What Is Licorice?

There isn’t a candy out there more divisive than licorice. Some people love it, others find it as good as garbage, and there’s rarely an in between. Today we’ll be taking a discerning (and unbiased, I swear!) look at everything licorice.

What is licorice?

Licorice (the candy) is a chewy confectionery flavored with extract of the licorice plant or “glycyrrhiza glabra,” if you want to get technical. It comes in a slew of shapes like little coils, long ropes, cylinders, squares, even Scottie dogs. That’s what real licorice (aka black licorice) is. But there’s red licorice, which also comes in all sorts of shapes but isn’t flavored with licorice plant extract. It has the same texture as black licorice, but it’s flavored with strawberry, cherry, raspberry, or even cinnamon. There are also other flavors of “licorice,” such as green apple, mango, grape, and watermelon. 

Where does licorice come from?

If you’re talking about licorice candy, then you could say that licorice comes from confectionery manufacturers all over the world! However, if you mean the actual licorice plant, it’s a type of legume found in southern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. 

And if you’re asking where does licorice come from, originally, then the answer is England. In the 1700s, a man named George Dunhill was the first to make and market little licorice coins.

What is black licorice made of?

If you’re looking at the basic, original black licorice, then the ingredients are pretty basic: licorice extract, sugar (or molasses), and a binder (such as wheat flour). But things are a little more complex these days. Modern black licorice producers include things like brown sugar syrup or corn syrup or the impossible to pronounce glycyrrhizin (the stuff within licorice that gives it its signature sweetness and flavor), along with binders like gelatin, gum arabic, ammonium chloride, and wax.  

How is licorice made?

Licorice is made by mixing some combination of the aforementioned ingredients together. Then, the mixture is cooked and extruded through the factory’s specialized nozzle that creates the different ropes (or it’s poured into molds), before packaging.

What flavor is black licorice?

If you’ve been too frightened of its polarizing reputation, you may be asking yourself, “What does black licorice taste like?” Well, classic licorice flavor is reminiscent of fennel or anise. In fact, here in the United States, most of the licorice made domestically is flavored with anise rather than licorice extract. Imagine fennel…but sweeter and chewier. 

So, now you know more about licorice than we bet you ever thought you would. Hopefully your brain was able to absorb that information without jettisoning more important things to make room. We’d feel awfully guilty if “licorice tastes like fennel or anise” took the place of your significant other’s birthday or your social security number. But, if indeed this information caused you to forget your social, I’ll kindly offer up mine free of charge. I hardly use the thing! 

About the Author

Joe Rumrill

Joe Rumrill is a fictional one-eyed spinach-loving sailor created in 1929 by E.C Se- Wait, no, that's not right... Joe Rumrill is a stand up comedian and writer currently based in Los Angeles. His favorite thing about food is a close tie between the taste and the nutrients one gets from it. His least favorite thing about it is the "gritty, dirt-like quality some food has", but he's most likely referring to the time in third grade he was dared to eat playground sand.

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