigra (sap, syrup, or resin)
  • Betula lenta (also a sap, syrup, or resin)
  • Gaultheria procumbens (berries and leaves)
  • Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice root)
  • Prunus serotina (black cherry wood)
  • Picea rubens
  • Picea mariana
  • Picea sitchensis
  • Piper auritum (“root beer plant” or hoja santa)
  • Smilax regelii (sarsaparilla)
  • Sassafras albidum (sassafras roots or bark containing the natural oil safrole
  • Smilax glyciphylla (sweet sarsaparilla)
  • Taraxacum officinale (dandelion root)

Foam

Common foaming agents in root beer include:3

  • Manihot esculenta (roots of the cassava, yucca, or manioc plant)
  • Quillaja saponaria (aka soapbark)

Various Spices

Common spices in root beer include:3

  • Allspice (pimenta dioica)
  • Abies balsamea
  • Anise (pimpinella anisum)
  • Chocolate (theobroma cacao)
  • Cinnamomum aromaticum (bark)
  • Cinnamomum verum (bark)
  • Clove (syzygium aromaticum)
  • Fenugreek
  • Fennel seed (foeniculum vulgare)
  • Ginger (zingiber officinale stem/rhizome)
  • Hops (humulus lupulus)
  • Myroxylon balsamum
  • Mint (mentha species)
  • Nutmeg (myristica fragrans)
  • Star anise (illicium verum)

Vegan-Friendly Additives

Common additives in root beer include:3

  • Malted barley (hordeum vulgare)
  • Molasses
  • St. John’s word (hypericum perforatum)
  • Sugar
  • Yeast

The Vegan Status of Popular Root Beer Products

Is A&W Root Beer Vegan?

Yes, A&W Root Beer is 100% vegan.

Ingredients include:4

  • Carbonated water
  • Sugar
  • Caramel color
  • Sodium benzoate (preservative)
  • Natural and artificial flavors
A Note on Caramel Color

A lot of root beer products contain caramel color to help achieve the desired darker color that’s characteristic of certain types of soft drinks.

A lot of folks encounter this ingredient on product labels and want to know if it’s vegan. It’s kind of a red flag due to the non-vegan status of actual caramel candy.

This is a good question because it’s far from obvious that caramel color wouldn’t be derived directly from caramel itself, a candy that contains milk products.

However, caramel color is 100% vegan because it isn’t derived from real caramel.

Caramel is produced via a browning reaction using sugars, namely lactose which is the natural sugar present in milk. But, in making caramel color, manufacturers perform the same browning reaction, but they do so with other simple sugars besides lactose.

Specifically, caramel color tends to be made by heating simple carbohydrates (often in the presence of acids, alkalis, and salts) using the following sugars:5

  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Sucrose
  • Invert sugar
  • Molasses
  • Malt syrup
  • Starch hydrolysates

So, caramel color is perfectly suitable for vegan consumption.

Is Barq’s Root Beer Vegan?

Barq’s Root Beer is also vegan.

Ingredients for Barq’s Root Beer include:6

  • Carbonated water
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Caramel color
  • Sodium benzoate (to protect taste)
  • Citric acid
  • Caffeine
  • Artificial and natural flavors
  • Acacia

Is Mug Root Beer Vegan?

Yes, Mug Root Beer is vegan.

Mug Root Beer includes the following ingredients:7

  • Carbonated water
  • HFCS
  • Caramel color
  • Sodium benzoate (preserves freshness)
  • Citric acid
  • Natural and artificial flavors
  • Modified food starch
  • Calcium disodium EDTA (to protect flavor)
  • Quillaia extract

Are Root Beer-Flavored Food Products Vegan?

Root beer is a popular flavor in candy and other food products. If you read the article on Dum Dums, you know it’s one of the more popular flavors in that particular product line.

Root beer-flavored food products are seen as somewhat of a red flag due to the common presence of lactic acid (LA). Not all root-beer flavored foods contain LA, but it is common.

Lactic acid is a bit of a grey area and is listed in PETA’s list of animal-derived ingredients.8

It’s an organic acid that’s found abundantly in milk, blood, and muscles, so it can be derived from animals—specifically, milk products.

However, LA tends to be produced industrially via bacterial fermentation.9

It can be non-vegan, for instance, when galactose is used to feed the LA-producing bacteria. If the galactose is sourced via animal products, that would render the product problematic for some vegans.

However, galactose can also be sourced from veggies such as beets.10

If you’re a particularly strict vegan, you may want to avoid products made with LA. But, the presence of lactic acid in foods doesn’t result in said food products being unsuitable for consumption by most standards.

Most vegans don’t scrutinize ambiguous additives too heavily, as there’s no way of knowing whether they’re sourced from animals or not.

But, if you are a particularly prudent vegan, this is just something to keep in mind.

Root Beer Floats: The Non-Vegan Root Beer Food Product

Just because root beer itself is typically considered vegan, doesn’t mean that all applications of the food product are suitable for vegan consumption. Root beer floats are one such example.

The root beer float is one type of ice cream float aka ice cream soda popular in the US, as well as the UK, Canada, South Africa, East Asia, Australia and New Zealand.11,12

Ice cream floats are a type of chilled beverage consisting of ice cream and soft drinks, though carbonated water with any mixture of flavored syrups can be used.

Though one could use a plant-based ice cream, the standard ice cream float uses traditional ice cream.13

That’s it for root beer. Thanks for reading.

References

  1. Root Beer. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Root_beer
  2. Root Beer: List of Main Ingredients. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Root_beer#List_of_main_ingredients
  3. Root Beer Ingredients. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Root_beer#List_of_main_ingredients
  4. A&W Root Beer – 12 Oz (12 Glass Bottles). https://www.beveragesdirect.com/products/aw-root-beer
  5. Caramel Color. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caramel_color#Production
  6. Barq’s Root Beer. https://www.caffeineinformer.com/caffeine-content/barqs-root-beer
  7. Mug Root Beer 12 Oz Cans – Pack Of 24. https://taldepot.com/mug-root-beer-12-oz-cans-pack-of-24.html
  8. Animal-derived Ingredients Resource | Living. https://www.peta.org/living/food/animal-ingredients-list/
  9. H. Benninga (1990): “A History of Lactic Acid Making: A Chapter in the History of Biotechnology”. Volume 11 of Chemists and Chemistry. Springer, ISBN 0792306252, 9780792306252
  10. Galactose. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galactose#Sources
  11. Ice Cream Float. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_cream_float
  12. “Spider, n.4” The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press.
  13. “Ice Cream Soda a New Drink”. The Soda Fountain. D. O. Haynes. 20: 66. 1921.

Drew Davis

Hi! I'm Drew and this is the place where I nerd out about vegan and plant-based diets. I have a BS in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Alabama and have taken dozens of classes in areas like organic and biochemistry, food science, medical nutrition therapy, nutritional genomics, and vegetarian diets. I'm still learning every day, and on this blog, I'll be sharing everything I discover about vegan diets as I go.

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