April 12 is National Licorice Day

Licorice is the common name of Glycyrrhiza glabra, a flowering plant of the bean family Fabaceae, from the root of which a sweet, aromatic flavoring can be extracted. The licorice plant is an herbaceous perennial legume native to Western Asia, North Africa, and Southern Europe. Licorice is used as a flavoring in candies and tobacco, particularly in some European and West Asian countries.

The chemicals in licorice are thought to decrease swelling, decrease cough, and increase the chemicals in our body that heal ulcers. Many “licorice” products made in the U.S. actually don’t contain licorice. They contain anise oil, which has the smell and taste of “black licorice”.

Licorice Facts

The botanical name for licorice translates to “sweet root.”

Licorice gets its flavor from glycyrrhizic acid,
a chemical 50x sweeter than sugar!

In Egypt, the Pharaohs used licorice to create a traditional drink
called erqesos, which was consumed as a healing tonic.

Manuscripts from 360 A.D. talk of licorice helping eye ailments, skin diseases, coughs, and loss of hair. Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar are on record as endorsing the benefits of eating licorice. Since the 14th century, it has been used to soothe coughs, colds, and bronchitis. Napoleon Bonaparte found licorice soothing during battle; he allegedly ate so much of it that his teeth turned black.

Licorice is used for eczema, swelling of the liver, mouth sores, and many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support most of these uses. There is also no good evidence to support using licorice for COVID-19.

  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis). Applying a gel containing licorice three times daily for 2 weeks seems to reduce redness, swelling, and itching from eczema.
  • Canker sores. Applying a patch containing licorice and using licorice mouth rinses seem to help reduce pain and speed up healing of canker sores.
  • Side effects in people after breathing tube removal. Sucking on a licorice lozenge or gargling with a licorice fluid shortly before placement of a breathing tube seems to help prevent cough and sore throat from occurring when the tube is removed.
  • It is safe when taken in doses of up to 4.5 grams daily for up to 4 months.
  • It is unsafe when consumed in large amounts or for a long time. Eating licorice 5 grams or more daily for several weeks can cause severe side effects including heart attack. People who have heart disease, kidney disease, or high blood pressure are more sensitive to it. Ingesting large amounts of licorice from candy, lozenges, or tea might also cause serious side effects.

During manufacturing, the ingredients are dissolved in water and heated to 275 °F. In order to obtain sweets of the desired shapes, the liquid is poured into molds that are created by impressing holes into a container filled with starch powder. The liquid is then dried and the resulting sweets are sprayed with beeswax to make their surface shiny. In many countries, there is also a product sometimes known as red licorice, which is extruded in a way that resembles licorice strings but is made with flavorings other than licorice, such as strawberry, cherry, raspberry, or cinnamon.

More recently, products have been introduced in a wider variety of colors and flavors, including apple, mango, blackcurrant, and watermelon. Twizzlers are referred to as Licorice-like candy but only the black ones contain any licorice.

Liquorice grows best in well-drained soils in deep valleys with full sun. It is harvested in the autumn two to three years after planting. Countries producing licorice include India, Iran, Italy, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Turkey. Licorice is used as a flavoring agent for tobacco, for flavor-enhancing and moistening agents in the manufacture of American blend cigarettes, moist snuff, chewing tobacco, and pipe tobacco.

In the United States, anise seed[1] is a popular substitute flavoring for licorice. Although the anise seed has an unmistakable licorice flavor, it is not related to the European plant whose roots are the source of true licorice.

  1. Anise, is a flowering plant in the family Apiaceae native to the eastern Mediterranean region and Southwest Asia. The flavor and aroma of its seeds have similarities with some other spices and herbs, such as star anise, fennel, licorice, and tarragon. It is widely cultivated and used to flavor food, candy, and alcoholic drinks, especially around the Mediterranean. [Back]

Further Reading



Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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