The Chemistry of Root Beer Floats


The delectable Root Beer Float’s frosty creator, Robert M Green, perpetuated its existence in Philadelphia, Penn., in 1874. The ingenious pair of sweet, creamy, vanilla ice cream, and the rich, carbonated Root Beer soda, immortalized itself in soda shops everywhere. This unique flavor-sensation became so riveting in American ice-cream soda-pop history, that all children dreamed about this delicious, frosty drink and begged for it to be the highlighted refreshment at their birthday parties.

The popularity of the Root Beer float grew exponentially over time. A tantalizing twist took the original Root Beer Float and transformed it into a fitting taste-preference with any soda-lover's favorite flavor, leaving everyone completely satisfied.

Root Beer Floats became a compelling icon to those who were tired of the same old milk-and-cookies, ice-cream cone with sprinkles, or a bland soda at dinner.

The Float defied the status quo and the simplicities associated with sweets in society. There were no boundaries to inhibit creativity and no standards by which to hold it. Who said the Float must be consumed with a spoon, in a frosted glass mug, filled to the top with Root Beer and vanilla ice cream? No one, not even the creator, envisioned his idea having to keep within the lines of creation. If someone chose to drink her Float from the strawberry ice-cream carton with a straw and Coca-Cola, that was totally okay.

I chose to do my project on the chemistry of the Root Beer Float because I absolutely love ice cream, and one of my favorite sodas is Root Beer. They go together like peanut butter and jelly, Picasso and art, and Mozart and music.

If the Root Beer Float never had been invented, my life might not be dramatically affected, but my dessert repertoire certainly would be dull.

Root Beer Floats are a great first date, celebratory treat, late-night snack, or an enjoyably cool drink on a hot summer's day.

I encourage all to try the Root Beer Float, as well as its fellow-flavor Float concoctions. A few of the most popular soda-pop substitutes for the Root Beer Float include: The Boston Cooler (Ginger Ale), Snow White (7up or Sprite), Snallygaster (Mountain Dew), Purple Cow (grape soda or Fanta), and Coke Float (Coca-Cola), among many others. Sometimes, sherbet is substituted for ice-cream, to which Ginger Ale is added to complete the Sherbet Float.

Finally, for those of drinking age, Beer Floats have been created to appease the more sophisticated crowd of Float enthusiasts.

Using little imagination, the possibilities are infinite for this sugary desire that ignites these delicious creations. So, let’s grab the essential ice cream and soda, and begin scooping and filling up the glass in the quest for a sweet, enticing treat!

The Composition of ...

Step one in the composition of the incomparable Float is to combine soda and ice cream with Root Beer or any other fountain drink that’s desired.

Much of the delicious magic of the Float lies within the composition of ice cream, which comprises more than 10% of milk fat, 9 -12% of serum solids (which are non-fats, such as proteins, caseins and whey; and, carbohydrates of lactose that commonly are found in milk).

Sweeteners, such as sucrose, an organic compound most often referred to as table sugar, comprise another 12-16%. This includes glucose, a naturally-occurring sugar in our bodies, as well as corn syrup.

The main bulk, 55- 64%, of ice cream is water. About .2-.5% are stabilizers, which help preserve and keep the structure of the ice cream, and emulsifiers, another additive that helps in the process of dispersing liquids throughout the substance.

Ice cream typically is not labeled homogeneous, regardless of its mixture of water, ice, air, sugar, milk fat, and milk proteins.

Root Beer can be made in a number of different ways, one of which mainly involves chemistry in the art of fermentation. This unique fountain drink primarily is made up of water, sugars, flavorings, color-dyeing products, and carbon dioxide, which gives it the fizz of carbonation.

Root Beer consists of the preservative sodium benzoate, and the extract quillaia. In a 12-ounce can of Root Beer, there are approximately 80 mg of sodium, 45 g of sugar, and 47 g of carbohydrates.

Ice cream can be made anywhere including your home. If a freezer is not available, liquid nitrogen will do. Root Beer, too, can be made at home as well as in a brewery. ‬

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

Ice Cream:

  • Sucrose= C12H22O11. A refined sugar most commonly referred to as table sugar, and commonly used in corn syrup. ‬
  • Glucose= C6H12O6. A sugar our body naturally produces; it helps stimulate and determine insulin levels
  • Water= H2O
  • Salt=NaCl

Root Beer:

  • Carbonated Water = H2CO3. Split this up and it is carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O).
  • Sucrose = C12H22O11
  • Sodium Benzoate = NaC6H5CO2. A salt preservative that presents
  • once dissolved in water.

Chemistry's Role

In the creation of ice cream, there are different ways that chemistry can be used to influence the process. One way is to use liquid nitrogen to freeze and harden the ice cream, the result of which is the famous brand, “Dippin' Dots.”

Chemistry also is evident when the freezing point is reached for water, as well as in the mixing and dissolving of different ingredients and elements to create the hard, frozen concoction we call ice cream.

As I mentioned earlier, Root Beer can be taken through the process of fermentation, which usually takes place in breweries or factories, where preservatives and processed sugars are added. ‬

Background Research

Ice cream is a colloid, a type of emulsion in which there is a combination of two substances that normally do not mix well together.

The air in ice cream can be considered to be a foam: molecules of fat clumped together to the water-, sugar-, and ice-mixture that create the air bubbles.

Ice cream can be made at the large manufacturing level, as well as in your home or business.

Root Beer can be made either at your home, though most the recipes look difficult and others downright sketchy. Typically, it is made in a brewery or manufactured on a large scale in a factory.

It is composed of natural and artificial flavorings, like corn syrup, to which are added preservatives, such as sodium benzoate, and quillaia extract, which comes from the bark of trees.


~Talks about the origins of the Root Beer Float.

~ Describes the different flavors of soda and ice cream that you can use to make a Float.


~ What’s in ice cream.

~ How it can be made.

~Gives a label for what is in Root Beer.

~Tells about an experiment for making ice cream.

~ Gives a brief description of sodium benzoate.

~ Gives information about different types of fermentation.

~ Talks about the quillaia extract found in Root Beer.

~Describes how ice cream is made, and where it can be made.

~ Shows how to brew Root Beer, and gives a slight history of its origins in the colonies.

About the Author

Marissa Van Atta is a junior at Billings Senior High School. She is extremely active in athletics, participating on the varsity basketball, track, and soccer teams. This year, her soccer team took the AA State Title for the first time in girls' soccer history at Billings Senior High. Last year, the girls' track team took the AA State Title for the second consecutive year. She also is a member of Senior Advocates, Trading Cards, and is the student body secretary.

Apart from school, Marissa competes with her horses in equestrian competitions; she also enjoys trail riding, camping, boating, and hiking with her family and friends.

Marissa received the Billings Chamber of Commerce's Outstanding Youth Volunteer of Billings Award, as well as the Billings Referees' Association's Black Whistle Award for Outstanding Sportsmanship both on and off the soccer field.