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Illustration Glycyrrhiza glabra0.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Subfamily: Faboideae
Genus: Glycyrrhiza
Species: G. glabra
Binomial name
Glycyrrhiza glabra
  • Glycyrrhiza brachycarpa Boiss.
  • Glycyrrhiza glandulifera Waldst. & Kit.
  • Glycyrrhiza hirsuta Pall.
  • Glycyrrhiza pallida Boiss.
  • Glycyrrhiza violacea Boiss.
Glycyrrhiza glabra - MHNT

Liquorice (British English) or licorice (American English) (/ˈlɪkrɪʃ, ˈlɪkər-, -ɪs/ LIK-(ə-)rish, -ris)[5] is the root of Glycyrrhiza glabra from which a sweet flavour can be extracted. The liquorice plant is a herbaceous perennial legume native to southern Europe and parts of Asia, such as India. It is not botanically related to anise, star anise, or fennel, which are sources of similar flavouring compounds.

Most liquorice is used as a flavouring agent for tobacco, particularly US blend cigarettes, to which liquorice lends a natural sweetness and a distinctive flavour and makes it easier to inhale the smoke by creating bronchodilators, which open up the lungs.[6][7] Liquorice flavours are also used as candies or sweeteners, particularly in some European and Middle Eastern countries. Liquorice extracts have a number of medical uses, and they are also used in herbal and folk medications. Excessive consumption of liquorice (more than 2 mg/kg/day of pure glycyrrhizinic acid, a liquorice component) may result in adverse effects, and overconsumption should be suspected clinically in patients presenting with otherwise unexplained hypokalemia and muscle weakness.[8]


The word "liquorice" is derived (via the Old French licoresse) from the Greek γλυκύρριζα (glukurrhiza), meaning "sweet root",[9] from γλυκύς (glukus), "sweet"[10] + ῥίζα (rhiza), "root",[11][12] the name provided by Dioscorides.[13] It is usually spelled "liquorice" in British usage, but "licorice" in the United States and Canada.


It is a herbaceous perennial, growing to 1 m in height, with pinnate leaves about 7–15 cm (2.8–5.9 in) long, with 9–17 leaflets. The flowers are 0.8–1.2 cm (1312 in) long, purple to pale whitish blue, produced in a loose inflorescence. The fruit is an oblong pod, 2–3 cm (341 16 in) long, containing several seeds.[14] The roots are stoloniferous.[15]


Much of the sweetness in liquorice comes from glycyrrhizin

The scent of liquorice root comes from a complex and variable combination of compounds, of which anethole is up to 3% of total volatiles. 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.

The isoflavene glabrene and the isoflavane glabridin, found in the roots of liquorice, are phytoestrogens.[16][17]

Cultivation and uses[edit]

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.[14] Countries producing liquorice include India, Iran, Italy, Afghanistan, the People’s Republic of China, Pakistan, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Turkey.[18]

The world's leading manufacturer of liquorice products is M&F Worldwide, which manufactures more than 70% of the worldwide liquorice flavours sold to end users.[19]


Most liquorice is used as a flavouring agent for tobacco. For example, M&F Worldwide reported in 2011 that about 63% of its liquorice product sales are to the worldwide tobacco industry for use as tobacco flavour enhancing and moistening agents in the manufacture of American blend cigarettes, moist snuff, chewing tobacco, and pipe tobacco.[18] American blend cigarettes made up a larger portion of worldwide tobacco consumption in earlier years,[20] 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.[21] 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.[6]

Liquorice provides tobacco products with a natural sweetness and a distinctive flavour that blends readily with the natural and imitation flavouring components employed in the tobacco industry. It represses harshness and is not detectable as liquorice by the consumer.[6] Tobacco flavourings such as liquorice also make it easier to inhale the smoke by creating bronchodilators, which open up the lungs.[7] Chewing tobacco requires substantially higher levels of liquorice extract as emphasis on the sweet flavour appears highly desirable.[6]

Food and confectionery[edit]

Dried sticks of liquorice root

Liquorice flavour is found in a wide variety of candies or sweets. In most of these candies, the taste is reinforced by aniseed oil so the actual content of liquorice is very low. Liquorice confections are primarily purchased by consumers in the European Union.[18]

In the Netherlands, liquorice confectionery (drop) is one of the most popular forms of sweets. It is sold in many forms. Mixing it with mint, menthol, aniseed, or laurel is quite popular. Mixing it with ammonium chloride (salmiak) is also popular. A popular liquorice in the Netherlands is known as zoute drop (salty liquorice), but contains very little salt, i.e., sodium chloride.[22] The salty taste is due to ammonium chloride. Strong, salty sweets are also popular in Nordic countries.

Dried sticks of the liquorice root are also a traditional confectionery in their own right in the Netherlands, which has quickly waned in popularity in recent decades. They were sold simply as sticks of zoethout ('sweet wood') to chew on as as a candy. Through chewing and suckling, the intensely sweet flavour is released. The sweetness is 30 to 50 times as strong as sucrose, without causing damage to teeth. Roughly since the 1970's, zoethout has become rarer in favor of easier to consume candies (including 'drop').

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.[23] 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.[24]

In Italy (particularly in the south), Spain and France, liquorice is popular in its natural form. The root of the plant is simply dug up, washed, dried, 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. In Calabria a popular liqueur is made from pure liquorice extract.

Liquorice is also very popular in Syria and Egypt, where it is sold as a drink, in shops as well as street vendors. It is used for its expectorant qualities in folk medicine in Egypt.

Liquorice root chips

Liquorice is used by brewers to flavour and colour porter classes of beers, and the enzymes in the root also stabilize the foam heads produced by beers brewed with it.[citation needed]


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.[25][26] In one clinical trial liquorice demonstrated promising activity, when applied topically, against atopic dermatitis.[27] Additionally, liquorice may be effective in treating hyperlipidaemia (a high amount of fats in the blood).[28] Liquorice has also demonstrated efficacy in treating inflammation-induced skin hyperpigmentation.[29][30] Liquorice may also be useful in preventing neurodegenerative disorders and dental caries.[31][32][33]

The antiulcer, laxative, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, antitumour and expectorant properties of liquorice have been investigated.[34]

The compound glycyrrhizin (or glycyrrhizic acid), found in liquorice, has been proposed as being useful for liver protection in tuberculosis therapy, but evidence does not support this use, which may in fact be harmful.[35]

Folk medicine[edit]

In traditional Chinese medicine, liquorice (甘草, G. uralensis) is believed to "harmonize" the ingredients in a formula and to carry the formula to the 12 "regular meridians".[36] Liquorice has been traditionally known and used as medicine in Ayurveda for rejuvenation.[37] Recent analysis revealed that Glycyrrhiza glabra is one of the most used plant species worldwide for the ethnomedical therapy of jaundice.[38][39]

Licorice poisoning
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 Xxx.x
ICD-9-CM xxx


Its major dose-limiting toxicities are corticosteroid in nature, because of the inhibitory effect that its chief active constituents, glycyrrhizin and enoxolone, have on cortisol degradation, and include oedema, hypokalaemia, weight gain or loss, and hypertension.[40][41]

The United States Food and Drug Administration believes that foods containing liquorice and its derivatives (including glycyrrhizin) are safe if not consumed excessively. Other jurisdictions have suggested no more than 100 mg to 200 mg of glycyrrhizin per day, the equivalent of about 70 to 150 g (2.5 to 5.3 oz) of liquorice.[8]

Licorice poisoning[edit]

Licorice is an extract from the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant which contains glycyrrhizic acid, or GZA. GZA is made of one molecule of glycyrrhetic acid and two molecules of glucuronic acid.[42] The extracts from the root of the plant can also be referred to as licorice, sweet root, and glycyrrhiza extract. G. glabra grows in subtropical climates in Europe, the Middle East, and Western Asia. When administered orally, the product of glycyrrhetic acid is found in human urine whereas GZA is not.[42] This shows that glycyrrhetic acid is absorbed and metabolized in the intestines in humans. GZA is hydrolyzed to glycyrrhetic acid in the intestines by bacteria.[43] For thousands of years G. glabra has been used for medicinal purposes including indigestion and stomach inflammation.[44] Some other medicinal purposes are cough suppression, ulcer treatment, and use as a laxative. Also, salts of GZA can be used in many products as sweeteners and aromatizers. The major use of licorice goes towards the tobacco industry, at roughly 90% of usage. The rest is split evenly between food and pharmaceutics, at 5% of usage each (Federal Register, 1983). Licorice extract is often found in sweets and many candies, some drugs, and beverages like root beer. They can also be used in chewing gum, tobacco products like snuff, and toothpaste. An increase in intake of licorice can cause many toxic effects. Hyper mineralocorticosteroid syndrome can occur when the body retains sodium, loses potassium altering biochemical and hormonal activities.[45] Some of these activities include lower aldosterone level, decline of the renin-angiotensin system and increased levels of the atrial natriuretic hormone in order to compensate the variations in homoeostasis.[46] Some other symptoms of toxicity include electrolyte imbalance, oedema, increased blood pressure, weight gain, heart problems, and weakness. Individuals will experience certain symptoms based on the severity of toxicity. Some other complaints include fatigue, shortness of breath, renal failure, and paralysis.[47][48]

Many adverse effects of licorice poisoning can be seen and most are attributed to the mineralocorticoid effects of GZA. Depending on the dose and intake of licorice, serious problems and even hospitalization can arise. People with previously existing heart or kidney problems may be more susceptible to GZA and licorice poisoning.[45] It is important to monitor the amount of licorice consumed in order to prevent toxicity. It is difficult to determine a safe level, due to many varying factors from person to person. In the most sensitive individuals, daily intake of about 100 mg GZA can cause problems.[49] This is equivalent to 50 g licorice sweets. However, in most people, they can consume up to 400 mg before experiencing symptoms, which would be about 200 g licorice sweets. A rule of thumb says a normal healthy person can consume 10 mg GZA a day.[50]



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External links[edit]