Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

licorice, or liquorice, refers both to the leguminous plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra), especially its root, and to confections made from it. Its Latin name, meaning “sweet root,” was given by the first-century herbalist Dioscorides. Although many other spices and herbs are compared to licorice, including anise, star anise, fennel, and chervil, its flavor is quite distinct and usually much stronger. The fresh or dried roots can be chewed directly as a kind of breath freshener and tooth cleanser, a practice common in Jamaica and elsewhere. Normally, however, the roots are chopped and boiled in water; the resulting sweet, aromatic liquid is reduced and dried into a flat, hard sheet, which is either broken up or scored into small chips. This is true licorice in its purest form, without added sugar. Versions like this, or molded into sticks, lozenges, or drops, are still common in Southern Europe, the most highly regarded coming from Calabria and Spain. Throughout Italy one can find hard, pure licorice made by companies such as De Rosa, Amarelli, or the popular Tabu, which has other flavors added, including mint. Sen-Sen, once popular in the United States as a breath freshener, is similar, though it too contains other flavorings.