Ever wonder where was licorice candy was invented?
Would it surprise you to know that there are records of licorice being consumed by the Pharaohs, Alexander the Great and Roman Emperors? In those days it was more often consumed as a liquid rather than food, but its medicinal benefits and ability to slake thirst were recognized even then.
Where did Licorice start?
Originating in southern Asia and then spreading through the Middle East and into southern Europe, licorice is first reported in England as grown at a monastery in Pontefract, from where its fame spread to the United States and beyond, and all from the root of a plant related to the pea!
No ordinary root though, because what makes the licorice 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.
How is licorice made?
Licorice sweets are made in one of two ways, depending on the size of the manufacturer, with smaller companies using a cornstarch molding process, the hot, liquid licorice being poured into the individual mold. Once cooled the molds are turned and the sweets fall out, ready to be packaged and packed. Larger companies also use extrudes to produce the various forms of licorice ropes available. In this case the hot licorice liquid, complete with colors and flavors 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.
Who consumes the most licorice?
In the United Kingdom the most popular form of licorice are licorice allsorts, but in continental Europe far stronger, saltier licorice sweets are preferred. In the Netherlands, where licorice “drop” is one of the most popular forms of sweets, some of the many forms of licorice sold contain aniseed. Many of preferred licorice is mixed with mint, menthol or laurel. Mixing it with ammonium chloride creates the very popular salty licorice known in Dutch as zoute drop. The Netherlands consumes more licorice per capita than any other country.
Licorice flavoring 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 flavor is common in medicines to disguise unpleasant flavors. Dutch youth often make their own “dropwater” (licorice water) by putting a few pieces of laurel licorice and a piece of licorice root in a bottle with water and then shaking it to a frothy liquid.