red licoriceLicorice dates back to the early times of man. Ancient Chinese, Egyptians and Greeks appreciated the medicinal properties of licorice and drank it as a beverage. Soldiers and travelers were recorded chewing on licorice root to quench their thirsts on long marches.

Licorice comes from the root of the Glycyrrhiza plant, which “sweet root” in Greek. The plant is a legume and grows primarily in southern Europe and some parts of Asia. During the Middle Ages, crusaders brought licorice to England. Many years later, a monastery in Pontefract, England, began producing licorice candy, and early settlers brought licorice recipes to America.

In North America, black licorice refers to candy that is flavored with actual licorice extract, differentiating it from similar products made in the form of chewy ropes or tubes. Similarly, red licorice is often molded into chewy ropes or strings that resemble black licorice but are instead flavored with strawberry, cherry or cinnamon.

How is licorice made?

There are two ways to produce licorice. Companies producing licorice on small production scales often use the corn starch molding process, while larger-scale production companies use the licorice rope extrusion process.

In the starch molding process a tray with long rows of molds is filled with corn starch to keep the licorice from sticking. Next, hot syrup containing licorice is poured into the molds and cooled. How the syrup is cooked determines if the candy is tough, chewy or soft. After the cooling process, the licorice is glazed and packaged.

The licorice rope extrusion process starts with boiling a mix containing licorice root extract to an exact temperature. Next, flavorings and colorings are added and the mix is slowly cooked until it is a dough-like consistency. Afterward, it is placed in an extruder that resembles a meat processor. The mix is forced out of tiny holes making it into a rope. The rope is sometimes twisted to give a more interesting form.

Fun facts about licorice:

  • Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Napolean Bonaparte enjoyed licorice.
  • Licorice extract was discovered in King Tut’s tomb.
  • National Licorice Day is April 12.
  • Licorice is sometimes referred to as “spanish juice” or “sweet wood.”
  • Since ancient times, licorice has been used as a home-remedy for coughs, sore throats, congestion and indigestion.