- What part of the licorice plant gives the candy its distinctive flavor?
- Health Benefits of Licorice Root
- Learn how to grow licorice (Mulethi) in this article if you love to grow medicinal herbs. Growing licorice and licorice plant care is easy.
- Licorice Uses
- How to Grow Licorice
- Requirements for Growing Licorice
- Licorice Plant Care
- Harvesting Licorice
- Companion Plants for Licorice
- What Is A Licorice Plant – Can You Grow Licorice Plants
- Licorice Plant Information
- The cultivation of Licorice root in the United States.
- A Short History of Liquorice
- Ever wondered where your favourite foodstuff originated and how it’s made?
- What are the benefits of licorice root?
- Lovely Licorice Root
- Medicinal Uses for Licorice
- Growing Licorice
What part of the licorice plant gives the candy its distinctive flavor?
Liquorice (British English) or licorice (American English) is the root of Glycyrrhiza glabra from which a sweet flavor can be extracted.
The scent of licorice root comes from a complex and variable combination of compounds, of which anethole is up to 3% of total volatiles. Much of the sweetness in licorice comes from glycyrrhizin, which has a sweet taste, 30–50 times the sweetness of sugar. The sweetness is very different from sugar, being less instant, tart, and lasting longer.
Licorice, which grows best in well-drained soils in deep valleys with full sun, is harvested in the autumn two to three years after planting. Countries producing licorice include India, Iran, Italy, Afghanistan, the People’s Republic of China, Pakistan, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.
Licorice flavor is found in a wide variety of candies or sweets. In most of these candies, the taste is reinforced by aniseed oil so the actual content of licorice is very low. Most licorice is used as a flavoring agent for tobacco. For example, M&F Worldwide reported in 2011 that about 63% of its licorice product sales are to the worldwide tobacco industry for use as tobacco flavor enhancing and moistening agents in the manufacture of American blend cigarettes, moist snuff, chewing tobacco, and pipe tobacco.
Licorice, (Glycyrrhiza glabra), also spelled liquorice, perennial herb of the pea family (Fabaceae), and the flavouring, confection, and folk medicine made from its roots. Licorice is similar to anise (Pimpinella anisum) in flavour; both plants are somewhat sweet and slightly bitter. The Greek name glykyrrhiza, of which the word licorice is a corruption, means “sweet root.”
Native to southern Europe, licorice is mainly cultivated around the Mediterranean and in parts of the United States. An effective mask for the taste of medicines, licorice is an ingredient in cough lozenges, syrups, and elixirs. It is a flavouring agent in candies and tobacco. The plant is sometimes used in folk medicine to treat peptic ulcers and various other disorders. The roots are ground and then boiled to form a juice; the pliable stick form of licorice candy, also called licorice paste or black sugar, is processed from this thickened juice.
The herb may grow up to 1 metre (3.3 feet) tall and has compound leaves with four to eight oval leaflets. Licorice bears axillary clusters of blue flowers and produces flat pods that are 7 to 10 cm (3 to 4 inches) long. The roots used are about 1 metre long and about 1 cm (0.4 inch) in diameter. They are soft, fibrous, and flexible and are coloured bright yellow inside. The distinctive sweetness of licorice is imparted by a substance called glycyrrhizin.
Health Benefits of Licorice Root
Please keep an open mind about licorice root, even if you think you don’t like it.
It’s pretty automatic to associate licorice root with the flavor of black licorice, but what primarily gives the candy its flavor is anise seed.
So then, what is licorice root?
Botanically speaking, licorice root is the root of the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant, a perennial legume native to southern Europe and several areas of Asia. Most of today’s licorice root production comes from India, Iran, Italy, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Turkey.
Licorice root is naturally sweet, which factors into a few of its health benefits. It is 30 – 50 times sweeter than sugar. Its sweetness is slower to release in your mouth but lasts longer than sugar. Sometimes it is used a flavoring for candy, but usually it is very little licorice root with lots of anise seed, fennel seed, or star anise to get that distinctive flavor that you either love or hate.
A non-healthy use of licorice root is as an additive to tobacco, both for flavor and because it creates bronchodilators which make it easier to inhale the smoke. That’s a good bit of trivia, though.
Licorice root has long been used to help with a variety of ailments and conditions. Here are some of them:
- makes your hormones more available for your body to use, especially your adrenal hormones which get depleted when you’re under chronic stress
- heals ulcers
- lowers stomach acid levels
- prevents heartburn and indigestion
- acts as a mild laxative
- aids the liver in its detox work
- lowers cholesterol
- relieves fever and headaches
- helps relieve allergy symptoms
- supports your respiratory system
- soothes a sore throat
- lessens the symptoms of chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia
- helps with PMS
- prevents heart disease
Generally considered safe to use in low doses (meaning, don’t just consume its concentrated forms like oil or tincture willy-nilly), licorice root is very beneficial when consumed as a tea. You can also chew/suck on the root itself.
Teas with Licorice Root
Here are all of our teas that feature licorice root. If you think you don’t like the taste of it, start with a tea where the licorice root is closer to the bottom of the ingredient list, then work your way into a tea where it features more prominently. Even if you don’t get there, you’ll still be able to reap the health benefits of licorice root.
Learn how to grow licorice (Mulethi) in this article if you love to grow medicinal herbs. Growing licorice and licorice plant care is easy.
The licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), which means sweet root in Greek is actually a legume. It is native to the Mediterranean and parts of the South-West Asia and particularly to the Indian subcontinent, where it is called ‘Mulethi’ It is a perennial herb that grows to over a meter and a half tall. It is cultivated for its roots, the plant has an extensive root system. Roots grow 3 to 4 feet (1 – 1.2 m) deep and can extend to 25 feet (10 m) in a deep, permeable soil. Growing licorice in container is also possible.
Roots of this shrub are the part that usually consumed. Licorice roots, besides having a sweet anise like flavor are also beneficial to health with medicinal properties, such as anti-inflammatory and expectorant effect. It is used in traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic and greek medicines too.
Learn more about Licorice uses
USDA Zones— 6 – 11
Other Names— Acide Glycyrrhizique, Acide Glycyrrhizinique, Alcacuz, Alcazuz, Bois Doux, Bois Sucré, Can Cao, Chinese Licorice, Deglycyrrhized Licorice, Gan Cao, Gan Zao, Glabra, Glycyrrhiza, Glycyrrhiza glabra, Glycyrrhiza glabra typica, Glycyrrhiza glabra violacea, Glycyrrhiza glabra glandulifera, Glycyrrhiza Radix, Glycyrrhiza uralensis, Glycyrrhizae, Glycyrrhizic Acid, Glycyrrhizinic Acid, Isoflavone, Jethi-Madh, Kanzo, Lakritze, Licorice Root, Liquiritiae Radix, Liquirizia, Mulathi, Mulethi, Orozuz, Phytoestrogen, Phyto-œstrogène, Racine de Réglisse, Racine Douce, Radix Glycyrrhizae, Régalissse, Regaliz, Reglisse, Réglisse, Réglisse Déglycyrrhisée, Réglisse Espagnole, Réglisse Russe, Regliz, Russian Licorice, Spanish Licorice, Subholz, Sussholz, Sweet Root, Yashtimadhu, Yashti-Madhu, Yashti-Madhuka, Zhi Gan Cao, liquorice.
How to Grow Licorice
Propagating licorice is easy. It can be propagated from cuttings, division or seeds.
Growing Licorice from seeds
Soak the seeds for at least 24 hours in lukewarm water and then sow seeds in seed starting mix, which you can make yourself from these seed mix recipes. Sow the seeds at a depth of 1/2 inch. Cover the seeds with soil and keep it evenly moist until the seeds germinate. Germination occurs within two weeks. Optimum germination ranges around 68 F (20 C). Leave space of 2 feet between each plant.
Also Read: 5 Seed Germination Tips
Growing Licorice from Divison
Divide the licorice plant in spring or fall. Every division must have about one growth bud. If are dividing the plant in the fall (autumn), divisions must be replanted immediately or you can also store them in clamps for spring planting.
Licorice should be planted in the spring or summer. In warm subtropical or tropical climate growing licorice is possible year around except peak summer.
How to Grow Licorice on the Ground
Plant licorice on the ground in any land loosened deep, well-draining soil, devoid of stones.
Dig a pit that is 60 cm wide and 50 cm deep and then backfill it with the soil. If the soil is clay rich lighten it by adding compost and sand.
How to Grow Licorice in Pot
Choose a large pot (at least 20 cm) of a light color so that the temperature does not rise too much for the roots. Make a mixture of 1 parts sand 1 part compost and 1 part loam. In colder zones keep the pot indoors during winter.
This shrub needs to be in a location that is sunny to grow properly but if you’re growing licorice in tropics, plant it in on a location that receives shade in the afternoon.
A soil that is light and rich in humus facilitates the harvesting of the roots and maintains moisture. It prefers slightly sandy soil that is well draining but retains moisture with neutral to slightly alkaline pH levels.
Growing licorice requires regular and abundant watering during the growing period. Regular and deep watering is required to keep the soil slightly moist all the time. In winter, watering should be reduced.
Licorice Plant Care
Licorice plant care is simple, you just need to be careful about a few basic needs. This herbaceous perennial is mildly frost tolerant can bear temperature down to 5 F (-15 C)
Mulch is required to retain the moisture in the soil.
Licorice doesn’t need fertilizer. Although, if the soil is poor, mix compost at the time of planting or mulch around the base of plant with compost.
It prefers average temperature around 60 – 85 F (15 to 30 C). Frost, high winds or too warm temperature can damage the plant.
Pests and Diseases
It usually remains pests and diseases free. Spider mites may invade the foliage, particularly in dry summers. Spraying the foliage with water helps to prevent them. Powdery mildew, slugs, and caterpillars can be a problem too.
Licorice roots are ready for harvest after two years of planting. Harvest the plant in fall. Extract the horizontal roots with a sharp spade and replant the plant so that it will regrow again. Preserve the main roots so as not to damage the plant.
Once dried, the licorice roots can be kept for several months.
Companion Plants for Licorice
Good companions — Marjoram, rosemary, and marigold.
Bad companions — Garlic, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onion and leek.
What Is A Licorice Plant – Can You Grow Licorice Plants
Most people think of licorice as a flavor. If asked to come up with licorice in its most basic form, you might very well pick those long, ropy black candies. But where does licorice come from? Believe it or not, licorice is a plant, known for its strong and sweet flavor. Keep reading to learn more about growing licorice and licorice plant care.
Licorice Plant Information
What is a licorice plant? Related to peas and beans, licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a flowering perennial that grows to about 5 feet tall. Its scientific name, Glycyrrhiza, comes from the Ancient Greek words glykys, meaning “sweet,” and rhiza, meaning “root.” Just like the name suggests, the part of the plant that contains that distinctive flavor is its extensive root system.
Native to Eurasia, it has a long history of use from China to Ancient Egypt to Central Europe both as a sweetener (it is 50 times sweeter than sugar) and as a medicine (even today it is widely used in throat lozenges). To harvest the plants, the roots are dug up and squeezed of their juice, which is boiled down to an extract.
Can you grow licorice plants? Absolutely! Licorice is very common in the wild in Eurasia and parts of North America, but it can also be cultivated. You can either plant seeds in a greenhouse in the fall, transplanting them outdoors in spring, or (and this is much easier) divide the rhizome of an older plant in the spring. Just make sure that each section of rhizome has a bud attached to it.
Licorice plant care is not difficult. The plants like alkaline, sandy, moist soil. Cold hardiness varies greatly from species to species (American licorice is the toughest, hardy down to zone 3). Licorice plants are slow to get established, but once they get going, they can become aggressive. Keep your plant in check by harvesting its rhizomes regularly.
The cultivation of Licorice root in the United States.
By Henry N. Rittenhouse.
Many interesting accounts of the cultivation of the licorice plant are to be found scattered through the works on materia medica, agriculture and gardening during the past one hundred years, and the methods therein described are essentially the same as those pursued at the present time, and which it is not the intention to reproduce here.
Licorice root is cultivated, in the true sense of that word, in so few places in the world, and to so small an extent as an article of commerce, as hardly to be worth mentioning. One or two places in England, and a like number in France and Germany, embrace all the localities I happen to be acquainted with, and the area of land under cultivation varies from a few rods to an acre or two, five acres being an exceptionally large field.
The large amount of licorice imported into this country, and which also supplies the needs of the world, grows wild, without any care or cultivation whatever. Italy and Spain supply a small percentage of the total amount, probably 5 to 8 per cent., while Southern Russia, along the line of the Transcaucasian Railway, supplies two-thirds of the remainder, and Asia Minor and Syria the other one-third. The total amount of all kinds imported into the United States is about 80,000,000 pounds per annum, on an average. In 1872, the imports were about 5,000,000 pounds, and the consumption still increases yearly.
The licorice plant grows over an area, extending from the shores of the Mediterranean, on the south (latitude 30°), to Siberia, on the north (latitude 55°), and from the western shores of Europe to the plains of Persia and farther India, and from low levels to 1,500 feet above the sea; thus showing over what an immense area of land and variety of soil and climate it will grow vigorously. In Afghanistan it forms the principal fuel. It is a hardy and tenacious plant, almost impossible to eradicate where it once obtains a foothold, and growing without care or cultivation when once fairly started. The mention of these conditions under which the plant, which furnishes the root of commerce, is found, is to illustrate its hardy nature.
As the plant grows wild, and generally on wild and uncultivated land, and is dug and prepared for market by cheap Asiatic and Russian labor at starvation wages, the first question naturally is, would it pay to grow it in the United States? The answer to this is: if it is intended to grow it as root dried and sold in competition with this wild, imported root, probably not; but to propose and advance such an enterprise is not my object.
Licorice root, as found in commerce, is dried and pressed in bales. The root, when freshly dug, contains, on an average, 50 to 60 per cent. of moisture. This must first be dried out, which is done by exposure to the air, much as hay is made, requiring frequent turnings and handling to prevent, as much as possible, heating, fermenting and darkening during the drying, as well as the wetting by rain or snow, which may be frequent before the root is dry enough to press for shipment. The root, when nearly dry, and danger from further damage from the presence of moisture has passed, is piled up in large stacks until ready to be pressed. Around these stacks are dug ditches for draining the ground, and after a heavy shower, or prolonged period of rain or snow, these ditches will fill with a black water, containing a very strong taste and a high percentage of the extractive matter of the root; this, of course, deteriorates its value and is itself waste. When dry enough, it is pressed in powerful hydraulic presses worked by steam, so as to reduce the bulk to a minimum, and so save freight in shipment. The bales are bound with iron straps, and sometimes covered with canvas.
The plants, which supply the root as found in commerce, have been growing for a long time, some pieces being two to three inches in diameter when dry, indicating probably a growth of twenty or more years; but these very thick pieces are usually rejected as being worthless for making extract, as a root after four years’ growth begins to deteriorate in value for the purpose of making extract, because of becoming too woody and fibrous, and lessening the percentage of extractive matter. On the other hand, the very thin fibres of one year or less growth are equally worthless, yet the the shipper works in as much of both kinds in the bales as he dare, to say nothing of adhering soil and debris. Root of three years is the most desirable, if it could be obtained, as being the richest in extractive matter.
It will be seen from the above that the preparation of licorice root for market, as we find it, is a tedious and expensive process—first, the organization of the business, in the employment of clerks, superintendents and a host of minor officials to superintend the diggers, receive and weigh the root at the various stations appointed in different localities, pressing, shipping, etc. The right to dig over a certain territory is obtained by lease or tithe, as the land is owned by the Government, the church, the village, or by individuals. Then there are the digging, drying, curing, pressing and baling, inland transportation, ocean freights, insurance, fire and marine, bankers’ and brokers’ commissions, interest and loss of weight in transportation. These expenses alone, throwing aside the cost of the freshly dug root, will represent fully 75 per cent. of the price of the root ex-ship in the United States. The foregoing expenses are fixed and unavoidable, as the fresh root could not be transported, owing to its perishable nature. These considerations have led me during the past four years to investigate the feasibility of growing this plant in the United States.
The consumption of the extract in this country is now so large and important, especially in the manufacture of chewing tobacco, that in case of a European war, a blockade of the Black Sea at the Dardanelles, or the Mediterranean at Gibraltar, would effectually cork up the world’s supply, and throw the large American industry of tobacco-manufacturing into confusion. As licorice has become a more or less important ingredient in most brands of chewing tobacco, and the present generation of chewers has become so accustomed to its use, new brands omitting this ingredient might be unsalable.
Referring now to the vast and varied area over which the licorice plant grows wild, and the great variety of soil and climate in the United States, as well as cheapness of land and labor, and the ability to obtain large tracts of land of comparatively easy accessibility for transportation and labor, has led me to present the following information on the subject, of what I believe can be made a new and profitable industry in this country, with money and time intelligently expended. I believe it would, in time, pay better than either sugar cane, sugar beets, rice or cotton, although the industry would not be as large or important as any of those, which are all exotic, the cultivation of all of them having been begun in a very small way in the United States.
Licorice extract can be made as well, or better, from fresh root than from the dry, and is so made in the countries that furnish the root; but the duty on it of five cents per pound restricts largely its importation, while the root is free.
The thought I have in mind, in introducing the growing of licorice here, is very much on the same lines as sugar is now made from cane and beets; that is, to have large tracts of land devoted exclusively to the growth of the plant, with the factory for making the extract from the fresh root in, or near, the fields. The present sugar factory, too, could easily be adapted to the manufacture of the licorice extract, the apparatus required being simply suitable crushers or shredding machinery, the diffusion battery and vacuum pans for evaporating. Sugar factories, too, could be utilized when not running on sugar, as the proper time for digging the root is from October to April, and if the root is not needed one year, it can be left in the ground until the next, not only without deterioration, but to its increased value in weight. It is not well, however, to allow the root to exceed five years in growth; three or four year root is the richest in extractive matter; as it becomes older it becomes more fibrous. Frost or drought do not injure the root when once well established; young and tender plants in the first year might be injured. The elaborate and expensive methods ot culture, followed by the gardeners of Europe, would be entirely unnecessary here on a large scale. After selecting a suitable tract of land, having the necessary requirements of soil, location, etc. (prairie land, because it is open and easily tilled, would be my choice), it need only be plowed once to turn down the grass and weeds, harrowed, then laid out in furrows about 25 to 30 inches apart, and the buds or cuttings, set in the rows 6 or 8 inches apart, and covered by a plow, throwing a furrow over the buds from each side, or even cover them 3 or 4 inches with a hoe; this is all. From time to time, during the growing season, a cultivator should be run between the rows to keep down weeds or grass. The tops, at the end of the growing season, should be cut off; this could be done with the mowing machine. The second and third year the treatment would be the same. In the fall of the third year the crop would be ready to harvest. The cost of harvesting would be the most expensive part of the business, and thus far I am unable to give any exact figures, but up to the point of harvesting, the cost of planting and cultivation would not exceed $4 per acre per annum, or $12 for the three years, including interest and taxes. As the root grows to a great depth in a light soil, if digging had to be resorted to, the expense would be more, and some other mechanical means would have to be used, as a plow or digger. All the world over, digging by shovel and pick is the usual method; one reason for this is because labor is very cheap, and another is, the plants grow in patches often widely apart, and individual plants, so scattered over such an extensive area that no other plan is possible, while in the field, as proposed, the plants would be in rows and an acre very thickly grown.
An acre, with the rows 30 inches apart and the plants in the rows 6 to 8 inches apart, would contain 20,000 plants, and narrower rows and closer planting is permissible, so that many more than 20,000 plants can be grown to the acre. I prefer to take 20,000 plants per acre as a unit for calculation, to allow for loss in many ways of a liberal percentage, say one-third, by failure to grow and by dying after starting, etc. The growth each year is not so much in weight as one might be led to think by reading what has been written on this subject; but so far as I have been able to ascertain, there is nothing at all definite and specific published. The information herein is of my own investigation and experiment, and is only offered as approximate, as indeed the whole subject must be considered as still in an experimental stage, but, in my opinion, full of promise if properly entered upon with a view to making it a commercial success.
By obtaining plants from the growers of one, two, three and four years’ growth drying and weighing them, I get the following results: plants of three years’ growth will average when dried four ounces, equal to eight ounces fresh; or to an acre of 20,000 plants 10,000 pounds as the crop at the end of the third year, costing, according to my estimates for growing and harvesting, $15 for the crop of 10,000 pounds of fresh root, at the end of the period of three years.
I have not given the weights of the other root, as three year root is the basis on which I am working; four year growths would show much larger results, and younger roots are too immature to dig.
Allowing a loss in various ways of one-third the plant, leaving 13,300 yielding ½ pound each of fresh root, or 6,650 pounds at the end of the third year at a cost of $15, or even $20, and the enterprise would be profitable. The 6,650 pounds of fresh root represents one and a half tons dry, and the lowest price at which dry Russian Root, or Asiatic, can be laid down in the United States, is about £8 per ton; the crop of a ton and a half would be worth $60, costing $20, or a net profit of $40 per acre for the three years, equal to $13 per acre per annum as the profit of growing the root; but if the fresh root is at once made into extract, as I propose, the profit would be much greater even at 4 cents per pound, just half the present price of the extract.
My own experience in growing the plant in the United States has thus far been very moderate in results, owing to causes that might have been prevented, viz.: inundations, unsuitable buds for planting, and possibly a want of care or interest, or experience, on the part of those in charge, to say nothing of the effect of unusually hot and dry weather on the young plants before they had become acclimated. I have grown the plants in several places in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Florida, and still have some growing in the different localities, and believe it to be quite a feasible matter to introduce the industry on a large scale.
In 1856 W. R. Prince, of Flushing, L. I., contributed an article in The Horticulturist, Phila., on the cultivation of licorice root in the United States, showing the possibility of it. In 1854 the Department of Agriculture published in its annual report an account of its cultivation in this country.
In 1886 Mr. Isaac Lea, of Florin, near Sacramento, Cal., grew several acres very successfully, but abandoned it for want of a home market and for more profitable use of the land occupied by it. There are still some plants growing on that farm as well as in several other places in California. Mr. Lea was an enthusiast on the subject of growing the plant on a commercial scale, and had visited Louisiana and Florida with the object of establishing the enterprise in one or the other of those States; but finally abandoned the project for personal and domestic reasons. I mention these facts to show that the plant has been grown here by practical men whose opinion was that it could be grown on an extensive scale, but who knew nothing of the manufacture of the extract from it.
This paper is far from being exhaustive of the subject; much practical information has been accumulated and my experiments are still going on, and I believe with the necessary capital invested in the business on a sufficiently large scale, it need not be many years before the entire wants of this country, of licorice paste, could be supplied from the home-grown root, as indicated.
The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 67, 1895, was edited by Henry Trimble.
A Short History of Liquorice
Ever wondered where your favourite foodstuff originated and how it’s made?
Would it surprise you to know that there are records of liquorice being consumed by the Pharaohs, Alexander the Great and Caesar? In those days it was more often drunk than eaten, but its medicinal benefits and ability to slake thirst were recognised even then.
Originating in southern Asia and then spreading through the Middle East and into southern Europe, liquorice is first reported in England as growing at a monastery in Pontefract, from whence its fame spread to the States and beyond, and all from the root of a plant related to the pea!
No ordinary root though, because what makes the liquorice root so special is the sweet-tasting compound, anethole, found within it. This aromatic, unsaturated ether compound is also found in anise, fennel and several other herbs, with that lovely sweet taste coming from glycyrrhizin, a compound known to be up to 50 times sweeter than sugar.
Liquorice sweets are made in one of two ways, depending on the size of the manufacturer, with smaller companies using a cornstarch moulding process, the hot, liquid liquorice being poured into the individual moulds. Once cooled the moulds are turned and the sweets fall out, ready to be packaged and packed. Larger companies also use extruders to produce the various forms of liquorice ropes available. In this case the hot liquorice liquid, complete with colours and flavours is boiled to the point where it thickens to a dough like consistency prior to be forced, extruded, through formers that give the rope shape.
In the United Kingdom the most popular form of liquorice are liquorice allsorts, but in continental Europe far stronger, saltier liquorice sweets are preferred. In the Netherlands, where liquorice “drop” is one of the most popular forms of sweet, a few of the many forms of liquorice sold contain aniseed, although mixing it with mint, menthol or with laurel is popular, and mixing it with ammonium chloride creates the very popular salty liquorice known in Dutch as zoute drop.
We’ve mentioned Pontefract in Yorkshire as being the first place where liquorice was grown in the UK and it was also the first place where liquorice mixed with sugar began to be used as a sweet in much the same way as it is today.
Liquorice flavouring isn’t just used in sweets, it’s also used in soft drinks, and in some herbal teas where it provides a sweet aftertaste. The flavour is common in medicines to disguise unpleasant flavours. Dutch youth often make their own “dropwater” (liquorice water) by putting a few pieces of laurel liquorice and a piece of liquorice root in a bottle with water and then shaking it to a frothy liquid.
Throughout Italy unsweetened liquorice is consumed in the form of small black pieces made from 100% pure liquorice extract, giving, as you can imagine, a taste that is both bitter and intense. In Calabria a popular liqueur is made from pure liquorice extract and it’s also very popular in Syria where it is sold as a drink.
Liquorice is particularly popular in Italy (especially in the South) and Spain in its natural form. The root of the plant is simply dug up, washed and chewed as a mouth freshener. Several reading this will remember liquorice sticks being sold in sweet shops throughout the UK in the 50’s and 60’s!
Liquorice root can have either a salty or sweet taste. The thin sticks are usually quite salty and sometimes taste like salmiak (salty liquorice), whereas the thick sticks are usually quite sweet, with a salty undertone.
If you know more than this or anything else interesting about liquorice, we’d love to hear from you! Why not contact us?
When the American Licorice Company announced on Wednesday it was voluntarily recalling its black licorice Red Vines because of high levels of lead, about half the country paused and thought, “Wait, people eat black licorice?” The other half (presumably mostly curmudgeonly grandfathers and uncles) became disappointed to learn it would be harder than ever to find the sweet treat.
Licorice, which comes from the root of Glycyrrhiza glabra plant, flavors what we call black licorice (which is redundant), liqueurs such as Jagermeister, and medicines such as NyQuil, which relies on the pungent flavor to mask the medicinal taste. Even though it commonly appears in products, licorice seems polarizing.
“People either love it or hate it and, as far as I can tell, it’s not a learned like or dislike,” says Marcia Pelchat, an associate member of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, a nonprofit center, which researches taste and smell.
“I don’t know a specific gene that is associated with liking and disliking licorice. it does seem to be something that people are born with.”
While experts haven’t conducted much research on licorice preference, Pelchat — who dislikes the flavor but is married to a lover of licorice — shares a few theories as to why licorice divides us between the lovers and the haters.
When we eat, we use both the sense of taste and smell to detect flavor. Taste includes sweet, bitter, salty and sour. When we bite into a piece of licorice, we taste glycyrrhizin, a natural sweetener in licorice root, which can taste, to some, like saccharin, the artificial sweetener found in Sweet ‘n’ Low. With licorice, this sickly sweet lingers, causing some to wrinkle their noses in displeasure.
“What this suggests to me is maybe liking and disliking licorice is related to liking and disliking saccharin,” Pelchat says.
Licorice also contains anethole, which is aromatic and plays on our olfactory sense. Anethole also occurs in anise and fennel, both of which licorice haters might find more tolerable. (Anise and fennel flavor absinthe, for anyone who thought it, too, might be a licorice liqueur.)
“ seems to be built-in; it doesn’t require any learning,” she explains, adding that people can train themselves to like spicy foods, or even cilantro. “However, responses to smells seem to be learned.”
While this means people might dislike licorice because it reminds them of the smell of NyQuil, or another malodorous memory, Pelchat suspects that it’s really the taste, not the smell that turns people off.
“There are lots and lots of genes involved in the perception of and of aroma and we probably all have relatively unique sensory worlds. So that’s just something to keep in mind in talking about individual differences in preference.”
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What are the benefits of licorice root?
There are more than 300 different compounds in licorice, some of which have antiviral and antimicrobial properties.
Some clinical studies investigating the potential benefits of licorice have had promising results, particularly in the following areas:
Skin inflammation and infection
Share on PinterestLicorice root may help treat eczema.
Eczema is the term for a group of skin conditions that, according to the National Eczema Association, affect over 30 million people in the United States.
Eczema can cause itching, redness, scaling, and inflammation.
Glycyrrhiza glabra extract, or licorice root extract, may be effective against bacteria that can infect the skin, according to a study in the Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research.
The study showed antimicrobial activity against Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause skin infections, such as impetigo, cellulitis, and folliculitis. In this study, the researchers used extracts from the leaves and roots of the plant.
Stomach discomfort and ulcers
A double-blind study found that an extract containing glabridin and glabrene, which are flavonoids present in licorice root, was effective in relieving stomach discomfort. The extract reduced nausea, stomach pain, and heartburn.
Infection with bacteria called Helicobacter pylori can cause peptic ulcers in some people. Research suggests that a licorice extract may help kill H. Pylori bacteria. A clinical trial of 120 people found that the addition of licorice extract to the standard treatment significantly improved H. Pylori eradication.
Glycyrrhizin may help treat hepatitis C, a virus that infects the liver. Without treatment, hepatitis C can cause inflammation and long-term liver damage. Researchers have reported that glycyrrhizin demonstrates antimicrobial activity against hepatitis C in cell samples and may hold promise as a future treatment for this virus.
Doctors in Japan use an injectable form of glycyrrhizin to treat people who have chronic hepatitis C that does not respond to other treatments. The results of laboratory studies in Japan suggest that it may be helpful for this.
Some research suggests that licorice may help kill bacteria in the mouth that cause tooth decay.
However, although licorice has demonstrated antibacterial activity in the laboratory setting, human studies have not yet proven that it has any cavity-fighting power. Its ability to inhibit the growth of oral bacteria means that it does have potential as a future cavity treatment though.
Many people think of licorice as a sore throat remedy. A small study recruited people who were having a breathing tube inserted into their windpipe before surgery. Following its removal, the breathing tube can cause a postoperative sore throat, known as POST.
The researchers showed that gargling a licorice solution for 1–15 minutes before surgery was as effective as a ketamine gargle in reducing the incidence and severity of POST.
Another similar study found that solutions with a higher concentration of licorice were more effective than less concentrated solutions in improving POST.
Lovely Licorice Root
For most of us, the first thing that comes to mind when we hear the word “licorice” likely isn’t the root of the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant, nor its long history of medicinal use and health benefits. Instead, our first thought is probably of candy. So it may come as a surprise that most commercial brands of licorice confections today contain none of this sweet medicinal root. But licorice’s medicinal and culinary history does include candy — the root’s compound glycyrrhizin is 50 times sweeter than sugar and has been used to make confections designed to aid digestion and soothe sore throats. It’s also useful in treating ulcers and other digestive complains. However, there is reason to use caution with this herb. Long-term high levels of consumption have been tied to health conditions, including the raising of blood pressure; a drop in potassium to dangerous levels; and hormonal changes.
Licorice comprises about 20 species of sticky, sometimes hairy perennial herbs with creeping rootstalk. One of the most common types used medicinally is Glycyrrhiza glabra (glykys, the Greek word for “sweet,” rhiza for “root,” and glabra from the Latin for “smooth”). It is native to dry scrubland or damp ditches in the Mediterranean region and southwestern Asia. Three to five feet tall, licorice plants can be identified by their alternate, pinnately compound leaves; pealike flowers in colors ranging from violet to pale blue that bloom in late summer; and fuzzy stems and leaf stalks. Their fruits appear in the form of leathery or prickly oblong seed pods containing two to five seeds each.
Medicinal Uses for Licorice
Licorice has been used in medicine since antiquity. The ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus reported on the use of the root to treat respiratory disorders. The Chinese have used the roots of G. glabra and G. uralensis to treat a wide range of illnesses; Chinese herbalists include licorice in many formulations, believing that it reduces the toxicity of certain other ingredients. Native Americans and early European settlers used the native G. lepidota to bring on menstrual periods; expel the placenta following childbirth; and relieve earache, toothache and fever. Licorice has also been used to treat sore throat, urinary tract infections, stomach ulcers, constipation and Addison’s disease — a disorder marked by insufficient secretion of hormones of the adrenal cortex. Externally, licorice has been used to soothe irritated skin.
Research has shown licorice’s potential to relieve inflammation associated with eczema, and to inhibit the growth of bacteria — including drug-resistant strains — and viruses. Some components of licorice have also shown estrogen-like activity. Preliminary research suggests the potential ability of licorice to reduce hot flashes brought on by menopause. One Japanese study showed that a preparation including licorice extract stimulated normal ovulation in women with infrequent menstrual periods. Other potential medicinal uses for licorice include the treatment of peptic ulcers, and the treatment of hepatitis B and C. It is also traditionally used for upper respiratory infections such as coughs, asthma and sore throats, and as a laxative.
Long-term use of whole licorice root can result in sodium retention and potassium loss. Pregnant women, people who have high blood pressure or kidney disease, or those who are taking digitalis medications should not take it. These side effects are caused by the glycyrrhizin in licorice, the component responsible for the root’s sweetness. For long-term use, practitioners recommend taking deglycyrrhizinated licorice (licorice treated to remove the glycyrrhizin), or DGL, which has no known side effects, according to Andrew Weil, M.D. Several studies show that DGL is effective in healing ulcers of the stomach and small intestine. Consult a qualified health practitioner if you are considering taking licorice for long-term health benefits.
Choose a spot in full sun or part shade. Licorice plants thrive in moist, fertile, but well-drained soil. They are easily grown from divisions or root cuttings planted 1 to 1-1/2 feet apart, or you can sow seeds outdoors in spring or fall. Commercial licorice root is harvested after three or four years’ growth. Dig up the roots in the fall after the tops are dry, and compost the tops. New plants will grow from any bits of root left in the soil, which may make it difficult to clear an area of licorice. Dry the roots for several months and then store them in a cool place.
In places where licorice doesn’t overwinter you can try growing it in a greenhouse in deep pots of well-drained sandy loam. Or grow it in the ground outside, but dig the plants in the fall and overwinter them in soil in a cool basement or root cellar.
For more licorice recipes visit:
• Homemade Soda: Anise Licorice Root Beer Recipe
• Make Throat Soothers: Licorice-Ginger Pills
Original article by Betsy Strauch. Updated by the Mother Earth Living editors.