Hibiscus/Jamaica/Sorrel/Karkade

One of the last big family trips we took, while I was in the early years of college and “cough” smoking a pipe was to Egypt.

A lot of things about that trip were revelations for me: Savory Breakfasts, Grain Salads, Middle Eastern Tea, African Coffee

But one thing that stuck with me was a hibiscus beverage that was served from spigots by men carrying tanks of it on their backs.

I’d always liked Red Zinger tea, and it was similar, as well as the Mexican hibiscus beverage called “Agua de Jamaica”, but none of these were as cool as the sort of steam punk aesthetic of these men serving hibiscus beverage out of tanks on their backs.

When I started thinking about a second Milk Punch to make for The Coachman, our bar manager remarked that he really liked the color of the first Milk Punch I had ever made. It was a recipe for a Rum based Milk Punch colored with Hibiscus, which I’d adapted from the bar Drink in Boston.

Rum Hibiscus Milk Punch

Not wanting to simply repeat myself, and the guys at Drink, I thought a bit more about it and decided to blend that recipe with the Pisco Milk Punch I’d made for the SF.Chefs.Unite benefit for Japan. Pisco is floral, so it seemed like a natural combination with dried Hibiscus flower tea.

The Punch turned out awesome, but what I’ve been really enjoying is a compound non-alcoholic beverage made with the spiced Hibiscus tea I used to sweeten the punch.

As you know I am often frustrated by the qualities of so-called non-alcoholic adult beverages in the US (Lack of Adult Beverages). I would really like something that is close to wine in sweet/tart balance in intensity, but not alcoholic. Shrubs often come close, though are often made too concentrated. This beverage is the closest I’ve come so far to an enjoyable compound shrub.

Quick Hibiscus and Cranberry Shrub

In a pint glass, combine a quarter cup of chilled, spiced hibiscus syrup* with a quarter cup of chilled, unsweetened cranberry juice and a generous teaspoon of natural cider vinegar (Hey! A fine use for the Cider Vinegar from the Bragg Foods health food cult! Try not to used distilled vinegar, it’s pretty harsh, dude.). Top up with chilled soda water and enjoy this refreshing and bracing beverage. Feel free to add booze, Rum or Tequila are awesome. Also, a fine all hallows eve beverage, as it looks like you are drinking a pint of blood.

image

*Spiced Hibiscus Syrup

3 Pints Water
3 Cup Sugar (Washed Raw Sugar or Demerara preferably)
1 Cup Dried Hibiscus Flowers
2 Cinnamon Sticks
9 Whole Clove
1 teaspoon Whole Coriander
1/4 Cup Yerba Mate

METHOD: (If the Hibiscus Flowers are really dirty, put them in cold water briefly and allow the dirt to settle out. Grab floating hibiscus flowers off of settled dirt.) Bring Water to a Boil with Sugar to dissolve. Add remaining ingredients and steep for a few hours or overnight. Strain out solids and filter a second time through coffee filters. Refrigerate in a non-reactive container.

Switchel-ish

Switchel

Switchel

An interesting American frontier drink is called “Switchel”.

Basically, Switchel is Ginger Syrup acidulated with vinegar instead of the usual citrus. As for where Switchel ends and Shrub begins, I guess Switchel is a subset of the Shrub superset. It must always contain ginger & vinegar, with vulnerabilities allowed mostly in sweetener and spice. Early recipes are usually sweetened with Molassses and/or Honey.

Fooling around with versions of my Ginger Beer, I wondered how it would be if I added some Vinegar, a la Switchel.

Initial versions were not that awesome, but it turned out a spiced, yeast carbonated version is really awesome. Probably my favorite Ginger based beverage so far.

Switchel-ish

1 Quart Water
3/4 Cup Washed Raw Sugar
5 oz Ginger, sliced
4 Very Spicy dried chile (Chile de Arbol)
1 tsp green cardamom seeds
4 whole cloves

4 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 tsp Yeast


METHOD: Bloom yeast in lukewarm water with 1 teaspoon sugar. Bring 24 oz water and all sugar to simmer. Add ginger and spices to blender bowl with remaining water and puree. (Blender works well for me in these amounts, but if you have a juicer that can juice ginger root, go for it.) Pour through cheesecloth to filter. Press as much liquid out of ginger solids as possible, I use a sturdy potato ricer. Add ginger juice, vinegar, and water to hot sugar solution and cool to lukewarm. Add yeast and bottle in clean sanitized containers, leaving some headroom. Seal tightly and place in a warm dark place for 5-8 hours, depending on temperature and how feisty your yeast is. Move to refrigeration when the bottles are firm to the touch. Yeast (tan) and Ginger starch (white) will fall out of solution. When serving, open carefully over bowl to catch potential over-foam.

I tried a bunch of frontier style booze add-ons with this, Jamaican Rum, Rye Whiskey, Bourbon, Genever, etc. I enjoyed none of them as much as the drink on its own.

Eventually I gave in and tried mixing it with the obvious choice, Dry Gin. Yep, that’s it.

Switchel-ish High Ball

1 1/2 oz Beefeater
1 oz Soda water
3 oz Switchel

Build and stir carefully in an iced Collins Glass. Garnish with crystallized ginger.

Milk Punch Spiel

A friend sent me the following questions, and I realized I had never really gotten around to writing up my conclusions or hints after making many a batch of clarified Milk Punch.

“I’ve been thinking about how effective it would be to make a clarified milk “stock” of sorts: heat milk and add to lemon only, then refrigerate and strain through cheesecloth. Then wouldn’t you be able to develop recipes a lot more readily than overnight batches? Once you get the flavor down you could do it all the regular way to make it clearer. Would you have a general proportion to make this stock with? Also, it’s only the whey left, right? So it would be more expedient to use non-fat milk?”

Haven’t I ever given you my Milk Punch Spiel?

As far as I can tell, the primary reason to make Milk Punch is so punch can be bottled and put down in a cellar for later use.

This is why Charles Dickens ended up with bottles of Milk Punch in his cellar inventory when he died.

Adding milk and filtering the punch through the curdled milk solids does an amazing job at fining and filtration. It removes pretty much any impurities down to much of the color from barrel aging or caramel color.

You should have seen the apple punch I made before filtering. It literally looked like really brown, cloudy apple cider. Truly disgusting. I was dubious that the Milk could filter it! I wish I’d taken a picture, so I could have a before and after!

As a bonus, filtering through the milk solids does an amazing job of “rectifying” harsh spirits and marrying the various flavors of the punch.

I also believe that the cream in the Milk does a sort of fat washing, which gives some of the unctuous flavor you get for the punch. That is why I have always used whole milk.

I have also had the best results using Straus, as they don’t homogenize their milk.

When I’ve used other Milk, I’ve had a hard time getting clarity.

David Wondrich has suggested that the best way to filter Milk Punch is through a filter used for filtering Biodiesel. I’ve never really investigated, but from my cursory reading, it is possible that using the correct combination of filter mesh size and materials, you could do some sort of pressure filtration.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is using a centrifuge to separate the milk solids.

On the whole, though, the thing is, once you have a well developed milk mesh in your filter, it really is the Milk Solids which do the best job filtering the punch.

Anyway, I don’t know if just combining whey with punch base will really be even close to simulating Milk Punch.

For what it is worth, I understand that Dillon & Alex have made Milk Punches an important part of their work at Novella. Amusingly, when I last talked to Dillon, he was like, “What do you do with all the cheese?” Apparently, they are accumulating a lot of it.

Sadly, after acting as filtration for booze and the less nice elements of the punch, I do not really think you can do anything with the cheese. It just tastes nasty.

Over the 2013 holidays I visited a bar in Chicago. They were serving a basic brandy based clarified Milk Punch. Chatted a bit with the bar manager re: filtration and he said he makes a habit of leaving the milk in the Milk Punch overnight. That it makes filtration easier.

So, I made two batches based on the exact same infusion: one where I left the milk in overnight and another where I did my usual of only leaving the milk in for a half an hour and then filtering the punch through the solids.

He was right, the milk essentially turns to hard cheese, making getting the milk solids out of the punch really easy and filtration a breeze.

However, after filtering the milk solids out, the punch is not very clear with a lot of darkness from tea and spice floating around. I left it to sit over another night and it did settle out pretty well.

However, giving our restaurant manager a blind tasting between the two, he strongly preferred the one where I used my usual process.

The punch where I did the usual method has the unctuous nature that I enjoy and the ingredients taste mellowed and well integrated. The fruit in the punch is clear and much more apparent.

The overnight steep of milk tastes really harsh by comparison. Strongly of booze and the fruit is not as clear. Also, it seems much thinner, more bitter, and kind of nasty. Basically, like a not very good day old plain punch you have chilled in the refrigerator.

Holiday Ginger Beer

Another idea for a DIY Holiday Gift with a relatively short turnaround time.

Why not spice up your Ginger Beer with some holiday zest?

Holiday Ginger Beer

Holiday Ginger Beer

Holiday Ginger Beer

10 oz Ginger, roughly chopped
Zest of 1 Orange
4 Allspice Berries, crushed
5 Cloves, crushed
1 small stick Ceylon Cinnamon, crushed

1 1/2 Cup Washed Raw Sugar

32 oz Water
1 tsp Active Dry Yeast


METHOD: Bloom yeast in lukewarm water with 1 teaspoon sugar. Over low heat, dissolve sugar in 24oz water with spices and orange zest. Add ginger to blender bowl with 16 oz water and puree. (Blender works well for me in these amounts, but if you have a juicer that can juice ginger root, go for it.) Pour through cheesecloth to filter. Press as much liquid out of ginger solids as possible, I use a sturdy potato ricer. Add ginger juice and water to hot sugar solution and cool to lukewarm. Add yeast and bottle in clean sanitized containers, leaving some headroom. Seal tightly and place in a warm dark place for 5-8 hours, depending on temperature and how feisty your yeast is. Move to refrigeration when the bottles are firm to the touch. Yeast (tan) and Ginger starch (white) will fall out of solution. When serving, open carefully over bowl to catch potential over-foam. Makes a half gallon and a bit more.

Krabappel Punch

One of the great parts about being in the San Francisco chapter of the United States Bartender’s Guild is that you get to participate in fun events for good causes.

The other day I received a message titled, “Bartenders Needed for Holiday Farmer’s Market Cocktails with CUESA at the Ferry Building”.

“Would you like to showcase your talents and your workplace at our favorite fundraiser series Farmer’s Market Cocktails with CUESA at the Ferry Building on Wednesday November 20th?

“The theme this time around is Holiday Punches. A group of 12 talented USBG bartenders will utilize a sponsored spirit and the best fall produce to create unique punch recipes and pour them in sample size portions for a crowd of 300 foodies and cocktail enthusiasts.”

Well, yes, now that you mention it, I would!

I knew I wanted to do a Milk Clarified Punch, a la Jerry Thomas’ California Milk Punch. Initially, my idea was to recycle an old punch of mine, “Great Pumpkin Punch“.

However, when others chose the brown spirits, I took another tack. Trying the remaining spirits, the Reyka Vodka stood out as the cleanest tasting. But I knew the subtlety of a plain vodka would get lost in the pumpkin-spice punch. I needed a punch recipe that would be lighter.

I love apples and apple brandy and have always wanted to do an apple flavored Milk Punch.

There were some awesome little crab apples at one of the Ferry Plaza vendors, and I thought, what better tribute to Edna Krabappel than to make a punch?

If you want to sample it, you can make it yourself, or even better, tickets are still available to the CUESA event tomorrow, and then you’ll be able to try some 11 other fall themed beverages and enjoy some snacks! Hope to see you there!

Beat Them to the Punch

“Pull your party dresses and bow ties out of the closet for the kick-off event of the holiday season: Beat them to the Punch: Fall Cocktails of the Farmers Market. While the months ahead will surely feature obligatory office parties and family gatherings, you won’t want to miss this evening of overflowing punch bowls and savory bites with your friends.

“Join CUESA and the Northern California chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) in the Ferry Building’s Grand Hall for a cozy night of creative holiday punches, hot spiced drinks, and nogs. An all-star lineup of bartenders and chefs will highlight fresh produce from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, like pomegranates, persimmons, pears, citrus, and other fall delights.

“Guests receive two full-sized signature cocktails featuring Herradura Tequila, 11 sample sized drinks, and delicious hors d’oeuvres from ten of the Bay Area’s hottest chefs. A recipe booklet will be shared with attendees featuring all 13 seasonal drinks to inspire future party planning. Beat the party season to the punch and warm your soul with good friends as the winter holidays set in. There’ll be no Chardonnay, baked Brie, or fruitcake at this fete!

Krabappel Punch

Infusion:

8 750ml Bottles Reyka Vodka
1/2 750ml Bottle Batavia Arrack
8 Pounds Crab Apples, shredded
8 Lemons, Peeled and juiced

Sweetener:
64 Ounces Water
32 Ounces Washed Raw Sugar
1 Cup Chai Spice Tea
6 Lemons, Juiced

Milk:
1 Gallon Whole Milk, preferably not homogenized

Garnish:

4 Pounds Small Baking Apples, Cored
Enough Cinnamon Sticks, broken in half to fit inside apples
1 tsp Sugar per apple

Method:

Shredding Apples.

Zest citrus and add zest to Vodka and Arrack. Juice 8 Lemons, strain, and add to aforementioned liquid. Add Shredded Apples. Allow to infuse for at least 1 week.

Heat water and add tea. Steep 6 minutes and stir in sugar. Strain tea leaves out of syrup and chill.

Apples Baking.

Roast Apples at 350 until tender but not too mushy.

Strain Peels and Apples out of liquid, squeezing to get as much apple juice/vodka out as possible. Juice other 6 lemons and add to Flavored Booze Mixture. Heat milk to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Add to Flavored Booze Mixture. Allow to stand undisturbed for 30 minutes and filter through cheesecloth…

Straining Miik Solids.

…removing milk solids. Add Tea Syrup to filtered booze mixture and pour into clean containers. Allow to stand for a couple days. Rack clear liquid off of any accumulated sediment into clean, sanitized bottles and store. Chill well before serving. Serve on ice and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg. Makes about 3 gallons.

Krabappel Punch

Here are a few pictures from the event!

Krabappel Punch Sign

Krabappel Punch Sign

Reyka Vodka Tablescape.

Reyka Vodka Tablescape.

Punch Station Ready to Go.

Punch Station Ready to Go.

Fermented vs Non-Fermented Ginger Beer

This week I was asked to make a cocktail for an event for 20-30 people, where I was told that the person being honored at the event was not a drinker.

I didn’t have any help, so I wanted to do something really easy. No muddling, no shaking, no straining.

I decided to go with a version of the Dark & Stormy, which is a combination of Dark Rum, Ginger Beer, and sometimes Lime Juice.

Because I had the non-drinker, instead of making alcoholic ginger beer, I just made a Ginger Syrup, or Ginger Solution.

Place an equal part, by weight of roughly chopped ginger root, sugar, and water in the blender, and puree. Put through a cheese cloth or other fine strainer, and squeeze as much liquid out as you can (I use a sturdy potato ricer for this).

To make the non-alcoholic version, combine Ginger Solution, lime juice, to taste on ice. Stir to combine ad and dilute with soda water. Stir once more.

Dark & Stormy-ish

Dark & Stormy-ish

To make the alcoholic version, to that combination simply float* on an ounce and a half of dark rum**. Pampero Anniversario, from Venezuela, is a great choice.

The thing that interested me, however, about this was how different the character of the Ginger Solution was from yeast carbonated Ginger Beer.

If I combine the Ginger solution with soda water in roughly the same ratio as I did for the yeast carbonated ginger beer, the difference is striking.

First off, it is unpleasantly harsh and hot. Instead of the nifty floral notes of ginger, you get a bitter aftertaste.

I really enjoy drinking the yeast carbonated ginger beer, but the ginger solution is more like medicine.

I’ll drink it, with enough rum, lime, and soda, but I don’t crave it.

I would guess the yeast bouncing around with the ginger creates some flavor molecules that just don’t happen without fermentation.

It also seems to have a shorter shelf life than the fermented ginger beer.

Now, only a few days after, where the ginger beer is still delicious, the ginger solution is getting less ginger-ey and more unpleasant.

*Some bartenders will shake the non-carbonated portion of the drink, pour over ice, and top with soda or ginger beer. I think it looks cooler with the dark rum float. The only problem is all the rum is at the top of the drink, so it should really be served with a straw, preferably compostable.

**Some bartenders make a much more alcoholic version, basically shaking a Daiquiri, pouring over rocks, topping with ginger beer and more dark rum.

Ginger Beer, Take 2

Everyone liked the last batch of Ginger Beer so much, I felt like I had to make another.

I’m doubling the last batch of yeast carbonated ginger beer, and making a few changes to the method from the last.

Flannestad Ginger Beer.

INGREDIENTS:
10 oz well rinsed fresh Ginger Root, preferably organic, roughly sliced.
1 1/2 cup Washed Raw Sugar.
2 quart Water.
1 teaspoon active dry yeast.*

METHOD: Bloom yeast in lukewarm water with 1 teaspoon sugar. Bring 24 oz water and all sugar to simmer. Add ginger to blender bowl with remaining water and puree. (Blender works well for me in these amounts, but if you have a juicer that can juice ginger root, go for it.) Pour through cheesecloth to filter. Press as much liquid out of ginger solids as possible, I use a sturdy potato ricer. Add ginger juice and water to hot sugar solution and cool to lukewarm. Add yeast and bottle in clean sanitized containers, leaving some headroom. Seal tightly and place in a warm dark place for 5-8 hours, depending on temperature and how feisty your yeast is. Move to refrigeration when the bottles are firm to the touch. Yeast (tan) and Ginger starch (white) will fall out of solution. When serving, open carefully over bowl to catch potential over-foam.

Ginger Root.

Ginger Root.

The first change I made this time was just to rinse the ginger root well with warm water, instead of peeling. I need to do a side by side comparison with peeled and unpeeled to find out if peeling makes a difference in flavor. Really, the only thing which slightly concerns me about not peeling is the potential for bacterial contamination from the skins.

This time, the ginger root was quite a bit more mature than the last. The flavor of the juice and ginger beer is hotter and sweeter than the more floral young ginger I used last time.

Ginger Puck.

Ginger Puck.

Nicely formed ginger pucks, after squeezing. You could dry them and use for room fresheners.

Opening Ginger Beer.

Opening Ginger Beer.

I continue to use empty soda water and mineral water for the ginger beer. Easier and safer than glass, at this point. You can gauge the carbonation level easily by simply squeezing the bottle and checking the firmness. Some small risk they’ll pop the caps and make a mess, but little risk they will become ginger grenades. Once I get the ferment times down, I may switch to bottling in glass.

Interestingly enough, it seems like the canada dry soda water bottles form a much better seal than the crystal geyser mineral water bottles. With the same time allowed for fermentation, the ginger beer in the canada dry bottles over-flows copiously, while the ginger beer in the crystal geyser is carbonated but does not overflow. Perhaps there is some CO2 leakage with the crystal geyser bottles above a certain pressure threshold.

Bottles.

Bottles.

A lot of other ginger beer recipes use spices or citrus in them, I actually really like how this is just about how complex and multilayered a flavor pure ginger root has. The complexity you get is amazing, not to mention the length of the flavor. You start by enjoying the great smell of fresh ginger root in the carbonated bubbles with a touch of yeast, enjoy the sweet and floral flavor, are knocked back by the heat, and then enjoy the long evolving flavor as it fades.

I guess we have the temperance movement to thank for the prevalence of pressure carbonated ginger beers and other sodas, but maybe if more people give the real thing a try we can get some of this real flavor back. With yeast nutrients, real sugar, and natural ginger maybe these could gain as much traction as kombucha.

Commercial ginger beers and ales, pumped up with capsaicin for heat and with their flacid ginger flavor from extracts, are poor, poor substitutes, indeed, for real ginger beer.

*Yeast plus sugar and water equals Carbon Dioxide and alcohol. In general, stopping the active fermentation at this early a stage of fermentation, the alcohol levels should be fairly low.

Sassafras, Continued

When talking about Sassafras, one of the seeming best pieces I found was from a home brewing forum.

Sassafras is Not Nearly as Dangerous as You Would Think, rriterson, 2010

This page contains the following:

“Let’s say that I drink 1 of my own rootbeers per day. In order to have a 50% chance of cancer, I’d have to have 3.85g of safrole per root beer. Since my batches are 5 gallons (~50 beers), that would mean I’d have to get 192.5g of safrole out of the sassafras I seep. I start with 16oz (1lb) of sassafras root. Well, 1lb is actually only 453g. 192.5g/453g is 42%.”

So this guy is using about 90g of Sassafras per gallon of Root Beer and feels it is a relatively safe amount, if he is getting a (very generous) 42% yield of Sassafras Oil per gram of sassafras root.

Old recipes call for 8-10 drops of Sassafras Oil per 5 gallon batch. I don’t know what the conversion is between Sassafras Oil drops and grams, but some things I’ve found indicate between 40-90 drops per gram for liquids. Castor Oil is said to be around 44 drops per gram. If Sassafras Oil is similar in weight, by rmitterson’s math, you would need to be using basically 3.85 times 44, or 169 drops of Sassafras Oil, per glass of Root Beer for a “50% chance of cancer”.

When I weighed out the amounts of herbs and barks in my Root Beer recipe, I found I was using about 4-6 grams of dried Sassafras Root Bark per gallon.

A pound of Sassafras sounds like a lot, but the yield of sassafras oil from my 4-6g of dried Sassafras Root per gallon, (most things I’ve read indicate the yield of Sassafras Oil from Sassafras Root Bark is 6-9% by weight when steam distilled,) isn’t going to be anywhere near significant in a simple heat infusion in water. Sassafras Oil isn’t even soluble in Water (Alcohol is another matter)!

So, mostly, I have to say I don’t feel that worried about Sassafras in my Root Beer recipe, at least compared to other potentially cancer risk elements in my life history or current environment.

Gram-i-Fied Root Beer

Root Beer Brewing.

Root Beer Brewing.

Aside from the Spruce Oil, I really liked that last Root Beer recipe, and I’ve been meaning to turn it into a weight recipe instead of a volume recipe anyway. Some of the ingredients are so light, it’s kind of impossible to weigh them in the amounts I am using with the scale I have, but here you go:

Root Beer, by weight

16oz Water

ROOTS:
20g Fresh Ginger Root, sliced and smashed
3g Sassafras Bark of Root*
3g Sarsaparilla Root
2g Vanilla Bean, split and scraped
2g Grains of Paradise, crushed
1g Star Anise
1g Spikenard
1g Wintergreen
1g Ginger Root, dried
1g Roasted Dandelion Root
1g Licorice Root
1g Honey Roasted Licorice Root
1g Star Anise, whole
6 Juniper Berries, crushed
1/4 tsp Gentian Root

HERBS:
1/2 tsp Horehound
1 generous pinch Cascade Hops
1/2 tsp Yerba Mate

200g Washed Raw Sugar
3 Tablespoons Wildflower Honey
1 Tablespoon Molasses
1 drop Wintergreen Oil

METHOD: Bring 2 Cups of Water to a boil. Add Roots, cover and simmer for 20 mins. Turn off heat and add herbs. Cover and steep for another 20 mins. Strain out solids. Stir in Molasses, Honey, and Washed Raw Sugar. Add Wintergreen Oil. Cool, and keep refrigerated. Makes a 3 cups of Syrup. To serve, mix syrup to taste with soda water (I usually go 1 part syrup to 3-4 parts soda water) or carbonate with yeast (mixing 1 part syrup to 3 parts water).

*Note, Sassafras Oil has been shown to cause liver cancer in laboratory rats and so Sassafras has been forbidden for use in food or beverage products by the FDA. Sassafras Oil is also a precursor chemical to MDMA, aka Ecstasy, so the TTB recommends that vendors keep a close eye on any significant sales. Use at your own risk.

Sassafras

The most controversial aspect of brewing your own Root Beer is whether to use natural Sassafras Root Bark.

As I mentioned, some time in the 1960s or 1970s, it was determined that there is a link between a substance in Sassafras, Safrole, and Liver Cancer in rats.

Shortly thereafter, Sassafras was removed from the GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) list by the FDA and banned from use in food.

A lot of people play this down, Sassafras Root Bark tea is still pretty commonly drunk as an herbal beverage in the parts of the United States.

You’ll find quotes like this one from Wildman Steve Brill’s website:

“Note: You may have heard that sassafras has been banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because it causes cancer. Huge quantities have given to rats over took periods of time give the rodents cancer because they change the molecule sassafrole into a cancer-causing one. Humans don’t do this, and no one has ever gotten sick from sassafras. Sassafras was banned because there are a lot of rats in the FDA!”

On one hand, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, there has been no strong correlation discovered between liver cancer in humans and the moderate consumption of Sassafras Tea or Root Beer.

On the other hand, you may feel it is better to be safe than sorry. You only have one liver, after all.

There are Sassafras Root extracts available, and Root Beer Flavorings, which use Safrole free Sassafras Extract.

Other Root Beers, presumably, forgo Sassafras altogether and just pump up the other ingredients, generally the Wintergreen.

Interestingly, Sassafras Oil and Safrole are used in the illicit manufacture of MDMA, making Safrole a list I chemical under federal law.

I’ve also seen recent studies which point out that excessive Sassafras use may cause sweating and/or hot flashes. Amusing, since one of the traditional common names is “ague tree”, and it was taken to cause those exact effects.

I’m not a scientist or your Doctor, so I can’t pretend to tell you what to do, but it’s good to be informed and make your own choice.

Sassafras entry from “A Modern Herbal”, M. Greive, circa 1900:

—Description—The name ‘Sassafras,’ applied by the Spanish botanist Monardes in the sixteenth century, is said to be a corruption of the Spanish word for saxifrage. The tree stands from 20 to 40 feet high, with many slender branches, and smooth, orangebrown bark. The leaves are broadly oval, alternate, and 3 to 7 inches long. The flowers are small, and of an inconspicuous, greenishyellow colour. The roots are large and woody, their bark being soft and spongy, rough, and reddish or greyish-brown in colour. The living bark is nearly white, but exposure causes its immediate discoloration. The roots are imported in large, branched pieces, which may or may not be covered with bark, and often have attached to them a portion of the lower part of the trunk. The central market for all parts is Baltimore. The entire root is official in the British Pharmacopoeia, but only the more active bark in the United States, where wood and bark form separate articles of commerce. The bark without its corky layer is brittle, and the presence of small crystals cause its inner surface to glisten. Both bark and wood have a fragrant odour, and an aromatic, somewhat astringent taste.

“The tree, which has berries like those of cinnamon, appears to have been cultivated in England some centuries ago, for in 1633 Johnston wrote: ‘I have given the figure of a branch taken from a little sassafras tree which grew in the garden of Mr. Wilmot at Bon.’ Probably it was discovered by the Spaniards in Florida, for seventy years earlier there is mention of the reputation of its roots in Spain as a cure for syphilis, rheumatism, etc., though its efficacy has since then been much disputed.

“The fragrant oil distilled from the rootbark is extensively used in the manufacture of the coarser kinds of perfume, and for scenting the cheapest grades of soap. The oil used in perfumes is also extracted from the fruits. The wood and bark of the tree furnish a yellow dye. In Louisiana, the leaves are used as a condiment in sauces, and also for thickening soups; while the young shoots are used in Virginia for making a kind of beer. Mixed with milk and sugar, Sassafras Tea, under the name of ‘Saloop,’ could, until a few years ago, be bought at London streetcorners in the early mornings.

“Oil of Sassafras is chiefly used for flavouring purposes, particularly to conceal the flavour of opium when given to children. In the United States of America it is employed for flavouring effervescing drinks.

—Medicinal Action and Uses—Aromatic, stimulant, diaphoretic, alterative. It is rarely given alone, but is often combined with guaiacum or sarsaparilla in chronic rheumatism, syphilis, and skin diseases.”

Some more modern information regardingSassafras from the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

“Scientific Name: Sassafras albidum

“Common Name: Ague tree, saxifrax, cinnamonwood, saloop, smelling-stick

“Clinical Summary:
Derived primarily from the roots of the tree. There are no clinical data to support the use of sassafras, which contains safrole, a volatile oil that was shown to be carcinogenic in animal models. Diaphoresis, hot flashes, and sedation have been reported following administration of small doses.
Excessive doses can cause hallucinations, hypertension, and tachycardia.

“Food Sources:
Once used as flavoring agent in root beer and candies. Its use as food additive is now prohibited by the FDA due to its carcinogenic effect.”

Sassafras is Not Nearly as Dangerous as You Would Think, rriterson, 2010

“First, let me state that I believe i am qualified to offer an opinion because I am a practicing biochemist and can more easily find and perhaps understand the data out there. However, I am not an expert on safrole or safrole metabolism, so do not take my word as gospel. I encourage you to look at the data and decide for yourself.

“I think the safrole health hazards have been significantly overblown. Take a look at these two sources (one a secondary source, the other primary):

http://potency.berkeley.edu/chempages/SAFROLE.html

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T6P-3X9415Y-3&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view =c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_user id=10&md5=8ec1ea8630ab130def74241535d2fc11#sec2.1

“Let’s not go too far and say that safrole doesn’t cause cancer. It does at the right dose But I think that dose is waaaay higher than you’re likely to get. Pollution in the air, chemicals in your kitchen cleaning products, etc, will probably give you cancer first.

“So, I am not at all afraid to use raw sassafras in my root beers, and I don’t think you should be either.

“What do I think the real reason for why the FDA was so quick to act against Safrole? It’s one easy chemical reaction away from MDMA, the banned drug most of us know as ecstasy. By eliminating the food needs for sassafras, the industrial production sources all disappeared, making it very hard for an illegal drug house to get enough sassafras to make MDMA.

“I’m interested to hear other opinions out there, and especially interested in reading any other sources people can find.”