Today, 12 April, is the celebration of National Licorice Day, an unofficial US holiday thought up by US licorice company Licorice International. As I tend to do with these regional days, I will again simply disregard the ‘national’ and internationalise the day for the rest of us – why, after all, should our US friends have the exclusive right to celebrate this amazing candy? So let’s just standardise the English, and celebrate (international) Liquorice Day.
Liquorice is made from the root of the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant, a legume native to southern Europe and Asia. As a legume, it is related to beans and peas, and despite its flavour it is not related to the similar tasting and smelling aniseed or fennel. Interestingly, in many liquorice flavoured sweets, the liquorice flavour is in fact enhanced with aniseed oil (in some cases, there may not even be any liquorice in the candy!). The liquorice extract from the the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant is created by boiling the root of the plant and evaporating most of the water.
Flavours and styles of liquorice differ vastly between different parts of the world. Most liquorice produced and sold in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand tend to be sweet, ranging from very mildly flavoured to medium strong. Continental Europe, on the other hand, prefer their liquorice strong and robust, in both sweet and salty varieties. Dutch liquorice is sometimes flavoured with mint for a different taste sensation. Italian and Spanish liquorice is often enjoyed as small pieces made from unsweetened, 100% pure liquorice extract. In China, liquorice is used as a culinary spice for savoury dishes.
Beyond its use as candy, liquorice is also consumed for medicinal purposes. Liquorice contains glycerrhizic acid, which, among other things, increases mucus production and decreases acid secretion. These properties make liquorice useful as an aid in the treatment of mouth and stomach ulcers, and the general treatment of an upset stomach. It is also used to treat irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease. Liquorice is also used to relieve a spasmodic cough. In Japan liquorice extract is used for the treatment of chronic viral hepatitis, while the Chinese use it to treat tuberculoses.
(Note that, while it has beneficial properties, excessive liquorice consumption may cause hypertension, hence it is recommended that liquorice products should be consumed in moderation.)
Whether you prefer your liquorice sweet or salty, strong or mild, and whether you eat it for medicinal purposes, or simply because it is so irresistibly yummy, I am sure you’ll agree that it is worthy of a day of celebration!