Sarsaparilla: An Artisanal Beverage with Beneficial Properties

Prepared in southeast Mexico, sarsaparilla is a refreshing and sweet beverage that has been produced in an artisanal way for more than a hundred years. This drink is made from the dried roots of different species of plants known by the same name of sarsaparilla.

Sarsaparilla: An Artisanal Beverage with Beneficial Properties
Sarsaparilla is an homemade soft drink with good qualities.

Sarsaparilla is a refreshing and sweet drink, produced in an artisanal way for more than a hundred years in southeastern Mexico. This drink is made from the dried roots of different plant species known by the same name as sarsaparilla (Smilax aristolochiifolia and Smilax moranensis).

These roots are accompanied by other ingredients such as ginger, star anise, cinnamon, and sucrose syrup and, depending on the producer, may or may not be fermented. All this gives the drink a characteristic flavor, generally sweet, and an appearance similar to cola, a fact that boosted its consumption during the 1960s.

Although the process of making the sarsaparilla drink is based on a Spanish recipe brought by the colonizers, the species of sarsaparilla used are endemic to Mexico, distributed in the states of Veracruz, Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, and Oaxaca, as well as in temperate parts of San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas and Puebla.

These are geographical areas where the commercialization and consumption of this beverage are popular among inhabitants of all ages. Unfortunately, since it is an artisanal beverage, there is a lack of information about its production process and its characteristics, which define its typicality and authenticity.

Over the years, the consumption of sarsaparilla soft drinks has been related to different beneficial health effects, either as an aid in the treatment of skin diseases and the control of blood glucose or as an expectorant, diuretic, depurative and anti-inflammatory.

Since sarsaparilla is an artisanal product, both its production and ingredients may vary, directly affecting the presence of bioactive compounds responsible for the multiple benefits of this beverage.

Among the bioactive compounds reported in samples of other Smilax species are mainly steroidal saponins, flavonoids, flavones, organic acids, stilbenes, and phenylpropanoids, which by themselves have shown antioxidant, antihemolytic, and antibacterial activities.

Based on the above, scientists have implemented a line of research focused on the characterization and standardization of the elaboration process of the sarsaparilla beverage, based on artisanal knowledge and procedures, as well as the identification of bioactive compounds obtained as a result of the controlled production of this beverage.

With the execution of this line of research, the researchers seek to generate scientific knowledge related to the functional properties of artisanal foods such as sarsaparilla, giving added value to the product based on its bioactive compounds and the potential beneficial effects obtained after its consumption.

By CIAD researchers Haydeé Eliza Romero Luna, Audry Peredo Lovillo, Adrián Hernández Mendoza, Aarón F. González Córdova and Belinda Vallejo Galland.