330 mL can
Chinese immigrant Wong Ning established the Manila Aerated Water Factory in on Misericordia (now Tomás Mapúa) Street in Manila in 1918, producing several varieties of soft drinks for the local market, presumably including the sarsaparilla recipe referenced on the can at left. Sarsaparilla (Smilax ornata) is a Central American plant but was exported worldwide as a healthful tonic long before the addition of soda water made it an early variation of root beer in the western United States in the late nineteenth century. Was Mr. Wong's recipe influenced by drinks brought by American occupiers to the Philippines, or by the Chinese medicinal decoctions of his youth? Perhaps it is a bit of both.
After the Japanese invaded Manila in 1942, Wong Ning was arrested for his political sympathies and died in prison. After the war his eldest son Henry Gao-Hong Wong took over the business, renaming it the Cosmos Bottling Company in 1945. The popularity of Cosmos Sarsaparilla and other drinks allowed the company to expand to Hong Kong in 1947 with a bottling plant run by other Wong siblings. The company offered eight flavors: sarsaparilla, orange, cream soda, lime, lemon, mulberry, grape and pineapple.
In the late 60s, Cosmos Sarsaparilla officially changed its name to "Sarsi", which has since become a generic term for many sarsaparilla sodas in Asia. Likewise the Cosmos cola was renamed "Pop Cola" and orange flavor became "Sunta."
In the 1970s Cosmos was a sponsor of the Miss Asia competition and starred many of its winners in its advertising. A TV commercial remembered by many Filippinos from this time featured a folk recipe of Sarsi mixed with a raw egg.
The Wong family sold the brand to the food conglomerate RFM Corporation in 1989. A vintage commercial from the early 90s pitches Sarsi as a drink for those who want to be a little different:
After a few years of poor profits, RFM sold the brand in 2001 to a partnership of the San Miguel Corporation and Coca-Cola, the Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines Inc, owners of Royal Tru fruit sodas.. After several reorganizations and stock sales the brand is now owned by the Mexican bottler Coca-Cola FEMSA.
This stuff is so packed with spices, it's wonderful! Smells like an Asian pharmacy with dried ginger and anise. It has a dry flavor rather than sweet, almost granular, bitter and medicinal. It makes Moxie seem like a sweet and smooth drink.
More of an earthy and herbal sarsaparilla than a creamy root beer flavor. It's strong-flavored and refreshing, a perk-up of punch not weighed down by gooey over-sweetness.
Carbonated water, sugar, caramel color, sodium benzoate (preservative), natural & artificial flavors, aspartame (Nutrasweet brand) and citric acid.
Cosmos Bottling Corporation
Copyright 2017 Matt Bergstrom • about Delicious Sparkling Temperance Drinks