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Liquorice (confectionery)

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Liquorice wheels from Haribo
Alternative namesBlack liquorice
Place of originUnited Kingdom
Main ingredientsExtract of the roots of the liquorice plant, sugar, binding agent (starch, flour, gum arabic, or gelatin)

Liquorice (British English) or licorice (American English; IPA: /ˈlɪkərɪʃ, -ɪs/ LIK-ər-ish, -⁠iss)[1] is a confection usually flavoured and coloured black with the extract of the roots of the liquorice plant Glycyrrhiza glabra.

A variety of liquorice sweets are produced around the world. In North America, black liquorice is distinguished from similar confectionery varieties that do not contain liquorice extract but are manufactured in the form of similarly shaped chewy ropes or tubes and often called red liquorice. Black liquorice, together with anise extract, is also a common flavour in other forms of confectionery such as jellybeans.[2] Various liquorice sweets are sold in the United Kingdom, such as liquorice allsorts. Dutch, German and Nordic liquorice typically contains ammonium chloride instead of sodium chloride, prominently so in salty liquorice, which carries a salty rather than sweet flavour.

The essential ingredients of black liquorice confectionery are liquorice extract, sugar, and a binder. The base 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. Ammonium chloride is mainly used in salty liquorice candy, with concentrations up to about 8%. However, even regular liquorice candy can contain up to 2% ammonium chloride, the taste of which is less prominent because of the higher sugar concentration.[3] Some liquorice candy is flavoured with anise oil instead of or in combination with liquorice root extract, because anise has a very similar flavour.[4]


In England in 1614, Sir George Savile invented the liquorice format still known as Pontefract cakes when he stamped discs of liquorice with the image of Pontefract Castle.[5] The Dunhill company are credited with the development of liquorice as a confection by adding sugar in 1760.[5]


Tyrkisk peber, a Danish salty liquorice by Fazer

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.[6]

Health effects[edit]

A Finnish fair special, metre-long liquorice, in various flavours and colours in Jyväskylä, Finland

The liquorice-root extract contains the natural sweetener glycyrrhizin, which is over 50 times sweeter than sucrose. Daily consumption of 50 g or more of liquorice candy for as little as two weeks may increase blood pressure by a small amount.[7] Glycyrrhizin can cause potassium levels in the body to fall, triggering abnormal heart rhythms, edema (swelling), lethargy, and congestive heart failure in some people.[4]

Excessive black liquorice consumption can cause chloride-resistant metabolic alkalosis and pseudohyperaldosteronism.[8] In one particularly extreme case from 2020, a man from Massachusetts, United States ate a bag and a half of black liquorice every day for several weeks, leading to death due to chronic high levels of glycyrrhetinic acid, a principal metabolite of glycyrrhizinic acid. The resultant pseudohyperaldosteronism led to hypokalemia so severe that the man suffered a fatal heart attack.[9][10]

Red liquorice[edit]

Red liquorice wheels

In many countries there is also a product sometimes known as red liquorice (red licorice), with a recipe very similar to a common type of liquorice confection (a starchy or gummy binder with sugar added, extruded into the shape of a rope or tube with a chewy consistency), but instead of liquorice is made with other flavourings such as strawberry, cherry, raspberry, or cinnamon. More recently, products have been introduced in a wider variety of colours and flavours, including apple, mango, blackcurrant, and watermelon.

While the common name for these confections has become "red liquorice" or often simply "liquorice" due to their shape and texture, they do not have the taste of liquorice since there is no actual liquorice in them. "Black" in "black liquorice" would formerly have been redundant, but has become a retronym in North America.


Rainbow liquorice twist candy

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Liquorice". Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary.
  2. ^ "Black licorice is a candy that should inspire caution". www.heart.org. Retrieved 13 May 2024.
  3. ^ The Dutch manufacturer Meenk offers detailed ingredient lists of its products: regular Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine and salty Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine liquorice candy (in Dutch).
  4. ^ a b Black Licorice: Trick or Treat? from US Food & Drug Administration, Consumer Updates, 25 Oct 2011.
  5. ^ a b Chrystal, Paul (30 June 2021). "Special sweets: Liquorice". The History of Sweets. Pen and Sword History. pp. 75–80. ISBN 978-1-5267-7888-8.
  6. ^ Perry Romanowski, How Products are Made: Licorice Archived 2 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine, at enotes.com
  7. ^ Sigurjónsdóttir, H Á; Franzson, L; Manhem, K; Ragnarsson, J; Sigurdsson, G; Wallerstedt, S (2001). "Liquorice-induced rise in blood pressure: a linear dose-response relationship". Journal of Human Hypertension. 15 (8): 549–52. doi:10.1038/sj.jhh.1001215. PMID 11494093.
  8. ^ Sabbadin, Chiara; Bordin, Luciana; Donà, Gabriella; Manso, Jacopo; Avruscio, Giampiero; Armanini, Decio (18 July 2019). "Licorice: From Pseudohyperaldosteronism to Therapeutic Uses". Frontiers in Endocrinology. 10: 484. doi:10.3389/fendo.2019.00484. ISSN 1664-2392. PMC 6657287. PMID 31379750.
  9. ^ Edelman, Elazer R.; Butala, Neel M.; Avery, Laura L.; Lundquist, Andrew L.; Dighe, Anand S. (24 September 2020). Cabot, Richard C.; Rosenberg, Eric S.; Pierce, Virginia M.; Dudzinski, David M.; Baggett, Meridale V.; Sgroi, Dennis C.; Shepard, Jo-Anne O.; Tran, Kathy M.; Roberts, Matthew B. (eds.). "Case 30-2020: A 54-Year-Old Man with Sudden Cardiac Arrest". New England Journal of Medicine. 383 (13): 1263–1275. doi:10.1056/NEJMcpc2002420. hdl:1721.1/135269. ISSN 0028-4793. PMC 8568064. PMID 32966726.
  10. ^ Marchione, Marilynn (23 September 2020). "Too Much Candy: Man Dies from Eating Bags of Black Licorice". AP News. Retrieved 23 September 2020.