Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"They Actually Eat That:" Sarsparilla.

So today's my last full day in Texas, the one state who appreciates the Old West like no other. San Antonio's basketball team is the "Spurs," for crying out loud. If only I had found an old-timey saloon and gotten a sarsaparilla.  Nope, drinking is not that fun, but hoo boy are there a lot of places to do it in Texas.

Wait. Was that still English? What's a "sarsaparilla?" Is it deadly?

Sarsaparilla is a soda associated with the Old West. It is also a plant, Smilax regelli, which is usually used to make the soda and is native to Central America. The soda was used in Western films, particularly in ABC's TV series Sugarfoot, and has been linked with the West ever since.

Like Coca-Cola, sarsparilla was originally marketed as a health tonic. It was patented to cure blood and skin problems. The plant itself was said to be a cure for syphilis. I'll file it with the other not-panaceas - just to be on the safe side. Since the original sarsaparilla used no sarsaparilla at all, however, these claims may have been made based on the birch root in the soda. Talk about false advertising! 

Worried about liquor in your herbal drinks? Nothing of the sort is in sarsaparilla. Part of the joke in Westerns that feature the drink is that real cowboys order hard whiskey. Ordering a sarsaparilla was certainly not manly. I mean, just look at that word, not to mention the common mispronunciation of "sass-parilla." Plus, it's all organic, and only chicks do that sort of thing, right?

People still enjoy sarsaparilla today...but mostly in other countries. The Taiwanese sarsaparilla above, for example, contains actual sarsaparilla and a few other ingredients. Australia loves sarsaparilla. It can also be found in certain stores carrying brewery-style sodas in glass bottles. Still, it's a piece of the wild, wild West that is quite hard to find these days in America. The rest of the world knows good soda when they see it.

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