Dietribes: Licorice


"¢Â Sweetness thy name is Licorice, or "sweet root," "sweet stalk" and "sweet grass" (according to the Greeks, Indians and Chinese). It contains a compound 50 times sweeter than table sugar, though some researchers have placed it at more than 150 times sweeter than sucrose.

"¢Â Like many of the roots and herbs mentioned here in the past, licorice (in various forms) can be used to treat medical maladies: peptic ulcers, canker sores, and reflux to name a few. Whole licorice is still sometimes suggested for cough, asthma, and other respiratory problems, and topical preparations are used for eczema and other skin problems.

"¢Â It can also be used to make shoes and act as an aphrodisiac.

"¢Â Licorice can also be found in many vices: MAFCO Worldwide( which claims to be the world's leading licorice manufacturer) sells about 80% of its product to the tobacco industry for use in flavoring cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco. Beverage makers also use licorice as a foaming agent (Ouzo or Sambuca are also anise flavored), while pharmaceutical companies use its sweetness to mask the taste of bitter drugs (Vice Tax Alert: During the reign of Edward I, a tax was placed on licorice to help repair the London Bridge).

"¢ Pure licorice is more popular outside the U.S. than in - here, candy makers often swap anise (whose seeds bear a licorice-like flavor - those who have cooked with it will know what I mean!) for licorice in their products. Twizzlers, probably the best known licorice candy, was first produced by the Young and Smiley company in 1845. The company has more recently expanded their flavors outside the licorice realm into that of chocolate and berries, but in 1998 made the longest licorice twist ever made measured 1,200 feet and 100 pounds.

"¢Â Sign me up! Licorice lollipops may help prevent cavities. (Although Napoleon loved it and allegedly had black teeth as a result!)

"¢Â Don't celebrate National Licorice Day next April 12th by consuming excessive amounts of the plant though - there is of course such a thing as licorice overdose! 

"¢Â I have never been a huge licorice fan, though I do cook fennel root from time to time. Any favored way to cook or eat licorice, Flossers? And has anyone had first-hand experience with its health benefits?

 A special thanks to Sarah this week for the suggestion of licorice as a topic! Interested in something we haven't covered? Let us know!

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"˜Dietribes' appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.