Liquorice ( Black Licorice )
Liquorice (spelled licorice in many regions) is a confection flavoured with the extract of the roots of the liquorice plant. A wide variety of liquorice sweets are produced around the world. In North America, liquorice is called black licorice to distinguish it from similar confectionery varieties that are not flavoured with liquorice extract but commonly manufactured in the form of chewy ropes or tubes. In addition to these, various other liquorice-based sweets are sold in the United Kingdom, such as liquorice allsorts. Dutch and Nordic liquorice characteristically contains ammonium chloride instead of sodium chloride, prominently so in salty liquorice.
The essential ingredients of liquorice candy are liquorice extract, sugar, and a binder. The binder is typically starch/flour, gum arabic, gelatin, or a combination thereof. Additional ingredients are extra flavouring, beeswax for a shiny surface, ammonium chloride, and molasses to give the end product the familiar black colour. Ammonium chloride is mainly used in salty liquorice candy, with concentrations up to about 8 percent. However, even regular liquorice candy can contain up to 2 percent ammonium chloride, the taste of which is less prominent due to the higher sugar concentration. Some liquorice candy is flavoured with anise oil instead of or in combination with liquorice root extract.
During manufacturing, the ingredients are dissolved in water and heated to 135 °C (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.
The liquorice-root extract contains the natural sweetener glycyrrhizin, which is over 50 times sweeter than sucrose. This ingredient has various pharmaceutical properties, the most important ones being that it acts as an expectorant (facilitating removal of mucus from the lungs by coughing) and that it increases blood pressure. The latter effect can become significant with a daily consumption of 50 g or more of liquorice candy for as little as two weeks.
Liquorice has several varied uses in herbal medicine, such as acting as a mild laxative by increasing prostaglandins.
Comparative studies of pregnant women suggest that excessive amounts of liquorice (100 g a week) may adversely affect both IQ and behaviour traits of offspring.
Some people report that black liquorice candy causes their stools to become green, although this is probably due to the blue food colouring used by many manufacturers.
Alexander the Great supplied his troops with rations of liquorice root whilst marching because of its thirst-quenching qualities.
An excessive amount of black liquorice consumption can cause a chloride-resistant metabolic alkalosis.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that black liquorice contains the compound glycyrrhizin, which is the sweetening compound derived from liquorice root. Glycyrrhizin can cause potassium levels in the body to fall. When that happens, some people experience abnormal heart rhythms, as well as high blood pressure, edema (swelling), lethargy, and congestive heart failure.
In many countries there is also a product sometimes known as red liquorice which is extruded in a way to resemble liquorice strings but made with main flavourings other than liquorice, such as strawberry, cherry, raspberry, or cinnamon. More recently similar products have been introduced in a wider variety of colours and flavours including apple, mango, blackcurrant, and watermelon, among others. Twizzlers (by Hersheys) and Red Vines are the best-known product brands of this type in the United States; in Australia they are produced by Darrell Lea and several other companies. While the common name for this candy has now become “red liquorice” or often simply “liquorice”, it does not have the taste of liquorice. “Black” in “black liquorice”/”licorice” would formerly have been redundant and has become a retronym in North America.
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