Liquorice or licorice (// LIK-(ə-)rish or // LIK-(ə-)ris) is the root of Glycyrrhiza glabra from which a somewhat sweet flavor can be extracted. The liquorice plant is a legume that is native to southern Europe and parts of Asia. It is not botanically related to anise, star anise, or fennel, which are sources of similar flavouring compounds. The word liquorice / licorice is derived (via the Old French licoresse) from the Greek γλυκύρριζα (glukurrhiza), meaning "sweet root", from γλυκύς (glukus), "sweet" + ῥίζα (rhiza), "root", the name provided by Dioscorides.
It is a herbaceous perennial, growing to 1 m in height, with pinnate leaves about 7–15 cm (3–6 in) long, with 9–17 leaflets. The flowers are 0.8–1.2 cm (⅓–½ in) long, purple to pale whitish blue, produced in a loose inflorescence. The fruit is an oblong pod, 2–3 cm (1 in) long, containing several seeds. The roots are stoloniferous.
The scent of liquorice root comes from a complex and variable combination of compounds, of which anethole is the most minor component (0-3% of total volatiles).[clarification needed] Much of the sweetness in liquorice comes from glycyrrhizin, which has a sweet taste, 30–50 times the sweetness of sugar. The sweetness is very different from sugar, being less instant, tart, and lasting longer.
Cultivation and uses
Liquorice, which grows best in well-drained soils in deep valleys with full sun, is harvested in the autumn two to three years after planting. Countries producing liquorice include Iran, Afghanistan, the People’s Republic of China, Pakistan, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Turkey.
Most liquorice is used as a flavoring agent for tobacco. For example, M&F Worldwide reported in 2011 that approximately 63% of its liquorice product sales are to the worldwide tobacco industry for use as tobacco flavor enhancing and moistening agents in the manufacture of American blend cigarettes, moist snuff, chewing tobacco, and pipe tobacco. American blend cigarettes made up a larger portion of worldwide tobacco consumption in earlier years, and the percentage of liquorice products used by the tobacco industry was higher in the past. M&F Worldwide sold approximately 73% of its liquorice products to the tobacco industry in 2005. A consultant to M&F Worldwide's predecessor company stated in 1975 that it was believed that well over 90% of the total production of liquorice extract and its derivatives found its way into tobacco products.
Liquorice provides tobacco products with a natural sweetness and a distinctive flavor that blends readily with the natural and imitation flavoring components employed in the tobacco industry. It represses harshness and is not detectable as liquorice by the consumer. Tobacco flavorings such as liquorice also make it easier to inhale the smoke by creating bronchodilators, which open up the lungs. Chewing tobacco requires substantially higher levels of liquorice extract as emphasis on the sweet flavor appears highly desirable.
Food and candy
Liquorice flavour is found in a wide variety of liquorice candies or sweets. In most of these candies the taste is reinforced by aniseed oil so that the actual content of liquorice is very low. Liquorice confections are primarily purchased by consumers in the European Union.
In the Netherlands, where liquorice candy ("drop") is one of the most popular forms of sweets, only a few of the many forms that are sold contain aniseed, although mixing it with mint, menthol, or with laurel is quite popular. Mixing it with ammonium chloride ('salmiak') is also popular. The most popular liquorice, known in the Netherlands as zoute drop (salty liquorice), actually contains very little salt, i.e., sodium. The salty taste is probably due to ammonium chloride and the blood pressure raising effect is due to glycyrrhizin (see below). Strong, salty candies are popular in Scandinavia.
Pontefract in Yorkshire was the first place where liquorice mixed with sugar began to be used as a sweet in the same way it is in the modern day. Pontefract cakes were originally made there. In County Durham, Yorkshire, and Lancashire it is colloquially known as Spanish, supposedly because Spanish monks grew liquorice root at Rievaulx Abbey near Thirsk.
Liquorice is popular in Italy (particularly in the South) and Spain in its natural form. The root of the plant is simply dug up, washed, and chewed as a mouth freshener. Throughout Italy unsweetened liquorice is consumed in the form of small black pieces made only from 100% pure liquorice extract; the taste is bitter and intense. In Calabria a popular liqueur is made from pure liquorice extract. Liquorice is also very popular in Syria where it is sold as a drink. Dried liquorice root can be chewed as a sweet. Black liquorice contains approximately 100 calories per ounce (15 kJ/g).
The compound glycyrrhizin (or glycyrrhizic acid), found in liquorice, has been proposed as being useful for liver protection in tuberculosis therapy, however evidence does not support this use which may in fact be harmful. Glycyrrhizin has also demonstrated antiviral, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, and blood-pressure increasing effects in vitro and in vivo, as is supported by the finding that intravenous glycyrrhizin (as if it is given orally very little of the original drug makes it into circulation) slows the progression of viral and autoimmune hepatitis. Liquorice has also demonstrated promising activity in one clinical trial, when applied topically, against atopic dermatitis. Additionally liquorice has also proven itself effective in treating hyperlipidaemia (a high amount of fats in the blood). Liquorice has also demonstrated efficacy in treating inflammation-induced skin hyperpigmentation. Liquorice may also be useful in preventing neurodegenerative disorders and cavities. Anti-ulcer, laxative, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, antitumour and expectorant properties of liquorice have also been noted.
In traditional Chinese medicine, liquorice (मुलेठी, 甘草, شیرین بیان) is commonly used in herbal formulae to "harmonize" the other ingredients in the formula and to carry the formula to the twelve "regular meridians". It has been also used to reinforce the function of the spleen and replenish qi, remove heat and counteract toxicity, dispel phlegm and relieve cough, alleviate spasmodic pain, and moderate drug actions.
Its major dose-limiting toxicities are corticosteroid in nature, due to the inhibitory effect its chief active constituents, glycyrrhizin and enoxolone, have on cortisol degradation and include oedema, hypokalaemia, weight gain or loss, and hypertension.
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- Kew plant profile: Glycyrrhiza glabra (liquorice)
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- Chemical & Engineering News article on Licorice
- Non-profit site on the health aspects of licorice/liquorice
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