Mmm…on a hot summer day, there’s one treat we look forward to more than any other. It features wonderfully-sweet, fizzy soda, along with silky, smooth ice cream. What are we talking about? A root beer float, of course!
Our favorite way to make a root beer float is the simple way. Put a large glass in the freezer and wait for it to get super cold. When it’s ready, spoon a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream into the bottom of your glass. Then pour chilled root beer over the top until it foams up to the top. Stick in a straw and a spoon and you’re ready to go!
One thing you’ve probably noticed about root beer floats is how foamy they get. Sure, any carbonated soda will create bubbles when it’s poured into a glass, but just add ice cream and a root beer float foams up like nothing else! What’s going on inside that glass?
As usual, science comes to the rescue to explain the foamy goodness that tops an ice-cold root beer float. When carbonated root beer comes into contact with the ice cream, carbon dioxide bubbles are released. Likewise, the soda helps to free air bubbles trapped in the ice cream. The fat in the ice cream coats all these bubbles, protecting them and allowing them to expand to create the huge heads of foam you see on root beer floats.
No one knows for certain who first combined root beer with ice cream to make a frosty treat, but many historians believe it was either Robert Green or Fred Sanders. They think the cool concoction was likely invented in the United States in the late 1800s.
In many areas, the root beer float has a particular nickname. Don’t be surprised if you hear someone order a “brown cow” when they want a root beer float. Of course, other varieties of soda floats exist and several have similar nicknames.
A “black cow” features Coke® and vanilla ice cream, a “purple cow” consists of grape soda and vanilla ice cream, and a “chocolate cow” mixes chocolate ice cream with root beer. Exact nicknames vary from region to region, so be sure you know what you’re getting when you order a particular color cow!
In case you were WONDERing, root beer gets its name from the fact that it was originally made from the root of the sassafras plant. Today, root beer is mainly popular in the United States, with hundreds of different brands produced in every single U.S. state.
There is no standard root beer recipe. Most root beer today is made with artificial sassafras flavoring. Other ingredients are then added to make unique flavors. Some common additives include vanilla, wintergreen, licorice root, sarsaparilla root, nutmeg, molasses, cinnamon, and honey. Most root beers are also caffeine-free!