Licorice is a legume plant from which a sweet flavored extract can be obtained from its root. The plant is native to southern Europe and parts of Asia. The plant is in no way related to anise, star anise or fennel which are plants that share a similar flavor profile. It is a chemical called anethole that the previously stated plants all share giving the impression they might be related. Speaking of chemicals licorice contains a compound glycyrrhizin which provided the sweetness. In fact glycyrrhizin is about 40 times sweeter than cane sugar.
The Dutch, French and Greeks seem to have taken a historically early liking to the flavor of licorice and produced mostly sweet candies from the extracts obtained from the licorice plant root. Ironically the use of aniseed oil has become popular to enhance the herbal flavor in modern licorice candies.
In Spain and Italy licorice is usually used in its most pure form. That being the plant is upended and the root is simply washed, cut up, and chewed on. In this case the herbal flavor is quite strong and considered a mouth freshener. It must cut through that garlic fog (Italian breath) like nobody’s business.
In Asia the use of licorice has been more medicinal. The Japanese found licorice to be a strong anti-viral agent. The Chinese have a long history of using licorice to aid in a large number of digestive issues; everything from its effectiveness in relieving the common cough to aiding in the healing of stomach ulcers, irritable bowels, and even as a mild laxative. More recently licorice has been implicated as a source of help in treating auto-immune conditions like lupus and respiratory problems.
Sounds all rosy around the edges, BUT…. Excessive consumption of licorice can be toxic. As little as 2 oz of licorice daily over a 2 week period has shown to cause fluid retention due to liver problems as well as a sharp spike in blood pressure. Fortunately for us who love licorice that is just about the amount of time it takes to eat the whole pound of licorice we bought and it has been shown that those detrimental effects are completely reversible after only a few short days.
I’m quite a bit happy with my finding. I can feel hella-eurotrash cool while nibbling on my licorice candies all the while my inner chi (digestive system) will stay in good shape. I’ll try not to OD on licorice anytime soon, but damn…it’s so good when it hits your lips.