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Why isn't root beer popular around the world?
June 21, 2012 7:05 PM   Subscribe

Why isn't root beer more popular outside of the U.S. and Canada? Many U.S. products, including soft drinks, do well in global markets, but the most delicious and authentic U.S. soft drink is hard to buy outside of North America. Why is that?
posted by Area Man to Food & Drink (83 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Swedes I tried introducing it to told me that it tasted like toothpaste.

I still love it, tho.
posted by smitt at 7:06 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


For the same reason Irn Bru isn't often sold outside the UK - unless you grew up with it, it is really an acquired taste.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:09 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Root beer is one of those flavors I think you have to grow up with to like. It's wintergreen-y and cola-y and I can see how it would just be weird if you weren't familiar with it.

My English husband thinks it's disgusting and would probably agree with the Swedes. England has a traditional soft drink flavor of dandelion and burdock that's got the same old-timey connotation that root beer has, and I think it's strange and pretty yucky.

On preview: yeah, like Irn Bru.
posted by Specklet at 7:12 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dandelion and burdock is popular elsewhere, and IMHO it occupies a similar "flavor niche" to root beer.

Supposedly Sarsi is the Asian equivalent to root beer.

There's an Australian sarsaparilla soda made by Bundaberg, but I have no idea if it's popular at all.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:17 PM on June 21, 2012


I think without the push of a global brand like Coke, most places have no reason to try new soft drinks. Someone would have to risk importing them or developing them locally, perhaps using ingredients that are hard to find locally. Why doesn't the USA have Kinnie?
posted by exogenous at 7:19 PM on June 21, 2012


I'd also see it as an acquired taste, similar to Vegemite and Marmite in Australia and New Zealand.

FWIW, I am a first-generation American; that is, my parents were immigrants to the US, but I was born and raised in California. I did not grow up drinking root beer, and I have to say I find the taste pretty revolting.

I recall in college a group I was in once had a jokey hypothesis about peanut butter and root beer:
- To like peanut butter, you had to grow up in the US. (I love peanut butter.)
- To like root beer, your parents had to grow up in the US.
Gross generalizations, of course, but I think there's an element of truth in it.
posted by andrewesque at 7:19 PM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


The toothpaste thing is interesting. Most of the toothpastes in the US are minty atrocities, so rootbeer wouldn't taste like toothpaste to us. But I bet if we had wintergreen flavored toothpastes, we wouldn't like it so much.
posted by gjc at 7:26 PM on June 21, 2012


This is interesting! In terms of anecdata, I have a good friend who has lived her whole life in Germany and never visited the U.S. until age 20; she loathed root beer upon first sip and never desired another taste. (Peanut butter, on the other hand, she liked quite a bit, and now regularly attempts to approximate a good ol' PB&J while at home.)
posted by jeudi at 7:27 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sassafras (from which root beer and sarsaparilla are made) is native to North America and Asia, so I expect it's also a matter of having ingredients that would need to be exported in order to flood the market.

Root beer, birch beer and sarsaparilla are also very old forms of beverages here. My grandmother used to brew/distill all three on her back porch, so I expect it's considered kind of "home grown" by most beverage companies.
posted by xingcat at 7:27 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Never thought about this, but I agree that it's probably a taste issue. That's one of the reasons why popular beverages in other countries aren't sold here. Ever tried the Italian Coca-Cola product called "Beverly"? It's horrendous.
posted by jenny76 at 7:31 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course, that doesn't explain why the U.S. has "Cel-Ray"...
posted by jenny76 at 7:32 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, if you haven't grown up with sassafras as a taste, it just seems odd.

Similarly, almost nobody who didn't grow up in the Caribbean likes the taste of sorrel soda.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:33 PM on June 21, 2012


that doesn't explain why the U.S. has "Cel-Ray"...

Celery tonics were very popular in the late 19th and early 20th century as aids to digestion, so making a soda out of them is a logical next step. (Compare using an apertivo like Campari in a cocktail, only in a temperance context. One of the reasons the US has such a big flavored soda culture is that the temperance folks really flogged them as an alternative to alcoholic drinks.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:36 PM on June 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't think anyone outside of Québec and Newfoundland willingly drinks spruce beer (the soft drink, not the alcohol).

Sidhevil: I was given some sorrel soda by my extended in-laws (originally from Guyana) and I LOVED it. Also: good champagne cola (golden, not orange) tastes almost exactly like Québec's nectar, and kind of like cream soda.
posted by maudlin at 7:44 PM on June 21, 2012


I (Australian) grew up almost liking sarsparilla, but there was always something funny about it. When I finally came to America and tasted real root beer it was a amazing experience. So at least some foreigners love it!

I will do very immoral things for another 6 pack of Henry Weinhard
posted by twirlypen at 7:45 PM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


(OK, this American loves spruce beer, but s/he was exposed to it young. And sorry, Sidhedevil, for misspelling your name.)
posted by maudlin at 7:50 PM on June 21, 2012


My high school Spanish teacher grew up in Mexico and said that to her, root beer was revolting because it tasted like medicine.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:02 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course, that doesn't explain why the U.S. has "Cel-Ray"...

I always thought that was a local New York thing, or more specifically a New York Jewish deli thing. Along with cream soda (Now, if you want disgusting, try a cream soda. Makes root beer taste like champagne.)

As a New York Jew I can tell you that nothing goes with a nice tongue on rye like a can of cel-ray soda.
posted by xetere at 8:03 PM on June 21, 2012


I talked with an exchange student from Japan once who complained that to her, root beer tasted like medicine.
posted by hermitosis at 8:04 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


nthing acquired taste, nthing that other countries often have comparable local drinks. And in the UK and much of Europe, wintergreen is associated with medicinal products (Germolene, Deep Heat, toothpaste/mouthwash) rather than foodstuffs.

without the push of a global brand like Coke, most places have no reason to try new soft drinks

Until the 90s or thereabouts, McDonald's in the UK served its own soda/pop, and root beer was the weird exotic one on the list. Then they started selling the Coke line, and it went away. And as jenny76 notes, while Coke and Pepsi are happy to support idiosyncratic local tastes alongside their core brands, they don't necessarily export non-core US brands. (Neither Coke nor Pepsi's root beer brands are as marketable as the recently re-launched Mountain Dew.)
posted by holgate at 8:04 PM on June 21, 2012


Haha, I was just going to say I remember once going to Mcdonald's in the mid-late 80s and begging my mum to let me try the root beer. I took one sip and could barely stand to swallow it. It tasted like toothpaste mixed with cola.
posted by everydayanewday at 8:09 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


nthing acquired taste. I'm Japanese and I grew up in the US so I drink it; most of my friends in Japan think root beer tastes like medicine.

As for coke, my grandparents think it tastes like medicine. My parents, who grew up with Japan's post WWII economic growth, first tasted coke in their 20s when it became trendy. Most people who were born after WWII probably grew up tasting coke.
posted by xmts at 8:11 PM on June 21, 2012


because germolene, as mentioned above.
posted by scruss at 8:34 PM on June 21, 2012


I didn't know it was possible to not like root beer. For me, it was the pop of childhood. We weren't allowed to have cola when we were little (because of the caffeine) and I've always associated root beer with being a little kid. We had friends who made their own in dark stubby bottles and whenever we traveled, finding new brands of root beer (or spruce beer or cream soda) was a thing.

The rest of the world has no idea what they're missing.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 8:35 PM on June 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


So crazy. I've never been a particular fan of root beer (grew up in the US), but it's by no means repulsive to me. I heard the same thing from an exchange student-- that it tasted like toothpaste. It rang very true at the time. I also like Dandelion and Burdock, and now I'm excited to try spruce beer.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:41 PM on June 21, 2012


Similarly, almost nobody who didn't grow up in the Caribbean likes the taste of sorrel soda.

Huh. A Trinidadian restaurant opened in my neighborhood a few years back, and everyone I've eaten there with has enjoyed their sorrel drink. (I'm the only person I know who likes the mauby drink, though.)
posted by hattifattener at 8:45 PM on June 21, 2012


Huh. Interesting. I've never heard of root beer tasting like medicine. Now Dr. Pepper, THAT tastes like medicine to me.
posted by cozenedindigo at 8:48 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The rest of the world has no idea what they're missing.

Haha, we do. We're just choosing to miss it. ;)
posted by andrewesque at 8:53 PM on June 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


I hate wintergreen, and I hate all soda. Except root beer, which I LOVE. Now I think I'm crazy.
posted by Malla at 9:09 PM on June 21, 2012


Hey-song Sarsaparilla is from Taiwan and is pretty common over there.
posted by scalespace at 9:11 PM on June 21, 2012


I think root beer taste like perfume. How would I drink it ?
posted by Oli D. at 9:11 PM on June 21, 2012


(Now, if you want disgusting, try a cream soda. Makes root beer taste like champagne.)

There are different cream sodas. There are some that are somewhat... earthy. The really good ones are crystal clear. Or Red. Or the other Red.

How anyone could not love those is a mystery.
posted by gjc at 9:11 PM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Tastes like medicine"? I can do better. When I was little, we had a foot ointment that smelled the way root beer tastes. Try that on for size!
posted by Nomyte at 9:16 PM on June 21, 2012


I grew up in the States, but I didn't have root beer until I was older and it's never tasted appetizing.

On the other hand, I didn't have Birch Beer until college and that is good stuff.
posted by 23 at 9:19 PM on June 21, 2012


I'm Australian, and didn't try sarsaparilla until I was in my teens, and I loved it; and then I liked root beer just as much when I tried that. My husband is Canadian, we frequently complain about the lack of root beer.

A few years (probably, ahem, more like ten) ago Dr Pepper was everywhere - I thought it was reasonably tasty - and then it just vanished again. I guess it didn't do well enough here to keep it on.
posted by Kaleidoscope at 9:24 PM on June 21, 2012


thanks guys...
NOW the root beer I'm drinking tastes like toothpaste.
posted by calgirl at 9:29 PM on June 21, 2012


Root bear is super popular in Malaysia, FWIW. Especially root beer floats!
posted by Xany at 9:31 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yup, medecine. Which, being a huge root beer fan, has gotten me strange looks when I make yummy noises while taking my medicine in certain parts of the world.
posted by Ookseer at 9:52 PM on June 21, 2012


root beer tastes like wintergreen? swear to god i've been drinking root beer since i was a tot and i would never in a million years have made that connection.

also, birch beer rules.
posted by facetious at 10:19 PM on June 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Most Americans think of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as delicious and wholesome. Most of the rest of the world finds the idea disgusting.
posted by xammerboy at 10:42 PM on June 21, 2012


What I don't understand is why the whole world loves Coke, which tastes just as weird if not weirder, but thinks root beer is just too bizarre? Makes no sense.
posted by exceptinsects at 11:02 PM on June 21, 2012


>I don't think anyone outside of Québec and Newfoundland willingly drinks spruce beer

So what does the rest of the world do when they want to feel like they're imbibing a tree? :)

I'm curious why black cherry soda is an almost exclusively Jewish drink here in Montreal. Are there other places where everyone drinks the stuff?
posted by vasi at 11:17 PM on June 21, 2012


Bazooka Joe gum, IIRC, has a taste that my friends at school found medicinal. It's not widely available in the UKeeither. McDonald's here did do rootbeer in the 80s, but not having grown up with it, we used.to think it was a drink for adults from the 'beer' in the name. I don't drink pop anymore but I actually really like the taste. There used to be a traditional sasparilla stall on my local market where you could buy a glass of 'sasparilla tonic' for 10p, pulled and served in a glass which you drank there and returned.

A lot of people I know think Dr Pepper tastes medicinal, but that was my drink of choice when I had soda. What do they have in common?
posted by mippy at 11:21 PM on June 21, 2012


With respect to Bazooka Joe gum, mippy, I never made a medicinal connection before, but looking back the only time I ever had it was when I was young and my pediatrician gave me a piece of gum after each appointment. It always just tasted like regular sugar bubblegum, but I do connect it in my mind to doctors because of that.

As for root beer though, it was always my favorite soda growing up (and living in the south we had lots of homegrown varieties). But when I spent a month in Japan during school the big thing and the "Special" thing the American teacher gave us during our parties was his hidden stash of Dad's Root Beer. I don't think it tastes medicinal personally, but I do think there's a sort of spicy flavor similar to licorice that takes some getting used to. I still can't eat licorice, but give me a classic root beer or sarsaparilla and I'm happy.
posted by fishmasta at 11:36 PM on June 21, 2012


So what does the rest of the world do when they want to feel like they're imbibing a tree? :)

Gin? Retsina?
posted by hattifattener at 11:44 PM on June 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yeah, the Bazooka Joe/old school bubble gum flavor is one I find in many root beers/birch beers/sarsparillas. I find it's a sweet wintergreen-ish flavor, stronger in some than others. So I can understand the toothpaste association. Perhaps the medicine association is where a rootbeer-like brew might have been a traditional medicine, or a medication was flavored with a minty taste to make it palatable.

Dr. Pepper, however tastes like Dr. Pepper. Outside of the old story about being carbonated prune juice, I've never heard anyone associate it with medicine. Maybe they were convinced by the name?
posted by 2N2222 at 12:04 AM on June 22, 2012


The toothpaste thing comes from the fact that certain gel-y newfangled toothpastes (in my recollection: introduced in the early 70s, in Germany) had a synthetic taste to them that was non-minty. Sorta like the smell of heating gel for strained muscles. For someone who didn't grow up with root beer and tastes it for the first time, the similarity is the only thing to notice.

When I visited the US for the first time in '76 - part of a large bunch of musical school kids, heading toward Blue Lake, Mi. - root beer was the single most mystifying thing we encountered. Like: "what is this stuff? You can't possibly drink that." I still love it.
posted by Namlit at 12:06 AM on June 22, 2012


I grew up in India and was beyond excited I was getting to drink root beer in the USA. Yuck! Tasted like tooth paste to me too and I couldn't believe it was this beloved a drink. And yeah pepper tasted like medicine. Another disappointment.
posted by viramamunivar at 12:46 AM on June 22, 2012


Dr. Pepper, however tastes like Dr. Pepper. Outside of the old story about being carbonated prune juice, I've never heard anyone associate it with medicine. Maybe they were convinced by the name?

It tastes like cough syrup to me. So does Cherry Coke. One of the big disappointments in my teenage life was going to the US for the first time and trying these mysterious-sounding drinks that I'd been seeing in novels and on tv shows for years... and finding them all horrible.

I think the Australian version of creaming soda is unique to our country. It's deep pink and tastes like vanilla with a dash of raspberry. I liked it as a child but I tried some again recently and goodness, it's insanely sweet. And I say this as somebody who likes Coke.
posted by Georgina at 12:49 AM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Root beer and cherry-flavoured drinks weren't sold in Australia until recently. However, American pharmaceutical companies sold their 'kid friendly' root beer and cherry medicines here. Medicine tastes pretty awful anyway, so root beer and cherry becomes associated with medicine / illness / yuck.

My wife and I love root beer, but we've also always been big fans of sarsparilla. Cherry is taking longer, but it's growing on me. Ice, ice cold cherry Kool Aid is a treat in summer.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:33 AM on June 22, 2012


I'm in the UK and tried root beer for the first time 2 weeks ago. Agree with everyone else about the medicinal taste - the closest comparison I could come up with was Euthymol toothpaste. Can certainly imagine learning to like it but the medicinal association does make it difficult to contemplate drinking a large glass of it.
posted by chrispy at 2:38 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mmmmm I love root beer so maybe I should check out Euthymol except it doesn't have any fluoride so I couldn't use ti every day.

I also like Dandelion and Burdock as well as Iron Bru and loved spruce beer when I would travel to Canada from Vermont. I also recentry tried a Brazialian Soda that I thought was rather nice as well. Maybe I just like sweet fizzy things.
posted by koolkat at 2:43 AM on June 22, 2012


Sarsparilla tastes like grandma to me. That's why.

My partner likes it, so I guess I'm in luck when I'm old.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:46 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I blamed cherry coke for my appendix bursting as a kid (it happened after I'd drunk some for the first time and tried to turn cartwheels) so I never drunk it again after that.
posted by mippy at 4:19 AM on June 22, 2012


Perhaps this clip from Star Trek: DS9 can shed some light.

I have some Bundaberg Root Beer that I purchased in the US from World Market. I didn't recall seeing it over there when I visited. Is it popular?
posted by buttercup at 4:29 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


buttercup, not at all. The original and most famous Bundaberg drink is their ginger beer, which is often sold in shops with other single-serve soft drinks. I've seen a couple of their other bottled drinks at cafes and supermarkets, but I didn't even know they did a root beer.

(It's not on their website, but it is mentioned on their wikipedia page. Perhaps it's discontinued?)

I don't remember ever seeing root beer in Australia. obiwanwasabi, where do you buy it from?
posted by Georgina at 5:09 AM on June 22, 2012


Root beer is widely available in Okinawa and Okinawan restaurants in "mainland" Japan, and in some parts of Germany (my experience is mostly in Baden-Wurttemberg). Both of these areas have been heavily influenced by a large community of Americans who moved in for ... the US military. Mountain Dew is also available in Germany since 2010. Huzzah! For whatever reason, it comes in a radioactive green PET bottle which probably frightens off everyone but the Americans.
posted by whatzit at 5:17 AM on June 22, 2012


What I don't understand is why the whole world loves Coke, which tastes just as weird if not weirder, but thinks root beer is just too bizarre? Makes no sense.

As a data point, I'm a quasi-first generation American (my dad is American; I was raised mostly by my mom, who isn't American) with no cultural attachment to root beer. Had it once at a party in school and thought it was foul. I wasn't allowed to drink Coke growing up, but I don't have a specific memory of my first taste of Coke being awful, so my inclination is that it is less of an acquired taste.

All that said, I recently had root beer as an adult (so for the second time in my life) and it wasn't half bad. I don't think that it'd ever be my first choice, but it was root beer or Mountain Dew and I don't regret the root beer experiment.
posted by hoyland at 5:35 AM on June 22, 2012


Regional thing. I found a bottle of Dandelion and Burdock at a coffee shop while a good friend was visiting me in NYC. I bought the bottle enthusing about the flavor. She enjoyed it, but she pointed out to me that it does smell distinctly of bubblegum. Which has lessened my enthusiasm for the drink now. I can't imagine that root beer would be any different for people outside of the US.

Regional sodas are weird. Except for the Mexican ones (at least the ones I can get in the US- both American brands and Mexican brands). Those are delicious to anybody with taste.

And apparently root beer isn't popular in Mexico. Mores the pity.
posted by Hactar at 5:57 AM on June 22, 2012


What I don't understand is why the whole world loves Coke, which tastes just as weird if not weirder, but thinks root beer is just too bizarre? Makes no sense.

Because Cola doesn't taste the same everywhere. For example, there is a huge difference between German and Belgian cherry cola. It's both Coca Cola, officially the same product, but with differences to appeal to the local taste.
Germany is known for non-sweet drinks, such as beer, while Belgium has a popular cherry flavor beer (which pretty much everyone in Germany finds disgusting) - the German cherry cola is less sweet than the Belgian counterpart and has a lot less cherry flavor, too. Austrian Red Bull tastes different than German Red Bull, too. It's not just Coca Cola doing that.

One store near me goes through the hassle to import certain drinks from the US, while also having the European versions. Nearly everything I tried tastes differently and you can easily tell which is which. Said store also has a house brand of cola that is said to taste similar to root beer, but minus the eww.
posted by MinusCelsius at 6:02 AM on June 22, 2012


I'm another first-generation American (and third culture kid) who doesn't like root bear! On the other hand, my older brother (who's spent proportionally more of his life in the US than me) seems to like it fine, even though it's not a favorite.

On the other hand, before I gave up soda I adored the Swiss equivalent (niche-wise, not flavor-wise) Rivella, which is soda made from milk whey. Yes, really.
posted by bettafish at 6:09 AM on June 22, 2012


I see it has already been mentioned, but I want to chime in that root beer is popular in Malaysia, perhaps even more popular than in the States. There was a humungous A&W Root Beer Restaurant next to my hotel in Petaling Jaya. Also, they like peanut butter here. So there are certain affinities for supposedly U.S.-peculiar tastes in this part of SE Asia.
posted by reren at 6:26 AM on June 22, 2012


When one comes to Atlanta (and one will, if only to change planes) I highly recommend spending a couple of hours at The World of Coca-Cola. While the exhibits are mildly interesting, it's the tasting room that's the actual attraction.

There are nearly 100 beverages on tap from around the world and you can have as many of them as you like.

It's amazing what's appealing, beverage-wise, from around the world. Everyone figures out that the aforementioned, very bitter, Beverly (an Italian soda, and presumably an aperatif) is disgusting and you'll hear kids daring each other to drink more.

They have root beer and birch beer so you can do a comparison test. Then there are the weird, fruity sodas from Africa, Latin America and Asia. They haven't developed a durian soda, but I think they will just to have another weird item in the exhibit.

The point is, that certain things are just indigenous to a particular region, and what you grow up with is what you enjoy.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:33 AM on June 22, 2012


As an American I can say that I do understand why some folks say root beer tastes medicinal. There's a lot of variance in flavors from brand to brand -- to me, Barq's tastes very medicinal, and Henry Weinhardt's tastes like honey. A&W is the "classic" root beer flavor to me, and it's somewhere in the middle. To be honest, I hate Barq's.

Those of you who haven't really tried root beer much yet, or didn't like it, you could try a root beer float instead of the plain drink. It's got ice cream, so how could it be bad? Though I think floats always make you feel a bit bloaty afterwards. Still, yum.
posted by litlnemo at 6:34 AM on June 22, 2012


> Similarly, almost nobody who didn't grow up in the Caribbean likes the taste of sorrel soda.

I don't think this is analogous. Sorrel drink is hibiscus tea, it's popular throughout Latin America, much of Africa, the Middle East, parts of southeast Asia. (And with those who love the cuisines of these countries -- I happily drink about a quart of aguas de jamaica with my tacos.) In the US, it's a familiar flavor from Celestial Seasonings "red zinger" tea.

I'm an American who finds some root beers to be too anise-y for my taste. FWIW, I despise Dr Pepper and Inca cola, but love cream soda (and I'm not from NY, my introduction to it was undoubtedly the version made by Shasta in the 70s.)
posted by desuetude at 7:17 AM on June 22, 2012


I'm in the sciences, and so I run with a pretty international crowd. When I was a student, I once served root beer at a party.

Every non-American (about 2/3rds of the attendees) was curious, so they did this thing where they all poured themselves a sip and tried it at the same time.

They all agreed it tasted like medicine, but could not put their finger on what kind, or maybe disagreed about what kind, being representatives of about 10 different countries throughout the world. But I was fascinated by the agreement of response considering their varied backgrounds.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:33 AM on June 22, 2012


Whoops, I was thinking of mauby soda and wrote "sorrel soda." Now I feel stupid.

It may be because I like mauby soda (much to the astonishment of my Jamaican friends) and hate sorrel soda.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:25 AM on June 22, 2012


Now I have to try mauby soda! I'm in Toronto, so I'm pretty sure the shop down the street stocks it.
posted by maudlin at 8:38 AM on June 22, 2012


Two Letters: A & W

For some of us, adolescence meant hanging out at the A & W. For that reason, root beer will always be associated with mind numbing, root beer flavored french kisses in the back seat of a '57 Chevy. Doesn't get much better than that!
posted by HuronBob at 9:10 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I came in to say Germolene and see I'm not the first. It's just not a flavour/scent I associate with foodstuffs.

I had a similar reaction to the discovery of cinnamon gum when I lived in the States for a bit. It didn't really taste/smell of cinnamon to me, it just seemed really germoleney and unpleasant.

I never liked fizzy drinks as a kid, and have never got used to the taste of Coke. I do like Irn Bru, though, even though I never tried it until I moved to Scotland in my late teens. But maybe that's because I was a student, and it's the *best* hangover cure ever.
posted by penguin pie at 10:12 AM on June 22, 2012


Wow, toothpaste. I figured it probably tasted bad to folks from some other countries, but I wouldn't have gussed it was like toothpaste. Maybe I'd like European toothpaste.

Thanks for mentioning all the other beverages from other countries (and New York City). I now wish I could go and taste them all.

Malaysia? That was cool to hear.
posted by Area Man at 10:53 AM on June 22, 2012


Malysia surprised me, too, as I have never met a person who grew up in Japan or India who liked root beer. But then tastes vary and my golden rule is what is a delicacy in one land is rotten food in another. Or worse -- like what passes for boiled eggs in the Phillipines, for instance.

On another note, I have always loved the smell of old fashioned purple and lavender bearded iris. It's not a strong scent but it is intensely sweet and evanescent.

But since my friend Jeanne said "It smells like root beer," after I had her sniff one in my garden this spring, I have been unable to smell them any other way. And even though I love root beer, I am not pleased with this for some reason.
posted by y2karl at 11:35 AM on June 22, 2012


I heard that Germans thought root beer tasted like toothpaste, so when I went there, I tried a few popular German toothpastes with the hope that they would be as awesome as brushing with root beer. I was sorely disappointed.
posted by advicepig at 12:19 PM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


xingcat: Sassafras (from which root beer and sarsaparilla are made) is native to North America and Asia, so I expect it's also a matter of having ingredients that would need to be exported in order to flood the market.
Sassafras is linked to liver cancer, so it is no longer used in commercial root beers and sarsaparillas. Artificial sassafras flavoring is fairly similar, and is the taste most of us associate with root beer. So, that's not the problem.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:48 PM on June 22, 2012


All this talk of wintergreen made me go out and buy a can of root beer today. How did I not notice this before? Wintergreen. That is so weird. I do remember root beer before sassafras was linked with cancer, though. My grandmother used to make sassafras tea (or was it sarsaparilla?).
posted by marimeko at 1:08 PM on June 22, 2012


Sarsaparilla is much more popular in Queensland, Australia than the rest of the country in my experience.
posted by Admira at 1:21 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anecdata! - I was born in Scotland but moved to the US as a child. I was introduced to the Magical World of Rootbeer Floats by my Grandmother, a cantankerous Irish woman, and have never looked back. I still enjoy root beer very much, and I like Dr. Pepper, too. I grew up with American toothpaste, more or less, so that might be why I don't get the whole connection with medicine and these two drinks.

More importantly perhaps, I will never understand why IRN BRU isn't popular everywhere, all the time. It's the best soft drink available to anyone, at any time, for any reason. I love it heartily, but it's a soft drink I didn't even try until I was about 35. Maybe that's a genetic thing - who knows.

I make a cocktail with IRN BRU that I like to call an IRN BRUiser - it's 1 part vodka to 4 parts IRN BRU, and it's the best thing ever.
posted by Pecinpah at 4:39 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Whoops, I was thinking of mauby soda and wrote "sorrel soda." Now I feel stupid. It may be because I like mauby soda (much to the astonishment of my Jamaican friends) and hate sorrel soda.

Ohh, that makes more sense, I was really puzzled by the idea of sorrel drink being such an acquired taste, especially given how many other sweet-tart beverages exist. And whew, I'm glad that I didn't shoot off a snarkier version of my comment. Don't feel stupid.

Do we agree that in the universe of Caribbean drinks, Irish Moss is oddest?
posted by desuetude at 4:56 PM on June 22, 2012


Pecinpah, when you make that with whiskey, it's called an Irn Monkey! (Although really its one part booze to two parts Irn Bru.) You would enjoy a Demeanor, a cocktail that when constructed properly, tastes exactly of Irn Bru.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:35 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


@georgina - I don't remember ever seeing root beer in Australia. obiwanwasabi, where do you buy it from?

It's pretty easy to get in Canberra. Plenty of Asian grocers stock A&W root beer and creaming soda (for the Filipino market?), as do some IGA supermarkets that also stock American candy. Now we can get it by the case at Costco.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:32 PM on June 22, 2012


Chiming in late, but I concur with acquired taste. I wasn't born here (moved at age 5) and I think root beer is super gross. Dr. Pepper is included in this category for me. I never associated it with toothpaste, though .. just generally unpalatable.
posted by theRussian at 9:45 PM on June 22, 2012


Here's an experiment that may help root beer lovers understand why people who didn't grow up with the drink don't usually like it: try the mauby soda Sidhedevil likes.

The shop down the street did not fail me, as I was able to get a bottle of sorrel soda and mauby soda (Mauby Fizz, to be precise). Mauby is made from a tree bark, so like root beer and spruce beer, you're getting a botanical / medicinal drink with lots of complexity and perhaps some single, overwhelming flavour notes.

My guinea pig and I split the mauby soda last night, trying it straight up, then on the rocks, and our reactions were similar: interesting, drinkable, but probably not something either of us would seek out. It started out very sweet, something like root beer with a strong licorice note (the drink includes aniseed and vanilla flavour), and finished as moderately bitter and very tannic. I love strong black tea, gin and tonic and Guinness, so I'm fine with the finish, but it was the front-loaded sweetness that got to me. Maybe making a drink with mauby syrup that was more diluted with soda would work for me.
posted by maudlin at 10:21 AM on June 24, 2012


maudlin: "I love strong black tea, gin and tonic and Guinness,"

I spent too much time wondering if this cocktail had any potential merit, before I realized you didn't mean "in a highball glass, with a slice of orange".
posted by IAmBroom at 6:29 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


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