Latin Name: Other Names: Sweetroot, Liquorice, Black Sugar, Licorice Root
Medicinal Uses: Coughs Flatulence, Colon cleanser, Sore throat, Ulcers
Liquorice or licorice is the root of Glycyrrhiza glabra from which a somewhat sweet flavour can be extracted. The liquorice plant is a legume (related to beans and peas) that is native to southern Europe and parts of Asia. It is called “Mulaithi” in Northern India. It is not related to anise, star anise, or fennel, which are the sources of similar-tasting flavouring compounds.
It is a herbaceous perennial growing to 1 m in height, with pinnate leaves about 7–15 centimetres (3–6 in) long, with 9–17 leaflets. The flowers are 0.8–1.2 cm (½–⅓ in) long, purple to pale whitish blue, produced in a loose inflorescence. The fruit is an oblong pod, 2–3 centimetres (1 in) long, containing several seeds. The flavor of liquorice comes mainly from a sweet-tasting compound called anethole (“trans”-1-methoxy-4-(prop-1-enyl)benzene), an aromatic, unsaturated ether compound also found in anise, fennel, and several other herbs. Much of the sweetness in liquorice comes from glycyrrhizin, a compound sweeter than sugar.
Liquorice grows best in deep valleys, well-drained soils, with full sun, and is harvested in the autumn, two to three years after planting.
Today, liquorice extract is produced by boiling liquorice root and subsequently evaporating most of the water. Liquorice extract is traded both in solid and syrup form. Its active principle is glycyrrhizin, a sweetener between 30 to 50 times as sweet as sucrose which also has pharmaceutical effects.
Liquorice flavour is found in a wide variety of liquorice candies. The most popular in the United Kingdom are liquorice allsorts. In continental Europe, however, far stronger, saltier candies are preferred. In most of these candies the taste is reinforced by aniseed oil, and the actual content of liquorice is very low.
Liquorice flavouring is also used in soft drinks, and in some herbal teas where it provides a sweet aftertaste. The flavour is common in medicines to disguise unpleasant flavours. Dutch youth often make their own “dropwater” (liquorice water) by putting a few pieces of laurel liquorice and a piece of liquorice root in a bottle with water and then shaking it to a frothy liquid.