What Is It about Licorice?

I like it. The women in my life (my wife and two daughters) don’t. I’m OK with that, but I don’t get it. For me, “licorice” means licorice, pure and simple. “Black licorice” is redundant. If I offer someone licorice, I’ll say, “Would you like some licorice.” But if someone offers me licorice, it’s possible they mean “the red kind.” So I ask, what kind of “licorice”? It’s almost always “the red kind,” and I usually say, “No. Thank you anyway.” And if I am most sincerely polite, I don’t add, “By the way, that’s not really licorice.”

Experience tells me that Red Vines are the most popular of “the red kind.” That’s what the women in my life keep on hand. I’m on my own to keep a stash of the real thing.

So what’s the real thing? Well, to begin with, it’s black. And—surprise, surprise—one key ingredient is . . . licorice, or licorice extract. The substance is extracted from the root of a plant whose botanical name is Glycyrrhiza glabra. The root is believed to have medicinal uses, but it is most often enjoyed in the confection known as licorice candy.

My friend Lucas says he likes the Goodyear brand, for the ingenuity they’ve demonstrated in making tire rejects into something quasi-edible. Thanks to another friend, Kristel, my current favorite is Australia’s Darrell Lea Traditional Licorice, available at Trader Joe’s. Contrary to popular lore, licorice candy is not necessarily tough to chew. The Darrell Lea brand can be masticated with ease, because the bite-size chunks are soft. It contains no trans fats and is cholesterol-free.

The distinctive taste of real licorice derives from the use of molasses, wheat syrup, and, of course, licorice. But texture is just as important to the quality of the experience. It should be chewy, without sticking to the teeth. Bite-size pieces are the right-size pieces, filling the mouth with flavor that lasts long after the candy has been chewed up and swallowed.

Eating licorice in moderation is one of life’s simple pleasures. And Darrell Lea Traditional Licorice makes my list of Favorite Things.

To participate in an informal poll, let me know if you enjoy licorice (not “the red kind,” but the real thing), and if so, what brand you prefer.

A book about “Licorice”:

Licorice: Webster’s Timeline History 1872-2007

Description: Webster’s bibliographic and event-based timelines are comprehensive in scope, covering virtually all topics, geographic locations and people. They do so from a linguistic point of view, and in the case of this book, the focus is on “Licorice,” including when used in literature (e.g. all authors that might have Licorice in their name). As such, this book represents the largest compilation of timeline events associated with Licorice when it is used in proper noun form. Webster’s timelines cover bibliographic citations, patented inventions, as well as non-conventional and alternative meanings which capture ambiguities in usage. These furthermore cover all parts of speech (possessive, institutional usage, geographic usage) and contexts, including pop culture, the arts, social sciences (linguistics, history, geography, economics, sociology, political science), business, computer science, literature, law, medicine, psychology, mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology and other physical sciences. This “data dump” results in a comprehensive set of entries for a bibliographic and/or event-based timeline on the proper name Licorice, since editorial decisions to include or exclude events is purely a linguistic process. The resulting entries are used under license or with permission, used under “fair use” conditions, used in agreement with the original authors, or are in the public domain.

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