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Sarsaparilla was popular in the United States in the 19th century. According to advertisements for patent medicines of the period, it was considered to be a remedy for skin and blood problems. Ruth Tobias notes that it evokes images of "languid belles and parched cowboys." In Hollywood westerns from the 1930s to the 1950s, ordering sarsaparilla in a saloon (instead of whiskey) is often met with mockery by the manly cowboys nearby. Sarsaparilla drinks feature widely in American popular culture, particularly in works related to the American West. In the 1957-1961 ABC western television series, Sugarfoot, the title character, Tom Brewster, played by Will Hutchins, is a teetotaler who orders sarsaparilla "with a dash of cherry" whenever he enters a saloon.
Sarsaparilla is not readily available in most countries, although many pubs and most major supermarket chains in the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Australia stock sarsaparilla-flavored soft drinks. Australian sarsaparilla has a different flavor from American root beer or sarsaparilla. Bundaberg brews sarsaparilla from "real sarsaparilla root, licorice root, vanilla beans and molasses."
Sarsi is a sarsaparilla-based drink popular in Asia.
Baldwin's produces a Sarsaparilla Cordial in the United Kingdom, and have done since 1844. It is produced in Walworth Road, London and is readily available in Pie & Mash shops in the East End of London, where it is popular, as well as being available in the Supermarket Tesco.
U.S. classic sarsaparilla was not made from the extract of the sarsaparilla plant, a tropical vine distantly related to the lily. It was originally made from a blend of birch oil and sassafras, the dried root bark of the sassafras tree. Sassafras was widely used as a home remedy in the nineteenth century – taken in sufficient doses, it induces sweating, which some people thought was a good thing. Sarsaparilla apparently made its debut as a patent medicine, an easy-to-take form of sassafras, much as Coca-Cola (then an easy-to-take form of cocaine) was first marketed in 1885 as a remedy for hangovers, headaches and morphine addiction. Besides the effects of the ingredients, sodas were popular in the United States at the time, due to the belief that carbonated water was good for the health.
Sarsaparilla is mentioned with variant spellings in several songs, perhaps most notably in the lyrics to George and Ira Gershwin's song "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," in the line, "You sa's'parilla and I sa's'parella" (also written as "You saspiralla, and I saspirella"), introduced as a duet in the 1937 film Shall We Dance by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but also recorded in a highly successful version by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald included on the latter's 1957 album Ella and Louis Again. The Canadian band The Gandharvas released a song entitled "Sarsaparilla" in 1997 on their album Sold for a Smile. The 2004 album The Man in a Blue Turban with a Face by the U.S. band Man Man included a track named "Sarsparillsa."
In the feature film The Big Lebowski, "The Stranger" asks if they have a good sarsaparilla at the bowling alley bar. The bartender gets him a Sioux City. Also mentioned a few times in the 1953 film "Calamity Jane", starring Doris Day.
Sarsparilla is mentioned several times throughout the six-season run of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and is often met with contempt and is perceived as an effeminate choice. It is a favorite of Horace Bing.
A fictional brand of sarsaparilla called "Sunset Sarsaparilla" is featured in the award-winning video game Fallout: New Vegas. The drink plays a large role in the game, being one of the most common aid items and the focal point of the quest The Legend of the Star, where the player must collect 50 special Sunset Sarsaparilla Star bottle caps.
Sarsaparilla is mentioned in the American television show Supernatural.
Sarsaparilla is mentioned in Full House in season 8 episode 15.
Sarsaparilla is mentioned in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch in season 4 episode 19, where it is initially outlawed in the Wild West until Sabrina removes all the rules.
Sarsaparilla is mentioned in The Mentalist in season 5 episode 19.
Sarsaparilla is mentioned in Pretty Little Liars in season 4 episode 11.
Sarsaparilla is mentioned in the feature film Back to the Future Part III when the bartender asks Dr. Emmet Brown what he wants to drink.
In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Last Roundup" (season 2, episode 14) Pinkie Pie tells Applejack to drink sarsaparilla, because it "gives you extra sass".
In the first scene of Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress, the Father character, describing life in the United States around the year 1900, begins to say that he will go down to the local drug store for a sarsaparilla but then corrects himself, indicating that people had begun calling the drink 'root beer' instead.
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