Liquorice is like Marmite. You either love it or loathe it. Personally, I hate the latter with a vengeance but adore the former. An assortment box is a welcome Christmas treat. The British prefer their Liquorice sweet.
Around the World in Liquorice
Some nationalities consume huge quantities of liquorice. The Dutch are known to eat more than 32 thousand tons every year. Tastes vary. Salty liquorice is favoured in Benelux, Nordic countries and Northern Germany. The further north you go, the saltier the Liquorice gets. Meanwhile, the Australians bring their soft, colourful, fruit-flavoured Liquorice to the world.
With all this focus on sweets, it is easy to overlook that Liquorice comes from a plant source. Liquorice is extracted from the root of Glycyrrhiza glabra in the Fabaceae or Bean family. It is still possible to buy dried sticks of Liquorice root to chew upon. The root extract is mixed with sugar, water, gelatin and flour to create sweets. The process creates a malleable black or brown paste. The natural flavour of Liquorice is augmented with aniseed. Sweet manufacturers then mould the paste into pipes, cables and bootlaces. Other Liquorice sweets are layered with brightly coloured sugar paste to form our familiar assortments.
In pre-COVID times, the Yorkshire town of Pontefract held an annual Liquorice Festival. The town is famous for its Pontefract or Pomfret Cakes which are little black Liquorice sweets. Its historic link with the confectionary is believed to date back to the time of the Crusades. Liquorice is referred to as Spanish in the area. The reason for that name is attributed to the Spanish monks who are believed to have grown the non-native Liquorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra locally. The plant may have been native to South-east Europe and West Asia, but Pontefract was growing it on a huge scale by the mid-17th century.
Liquorice is one of the world’s oldest herbal remedies. Medicinal use dates back to Ancient Egypt and China. It is considered a benefit for acid reflux, upset stomachs, upper respiratory disorders, sore throats and potentially other conditions. Christmas over-indulgence in Liquorice is, however, not a good thing. It can have serious and unpleasant health consequences if you eat too much. Moderation is the order of the day even at Christmas.
N.B. Liquorice is not made from the native plant called Wild Liquorice with the botanical Latin name of Astragalus glycyphyllos (see photo right). Please do not dig up the roots of this native plant in the hope of chewing on them or making your own Liquorice.
© Karen Andrews
References and Further Reading
- Davidson, Alan (2006): The Oxford Companion to Food. Second Edition. Oxford. (p. 457)
- Harrap, Simon (2013): Harrap’s Wild Flowers. A Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain & Ireland. Bloomsbury (see note page 55).
- Shepherd, A. C. (2010-2018): Pontefract Liquorice Festival. Calendar Customs
- Welcome to Yorkshire (?): Pontefract Liquorice Festival.
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Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.