Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Laerke . Laerke Wonders, “Where does licorice come from?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Laerke !
What do you look forward to when you go to the movies? The excitement of the action on the silver screen? The comfort of the big chairs?
If you're like many children, you definitely look forward to those things. But there's something else you probably can't wait to experience, too: the food! In addition to a huge tub of buttered popcorn, many children look forward to the candy that movie theaters sell.
What kinds of movie theater candy do you enjoy? For some people, nothing beats a delicious chocolate candy bar. Others might look forward to malted milk balls or sugar-coated nonpareils. Still others look forward to chewing their way through a package of red or black ropes. What are we talking about? Licorice, of course!
When someone says licorice, a vision of red or black candy ropes probably comes to mind. A century or more ago, though, something else entirely would've come to mind: a plant! That's right. Licorice is a plant, otherwise known scientifically as Glycyrrhiza glabra.
The licorice plant grows natively in southern Europe and Asia. Some countries known for their licorice plants include Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey.
For thousands of years, the roots of licorice plants have been used for medicinal purposes. The roots contain a natural sweetener called glycyrrhizin. How sweet is it? Try 30-50 times sweeter than sugar!
Long before it was ever used to create candy, licorice root was used to treat a variety of medical issues, including sore throats, upset stomachs, congestion, indigestion, and constipation. Today, licorice root is still used as an herbal remedy in many parts of the world. Modern doctors warn, however, that it has also been shown to reduce potassium levels and increase blood pressure.
Historians believe that the development of licorice into a candy may have been the result of mixing licorice root extract with honey to make throat lozenges for medicinal purposes. Over time, people began mixing licorice root extract with various sweeteners and binders to make the chewy strings, twists, and ropes of candy we know today as licorice.
Candy connoisseurs will tell you that the term licorice is used rather loosely today. The true flavor of licorice root is similar to the flavor of what we commonly call black licorice. Whether black licorice actually has any licorice root extract in it, though, is somewhat rare in the United States today. Other flavorings, especially anise, are often used instead.
As for red and other colors of licorice, they don't contain any licorice root extract and don't even taste like licorice root. Instead, they're flavored with a variety of artificial fruit flavors, such as cherry and strawberry.
So what about Twizzlers and Red Vines? If asked, most people would consider these popular candies to be red licorice. However, if you look carefully at their packaging, you'll find that these products don't promote themselves as licorice, since they don't contain any licorice root extract.