Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Licorice comes from the roots of Glycyrrhiza glabra, a native of southwest Asia. Its English name is a much-altered version of its genus name, which derives from the Greek for “sweet root.” The woody roots of this shrub are remarkable for containing a steroid-like chemical, glycyrrhizic acid, that is 50–150 times sweeter than table sugar. The water extract of the roots contains many different compounds, including sugars and amino acids, which undergo flavor- and pigment-producing browning reactions with each other when the extract is concentrated. Licorice extracts are available as dark syrups, blocks, or powders, and are used in various confections, to give color and flavor to dark beers, porter, and stout, and to flavor tobacco for cigars, cigarettes, and chewing. Many licorice candies are flavored with anise-like anethole, but licorice root itself has a more complex aroma, with almond and floral notes.